I welcome the news that the UK Shipping Minister Mike Penning is going to extend the period of consultation over the future of coastguard services by six weeks. I have serious concerns about the UK Government's plans to slash the number of coastguard stations around the UK to save money which could result in overnight operational control of large parts of the Welsh coastline being run from the North Sea coast. The UK Government has stated that it plans to merge the current 17 stations into two main hubs with five supporting stations.
The main Coastguard hubs would be at Aberdeen and on the English south coast. Swansea and either Liverpool or Belfast would be among the supporting stations that are expected to look after the Welsh coastline. This is a bad idea, made worse by the fact that the intention is for these supporting stations not to operate on a full-time basis. Under current proposals the Coastguard stations in Milford Haven and Holyhead will close.
The UK Government needs to acknowledge that the Coastguard is actually a vital emergency service in Wales and our coastline must be properly protected. These proposed cuts will affect the Coastguard's ability to protect and save lives. Local knowledge of the coast will be lost or eroded by moving to centralised coastguard hubs some hundreds of miles away in Scotland and England, even with state of the art modern technology this is madness.
The Coastguard needs expert local knowledge and local manned coastguard service bases to be at its most effective and should be valued just like the other emergency services. The current cost saving proposals are very likely to result in compulsory redundancies for skilled and specialised jobs when the coastal stations are closed down. So far the consultation has been a mess with no proper risk assessment in place, it is important that the bottom line is safety first and I sincerely hope there is time to pause for thought, and to think again and time to scrap these crazy plans.