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Coastguard stations in Norfolk and Essex to be closed

Coastguard stations at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex are to close, despite the government's scaling back of cuts.

The stations, which cover an area of coastline stretching from just south of the Humber to Herne Bay in Kent, will close between 2012 and 2014.

That stretch of coast will be covered by the Dover and Humber stations which will operate 24 hours a day.

The plans were announced in the Commons by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

Fifty jobs would be lost at Great Yarmouth and Walton under the plans.

Dover and Humber Coastguard will come under the control of a new Maritime Operations Centre in the Portsmouth and Southampton area.

Under initial proposals the number of coastguard centres had been set to be reduced from 18 to eight, with only three remaining open 24 hours a day.

Job losses

But Mr Hammond told MPs eight at Great Yarmouth, Walton-on-the-Naze, Clyde, Forth, Portland, Liverpool, Brixham and Swansea would now close.

Ten centres that were 24-hour operational would remain, as would a smaller station in London.

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

MPs were told that in addition to a disaster recovery backup facility at Dover, and the new Maritime Operations Centre in Hampshire there will continue to be eight coastguard stations.

They will be at Falmouth, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Belfast, Aberdeen, Humber, Stornoway and Shetland.

Local knowledge

The move comes after there were calls during a public consultation for the original plans to be dropped on safety grounds.

Mr Hammond said: "It is precisely because the point was so powerfully made about the importance of local knowledge that we decided to go back and look at the original pairing of stations and see how we could organise this network around retaining one of each pair.

"Because of the way the pairs work, people working in either one of the paired centres will have full local knowledge of the coastline covered by both."

Karen Paradise, branch secretary for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) at Thames Coastguard in Walton, said: "There are lots of sandbanks along this coast and it can be treacherous at times.

"There are 600 miles of coastline in our patch. With three stations covering it, local knowledge will be so thinned out it will be horrendous."

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, said the decision to close the Great Yarmouth and Walton stations would sweep away local knowledge in an instant and "will mean the government have lost lives on their conscience".

Mr Howitt, who visited both stations and made representations on their behalf, said: "Our campaign was top notch and I can't fathom why other coastguards have been thrown a lifeline but Yarmouth and Walton will shut."

He said it was "outrageous" that some cover for local beaches would be provided from Southampton.

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