Attendance at the meeting included Chief Fire Officer Graeme Smith (who gave a presentation on the Improvement Plan proposals) and Councillor Richard Hobbs, Warwickshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Community Safety.
The proposal that has gained the most public attention is the plan to reduce the number of fire stations in Warwickshire from 19 to 12, resulting in seven existing stations closing. The public meeting last night focused primarily on the proposals for the Brinklow fire station, one of those earmarked for closure.
As you might have imagined, it was a lively meeting with almost everyone in attendance opposed to the closure plans. I had attended with a somewhat open mind (unlike many of the more shrill voices being heard), as I genuinely did not think the Chief Fire Officer wished to put lives at risk, and nor did he wish to run down his service in order to save money. But listening to the debate left me more certain that the closure of many (but perhaps not all) of the seven stations due for closure was not, at this moment, necessary in order to introduce the many other good aspects of the Improvement Plan that we could all find favour with.
A number of the points made on the night that deserve further consideration included:
- would a more remotely-based fire station be operated by firefighters without the local knowledge of the rural areas in the county (and their peculiarities)?
- could the Improvement Plan be implemented in a phased approach, with station closures as a very last option, rather than the all-or-nothing approach proposed?
- concern that the proposals would result in an overall reduction in the number of firefighters working in the county.
Councillor Hobbs did confirm though that the final decision to adopt or reject the plan will be taken by all 62 county councillors at a full council meeting, rather than just by the Cabinet as originally planned. This is significant in that it means that local county councillor Phillip Morris-Jones will have a vote on the matter - and he made his opposition to the plans very clear at the parish council meeting on 6 October.
The consultation period runs until 8 December, with further information available here. A report on last night's meeting by the Rugby Advertiser, including video footage from the meeting, can also be viewed here.