Portland Coastguard Station To Close

Ministers have confirmed plans to close eight coastguard co-ordination centres around the UK.

Co-ordination centres will be closed at Portland in Dorset, Clyde and Forth in Scotland, Swansea, Liverpool, Great Yarmouth, Brixham in Devon, and Walton on the Naze in Essex with a loss of 159 jobs.

But shipping minister Mike Penning insisted the changes would result in a "modernised, nationally networked, fully resilient'' service.

A new central Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) will be located at Titchfield near Fareham in Hampshire, Mr Penning said in a statement to MPs.

The blueprint confirmed today significantly waters down the Government's original closure plans, but shadow shipping minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: "I have no doubt these proposals are at least partly driven by financial constraints.''

He added: "In a number of communities out there now there will be real disappointment and even anger today.''

In July the Government set out its revised plans, which were confirmed today after a consultation process.

Ministers ditched their original proposals which envisaged cutting the centres from 19 to nine, with three remaining open 24 hours a day.

Instead Mr Penning confirmed a system with a single MOC, which will be based at the vacant fire control centre at Kite's Croft near Fareham, and round-the-clock co-ordination centres at Falmouth in Cornwall; Milford Haven and Holyhead in Wales; Bangor in Northern Ireland; Shetland, Aberdeen and Stornoway in Scotland; and Humber.

The MOC will have a back-up at the existing coastguard centre in Dover, which will retain its 24-hour co-ordination role, and the small London station will also remain open.

The new MOC will replace the centre at Lee on Solent in Hampshire.

Mr Penning told the Commons:

"I understand, of course, that the closure of some existing co-ordination centres and the loss of some coastguard jobs will come as a disappointment to those directly affected.

"However, the decisions I have announced today will deliver the modernised, nationally networked, fully resilient coastguard service we require for the future while reducing costs.''

The move would give  "better support for our coastguard volunteers'' and "front-line rescue capabilities''.

The axed co-ordination centres will be closed by the end of March 2015.

Among the issues raised in the consultation were whether Holyhead or Liverpool should remain open.

Mr Penning said "familiarity with Welsh place names'' was an "important consideration'' in keeping Holyhead open.

But he said the sites at Liverpool, Swansea and Walton on the Naze will retain a "strong'' coastguard presence even when the co-ordination centres close.

There will be a "similar strong presence'' in the Clyde, but at a different site.

MPs lined up to seek reassurance that local knowledge on waters near their constituencies would not be lost when the paired stations are closed.

The chairwoman of the Transport Select Committee, Louise Ellman, said:

"I recognise the significant changes that have been made since the Government's original proposals were put forward. But what work has actually been done to ensure that this scale of closures will retain local knowledge so that life can be safeguarded?''

Mr Penning replied:

"Your report did help in drawing views together about how the coastguard can go forward.

"The whole point of keeping one of the pairs, which on a regular basis cover the topography of the other areas, means that we keep the local knowledge so many people in the consultation were concerned about.

"I know it's disappointing for some areas in the country but actually resilience is more important and we need to have a 21st century coastguard.''