Thursday, 19 May 2011

Hammond tacking on coastguard closures

The Independent and The Times report today that Philip Hammond, Transport Secretary, has abandoned the plans to close the majority of Britain's coastguard stations.

Although the Department of Transport claims this is merely speculation at this stage it has all the signs of a major climbdown by the Coalition and a huge victory for Britain's coastal communities.

Hammond, who is in the studios today talking about trains, has just been popped a question about the reports on BBC News. He said he was "looking again" at coastguard closure plan after receiving "strong feedback" but insisted this does not amount to a u-turn. An announcement is expected before the summer recess.

David Cameron has been distancing himself from plans almost since it was first proposed to shut 11 of 19 UK stations and cut the rest's opening hours.

The rationalisation would have left Scotland with one 24 hour station in Aberdeen with Stornoway and Shetland scrapping it out to remain open during daylight hours.

The outcry from every one of Britain's coastal constituencies has been sufficient to persuade the government that it is handling a policy about as popular as the Forestry Commission sell-off.

There was an incredibly strong reaction to the consultation on closures, which was extended by six weeks, and now the Commons Transport Select Committee has taken up the case too.

MPs from the committee are actually in Stornoway today taking evidence. When their report is completed the Transport Department consultation will open again briefly and then Ministers will come to a conclusion.

Despite the "speculation" I doubt if the coastguard service will be untouched by the rationalisation process. Hopefully the contract to keep the emergency coastguard tugs on the western and northern appraoches will also survive the review process.

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