Protest group fights Sudbury fire cuts

Firefighters and emergency services at the scene of the huge blaze at the Market Hill end of Friars

Firefighters and emergency services at the scene of the huge blaze at the Market Hill end of Friars Street in Sudbury - Credit: Archant

People who claim lives could be put at risk if plans to downgrade Sudbury’s fire station go ahead have formed an action group to fight the proposal.

At a meeting last month attended by more than 80 local people, Suffolk’s fire chief Mark Hardingham and county cabinet member Matthew Hicks revealed that replacing one of Sudbury’s two on-call fire engines with a smaller, cheaper rapid-response vehicle would save just £35,000 a year.

The proposal is part of a document – currently out for public consultation – in which the county sets out its bid to save £1.3million from the fire service’s £22million budget by 2017/18.

But because of grave concerns after the fire in September which destroyed listed buildings in Sudbury’s Friars Street and left 20 people homeless, emotions are running high in the town with many people vehemently opposed to the cuts.

One of them is Sudbury mayor Jack Owen who is chairing the new ‘Sudbury and Cornard Against Fire Cuts’ action group.

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He said it had been formed by local people who were determined to fight the plans to downgrade Sudbury fire station, which also provides cover to Great Cornard, Newton Green, Acton, Great Waldingfield and parts of north Essex.

Mr Owen said the group was calling on the county council to “shelve this incomplete idea and leave Sudbury alone”.

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He added: “We already have two rapid response vehicles in Sudbury - they are called fire engines - and that’s what is needed.

“Would the proposed replacement vehicle have gone to the Market Hill fire? They can’t tell us.

“It’s all too vague. If that scenario had played out once the station had been cut, lives could have been lost and £35,000 doesn’t sound like a lot when you think about it like that.”

At the recent meeting, fire chief Mark Hardingham said if the consultation proved the need, then the council would reconsider retaining the town’s second fire engine.

Andy Message, a full time watch commander at Ipswich fire station and an on-call crew commander in Sudbury, said the action group hoped to persuade as many people as possible to contribute to the consultation, which ends on February 22.

He said: “We have all recently seen how devastating fire can be and I am sure that will put the risk of fire at the forefront of people’s minds in Sudbury.

“Although there is some scepticism because the last time there was a consultation on proposed fire service cuts all of the changes went through, we have been assured that Suffolk will be listened to in this process we are taking them (the council) at their word.

“We are encouraging as many people as possible to take part and voice their opinions on the future of Sudbury fire station.

“Every Thursday and Saturday until the consultation closes, we will be setting up a stall outside the town hall to inform everyone about why we think the proposal is bad for the people of Sudbury and the future of the town.”

According to Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for environment and public protection, the council has done “everything possible” in recent years to protect the fire service against reductions in grant funding from the Government.

He described the proposals as “challenging”, but said they had been developed after taking account of the risk profile across the county. This included the number, location and type of fire stations and fire engines, where on-call and full-time firefighters are stationed, plus the 999 call demand and casualty history over recent years.

“Once the consultation has concluded, the county council’s cabinet will consider the proposals and feedback at a future cabinet meeting,” Mir Hicks said.

“I would encourage anyone interested in these proposals to fully participate in the consultation by visiting”

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