Suffolk/Essex: Coastguard boss reassures public over shake-up plans

THE head of the coastguard agency last night reassured that public safety would not be put at risk by controversial plans to reorganise the service.

Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), has been visiting coastguard centres in Yarmouth and Walton-on-the-Naze.

He said he was aware of people’s concerns but assured that safety was the number one priority.

The Government is currently consulting on plans to close 10 of the UK’s 18 round-the-clock coastguard centres - including those in Yarmouth and Walton.

There are just three 24-hour centres planned for Aberdeen, Dover and the Southampton/Portsmouth area, while five sub-centres will open only during daylight hours in Swansea, Falmouth in Cornwall, Humber, either Belfast or Liverpool, and either Stornoway or Shetland.

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The new proposals, which will save �7.5m a year, will see up to 250 job losses nationwide by 2014.

Critics fear local knowledge will be lost and that public safety will be put at risk.

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But Sir Alan, who went to school in Ipswich, said: “Local knowledge is something that we take very seriously.

“In search and rescue scenarios speed of response is very critical, we don’t take it lightly. We will not be getting rid of local knowledge. We are going to preserve it in different ways. We need to be more systematic.”

He said they would be drawing more on the expertise of coastal volunteer teams, the RNLI, helicopter rescue crews and harbour masters, as well as using geographic information systems.

“There is a wealth of knowledge there,” he said. “We won’t be putting people in charge of parts of the coast that they don’t know or understand.

“They will be tested on their knowledge - the coastline of Essex, the beaches of Suffolk, tidal streams, those things do need to be understood by those who are in the centres in the future. I can reassure people that we will take it very seriously.”

Sir Alan said he was aware that the sea off the Essex and Suffolk coast was becoming increasingly busy - especially with Felixstowe and Harwich ports, more offshore wind farms under construction and fishing and leisure industries.

However he said advances in technology lead to a different way of working.

“Because of the way technology has developed with radio and radar we don’t necessarily need to be in a location to be able to understand the issues that are there,” he said. “Coastguards have not been sweeping the coast with binoculars for many decades, where you are almost doesn’t matter.

“We are producing an integrated national model that can respond quickly. It should mean a rise in the efficiency of the service.”

Sir Alan also praised the attitude of the staff he visited at Yarmouth and Walton.

“I am really impressed by the way the coastguards themselves are approaching the whole consultation,” he said. “The issues they have been raising are about quality of service - not one of them has asked ‘what about my job’. I’m very proud of them for doing that. They provide an excellent service and they’re work is often unsung.”

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