Holy Island fire cover pledge fails to douse worries

FIRE cover for an island community will not be affected by Government plans to remove search-and-rescue helicopters from the region, a minister has claimed.

FIRE cover for an island community will not be affected by Government plans to remove search-and-rescue helicopters from the region, a minister has claimed.

Minister for Transport Mike Penning has vowed that current arrangements for Holy Island will not be affected by the proposed withdrawal of helicopters from RAF Boulmer.

The news was last night welcomed by local MP Sir Alan Beith, though he has repeated serious concerns about the proposed removal of the helicopters.

Fire and rescue bosses in Northumberland closed their station on Holy Island in 1990.

Arrangements were put in place in the event of a blaze breaking out when the causeway was closed by the tide, in which case a fire crew would be flown to the island by a helicopter from RAF Boulmer and operate a vehicle kept there. Government plans for the base’s helicopters to be withdrawn in 2015 prompted Sir Alan to question Mr Penning on what would happen to those arrangements.

The two met earlier this month and now the Minister has written to the MP assuring him the arrangements will not be affected as search-and-rescue helicopters from other bases will be deployed to the island.

He wrote: “I can confirm that, in any future scenario when Lindisfarne requires helicopter assistance, coverage will be available as it is today.

“Coverage will be provided by whichever base is deemed the most appropriate at the time of tasking.”

Sir Alan responded: “This is a welcome assurance about fire protection for Holy Island.”

Northumberland County Councillor for Holy Island Dougie Watkin last night said the current arrangement had been introduced due to a lack of trained firefighters on the island. He added there had only been one occasion whereby a fire crew had to be airlifted onto Lindisfarne in over 20 years.

He claimed there is a back-up arrangement in place as RAF Boulmer could not always guarantee being able to deploy a helicopter, due to it sometimes being out on other missions, involving a private company based at Newcastle Airport.

A further back-up, he claimed, is to take a crew to the island by lifeboat.

Coun Watkin said the threat to the Holy Island arrangements was “a worry” but he was gratified that a system is still in place to get firemen there.

Sir Alan had said the issue was one of many reasons why RAF Boulmer should remain as a search and rescue base.

At his meeting with the minister, he asked for documents on the planned shake up of search and rescue cover.

Having had sight of a report on the proposals, Sir Alan has now written to the Minister expressing his continued concerns.

Last night he added: “I have serious concerns about the proposals to end search and rescue services from RAF Boulmer.

“I have identified serious weaknesses in the report, which in my view make it inadequate as a basis for ending search- and-rescue from RAF Boulmer, and I am continuing to put pressure on the Minister.”

Coverage will be provided by whichever base is deemed the most appropriate at the time

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