Coastguard Cutbacks Scaled Down

The Government has watered down its plans to drastically reduce the number of coastguard centres.

Original proposals envisaged cutting the centres from 19 to eight, with three remaining open 24 hours a day.

But the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond's announced that 11 centres would remain and that they would all be 24-hour operational.

The centres that will carry on are at Falmouth in Cornwall; Milford Haven and Holyhead in Wales; Bangor in Northern Ireland; Shetland, Aberdeen and Stornoway in Scotland; and Humber.

There will also be one maritime operations centre covering the Southampton and Portsmouth area which will replace the existing centre at Lee on Solent in Hampshire.

This new operations centre will be backed up by the existing Dover centre which will also be 24-hour operational. A small coastguard centre in London, which was not part of the reorganisation plans, will carry on.

The centres that will be closed - over the period from 2012 to 2014/15 - are at Swansea, Portland in Dorset, Clyde and Forth in Scotland, Liverpool, Great Yarmouth, Brixham in Devon, and Walton on the Naze in Essex.

Mr Hammond said it was still possible to achieve the cost savings envisaged under the Government's original plans to operate only three stations round the clock, as well as five sub-centres during daylight hours.

There would still be job losses, he said, with the number of uniformed coastguards falling from 573 to 436 by 2014/15.

Labour said the Government is right to abandon its plans to slash such a high number of coastguard stations, but shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said ministers were still putting their desire to cut costs ahead of the safety of maritime communities, in what she described as a "devastating blow'' for many coastguards.

She said the Government's decision to revise its original plans was a tribute to the coastguards who had campaigned against the closures.

She told Mr Hammond:

"It's incredible to think that you believed that the majority of our coastguard stations should not provide round-the-clock cover.

"It's right, and I commend you, for abandoning your plans and recognising the need for stations to operate 24 hours a day.

"However, today's announcement means the loss of just under half of all Britain's coastguard stations.

"That is a devastating blow to those stations which you propose to close - to the coastguards, their families and the communities they serve and in which they are held in such respect.

"These closures are driven entirely by the Government's decision to cut the transport budget too far and too fast.

"It's incredible today focused almost entirely on issues of cost, rather than on the safety considerations that should have driven this review from the start.''