Dorset

Justine Greening ignoring Portland helicopter fears - MP

Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset
Image caption Mr Drax believes scrapping the service will result in the "loss of life"

A Conservative MP campaigning to save a Dorset search and rescue helicopter has accused the transport secretary of avoiding a consultation on its future.

Justine Greening wants to replace the Portland coastguard helicopter with a regional service after 2017, as part of government reform plans.

Richard Drax has accused her of snubbing his invitations to meet those involved in the operation in Dorset.

Mr Drax believes scrapping the service will result in the "loss of life".

The Portland Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre is scheduled to close sometime between 2013 and 2015 and be replaced by a new Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) in Fareham, Hampshire.

The coastguard helicopter will be replaced by a regional service after 2017.

Miss Greening has said the proposed changes will improve the helicopter service along the south coast and reduce the time it takes to get to rescues.

But Mr Drax, who represents South Dorset, said: "This is complete rubbish. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work that out.

'Strongly worded letter'

"The helicopter in Portland can be on the scene within minutes but if the helicopters covering Dorset under the proposed changes are being tasked we'll be lucky if they get here within an hour.

"I've written a strongly worded letter to her (Miss Greening) for the third time to invite her down here so she can speak to all those people who work on the helicopter in Portland.

Image caption Portland's search and rescue helicopter attends more than 200 incidents a year

"But there's been no consultation, it's bordering on breathtaking arrogance - she's saying 'I don't need a consultation on this as what I'm offering is better'.

"There's no doubt in my mind that if this helicopter goes, people will die."

A Department for Transport spokesman confirmed that Miss Greening has personally replied to all of the letters Mr Drax has written to her, regarding the helicopter at Portland.

The Portland helicopter attended 202 incidents last year, while the helicopter based in Lee-on-the-Solent, which is in operation 24 hours a day, attended 219.

The Department for Transport has previously said a more modern, faster fleet of helicopters operating from fewer bases will provide a more reliable overall service that still meets the key search-and-rescue requirements.

An e-petition called Save the Portland Coastguard Helicopter has so far gained 18,307 signatures. If it reaches 100,000 it could force a debate in parliament.

A plea to maintain coastguard operations in Dorset was rejected during a Westminster Hall debate in October, last year.

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