Campaigners against fire station closures in the region have been offered a glimmer of hope.
Last month, members of Tyne and Wear Fire Authority agreed a programme of cuts which includes the loss of six fire engines, 131 staff and 20% of equipment.
It was also decided Sunderland Central Fire Station would close and stations in Wallsend and Gosforth be replaced with a new build in Benton.
The Fire Brigades Union described the news as “devastating” and claimed the plans would put lives at risk.
Yesterday, however, authority members agreed to dip into a further £6m of the service’s reserves and to implement the plans over a longer period of three years.
Chair of the Fire Authority Councillor Tom Wright said the extra time would be used to lobby the Government for a different funding settlement.
While the plans will still go ahead, station closures will be avoided ‘in the short term’ and chiefs will attempt to find extra funds.
Councillor Wright said: “The fire authority is in no doubt that changes to the frontline cannot be avoided due to the financial situation, and are committed to ensuring this change is phased in over a three-year period to ensure that the excellent safety record of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service continues.
“After considering the options available, the fire authority has decided it may be possible to avoid station closures in the short term, in the hope that the financial situation improves.
“It is clear however that if this is not the case then station closures will have to be re-examined.”
The fire authority agreed to revisit the plans when the Government reviews its finances.
Councillor Wright added: “We will continue to fight the cuts and call on the continued support of MPs, local councillors and the public in the North East to lobby government to prevent any future cuts to this excellent service.”
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, criticised the authority over its cuts plan and says any which factors in the closure of the city fire station is a risk.
She said: “I am extremely disappointed that Tyne and Wear Fire Authority failed to support a motion that would have prevented the closure of Sunderland Central Fire Station. The agreed-upon review is simply not good enough.
“I will redouble my efforts to try and stop this closure going ahead, working with all concerned to make the fire authority see sense and revise this genuinely unsafe decision.
“If Option 3 is implemented, lives will be put at risk in Sunderland.”