England

Search and rescue doubt as £7bn project in doubt

RNAS Culdrose Sea King helicopter
Image caption The Treasury said the issue would be reviewed "as a matter of urgency"

The future of search and rescue helicopters in the South West has been thrown into doubt again.

Sea King helicopters based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and RMB Chivenor in North Devon were due for replacement, starting in 2012.

A private consortium was awarded the contract to provide the new UK service, which would mark the end of 24-hour cover at RMB Chivenor.

But the project is now being reviewed as part of government spending cuts.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced last November that night cover would be provided by nine bases around the UK from 2012, instead of the current 12.

'Matter of urgency'

Devon and Cornwall was to be covered at night by RAF Valley in Anglesea, RNAS Culdrose and Solent Coastguard.

In February, the former Labour government said the service currently provided by the RAF, Royal Navy and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would be run by the private consortium Soteria.

With a 25-year contract worth £7bn, Soteria was to provide new, faster and more efficient aircraft to replace the ageing military Sea King helicopters over a three-year period.

The private finance initiative is one of 12 projects being suspended for a government review.

The Treasury has said the issue of the new generation of search and rescue helicopters would be reviewed "as a matter of urgency".

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