Minister rows back on plan to reduce coastguard bases

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Plans for major cuts to the coastguard service have been scaled back by the government, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has told the House of Commons.

The number of centres had been set to be reduced from 18 to eight, with only three remaining open 24 hours a day.

But Mr Hammond told MPs 10 centres that were 24-hour operational would remain, as would a smaller station in London.

The eight centres that will be shut are Clyde, Forth, Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea.

MPs were told there will continue to be eight coastguard stations at Falmouth, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Belfast, Aberdeen, Humber, Stornaway and Shetland.

The transport secretary announced that the Southampton and Portsmouth coastline will be the base for the Maritime Operations Centre for the UK.

And there will also be a centre at Dover which oversees activity in the English Channel.

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

The original proposals were criticised in a report by the House of Commons transport committee, which said evidence it had received during its inquiry into coastguards had raised "serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if these proposals proceed".

Louise Ellman, who chairs the committee, said she was pleased the government had revised its plans and abandoned the idea of stations being open only in daylight hours.

She said: "Ministers have also accepted our concerns about the potential loss of local knowledge amongst coastguard officers that would have occurred under the initial proposals.

'Regrettable' closures

"Nevertheless, it will be important for the government to demonstrate that the new plans properly address our concerns to sustain operational effectiveness at key points when swift information transfer is required in order to save lives."

Mrs Ellman added that it was regrettable that some coastguard stations will still close under the revised plans.

The transport secretary's announcement follows a consultation process in which the government received about 1,800 submissions.

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