Fife MPs have backed a petition campaign to save UK coastguard stations.
Campaigners urging the UK Government to spare sites on the Western Isles and Shetland handed nearly 28,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street. The government is consulting on plans drawn up by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to slash the number of rescue co-ordination centres from 18 to eight in the UK, with Fife Ness in Crail facing closure.
Last month hopes were raised that the centre could escape the axe. However, the Department for Transport refused to comment on speculation that the closure plans were set to be abandoned.
Glenrothes MP Lindsay Roy said it was vital that Fife Ness which has a staff of 14 and covers from the Borders to north of Montrose remained open.
“What we are saying quite categorically about Fife Ness is we are fighting for the station to stay because it means there are people with local knowledge, which is vital in the case of accident and emergency,” he said.
“We have to ensure that health and safety remain paramount. While I understand there is a need to improve services, local needs are absolutely vital. Even a 30-second or minute delay could be crucial.”
If the closures went ahead Scotland would be left with just one full-time base, in Aberdeen. A second base, at Stornoway or Shetland, would be staffed in daylight hours. More than 200 jobs would be axed.
Two petitions were handed to David Cameron’s office. One, in support of the station at Stornoway on Lewis, had around 15,000 names and the other, from Shetland, had 13,000 names.
Lifeguards were joined by representatives of Shetland Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, as well as cross-party MPs, to present the petitions to Mr Cameron.
SNP Westminster transport spokesman Angus MacNeil, the Western Isles MP, warned that “lives would be put at risk” unless the government rethought its proposals.
“Maritime safety, not financial savings, should be the driving force behind any review,” he said. “These Tory proposals are unjustifiable and would leave Scotland with just 25% of the co-ordination centres in the UK, despite accounting for 60% of the sea area. In anyone’s book, that spells danger.”
North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell said, “The government has been forced back on the defensive over the proposals for coastguard stations around Britain.
“Fife Ness is ideally placed to deal with increased nautical traffic, both commercial and recreational, and has built up an outstanding relationship with the other emergency services within its region of operations. There is no substitute for local knowledge.”