Warwickshire County Council is consulting on radical changes to our fire and rescue services which will hugely reduce this important service, especially at night. According to the proposals, most of our local on-call stations will be sidelined and replaced by a model of surge teams, while Southam, Alcester and Wellesbourne move to daytime and evening cover only. This leaves us with a substantially reduced night cover.
The surge solution proposed has never been implemented in a comparable rural English county. Our local area has a number of characteristics that may make the surge model unsuitable: many timber framed buildings in our towns and villages more prone to fire; several major roads – M40/42 and A46 – with numerous car accidents; repeated serious flooding with storm after storm; an older than average population; and a local population that in some areas is growing fast.
A glance at the map of South Warwickshire shows two huge areas - one containing Alcester, Bidford and Henley; the other to the southeast, covering Southam itself and many villages from Napton down to Shipston - that will be left without local night-time fire and accident cover. Overnight, the whole area will rely on two appliances in Leamington and one appliance in Stratford, both about 30 minutes' drive away, and that only once the appliances have set off.
Existing local fire stations in Bidford, Henley, Kenilworth, Fenny Compton, Gaydon and Shipston will become surge stations and only provide back-up in terms of extra personnel, should they be needed. They will have to make their own way to the scene. Just recently, 5 appliances attended the theatre in Stratford after 10 pm. It is far from clear where those appliances would have come from under the new system. Redundancies of existing on-call firefighters are a distinct possibility, with a consequent loss of local knowledge.
The mathematical modelling has been done on historical data. It indicates that incidents are less likely to occur in the middle of the night. Not to never occur at night, but to occur less often than they do during normal working hours. It will come as no reassurance for residents to know that while they wait for a fire engine to drive from Stratford to their burning home at three in the morning, they are a statistical anomaly: unlucky that their fire was at a time when fires haven't happened in the past and when cover was at its lowest. We believe that any reduction of night cover is totally unacceptable to South Warwickshire residents.
Rather than improving our fire and rescue service, it is being cut back to fit the resources available. Lots of smoke (pun intended) and mirrors have been used to dress up the reality, arguing that most of us will be all right, most of the time. But that will be no consolation if it's your house that burns down in the middle of the night.
We shall be making the case for alternative proposals, including improving the current model.
We urge residents to engage with consultation: https://ask.warwickshire.gov.uk
Jenny Wilkinson Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Kenilworth and Southam
Manuela Perteghella Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Stratford-on-Avon