My submission to the Devon and Somerset Fire Service Review

Dear Mr Howell

Please consider this letter my formal submission to the consultation regarding the future arrangements for fire service provision. I am sending copies to all members of the Devon and Somerset Fire Authority and will also be putting this letter in the public domain.

As I said when we met, I do understand the need for a thoroughgoing review of the Service’s operations given the significant changes in demand in recent years. However, I am deeply concerned by some of the proposals currently being considered.  I have had detailed discussions with you and heard the community’s concerns at public meetings and have received large numbers of letters and emails. I have now considered both sides of the argument carefully.  As a result, I am firmly opposed to the closure of Woolacombe Fire Station and am deeply sceptical about the wisdom of the other changes being proposed at Ilfracombe, Lynton and Barnstaple.

I do understand that the overall changes are about making the service better and more resilient for the future, as well as matching resources with changing demands. I also genuinely believe that while finances are an issue, they are not the main driver of this review. However, none of the options which involves the closure of Woolacombe Fire Station or a reduction in cover at other North Devon locations is acceptable. 

The fact that the Service has done such a wide-ranging public consultation is welcome, but there are some concerns. The way the data has been presented, while I am sure is accurate, is not sufficiently transparent and could be considered misrepresentative of what individual stations and their crews contribute to the overall cover in the wider region. I appreciate that the overall purpose is to move resources to where they are most needed, but it would have been helpful and indeed more transparent to have included out of area calls for all stations. 

For example, Combe Martin station responded to no fire incidents in its local area but is clearly valuable in supporting other areas. However, this evidence is not represented as part of this consultation. There is therefore no way to judge individual stations on the work they do outside of their own catchment area. 

I do not feel that this consultation has sufficiently considered the value of Co-Responders and other cross service collaborations to stations such as Woolacombe and Lynton. I am sure that there has been some consultation between yourselves and SWASFT, but given that the Ambulance Trust are also reviewing their service delivery, I believe that more evidence of joined up thinking would be welcome as part of this review. 

I also have concerns about proposed changes to the Ilfracombe and Barnstaple stations crewing. Barnstaple is a large and growing town at the heart of North Devon and any change to the level of cover there will affect the whole of Northern Devon. Ilfracombe has multiple older properties, many of which are being used as HMOs and are particularly vulnerable all year round and at all times of day and night. I want to make clear that I share the community’s concerns about any reductions in cover at these two stations.

Whilst I appreciate the value of ‘Roving’ Appliances, the community needs to be convinced that the use of such resources will not markedly increase response times. There is also, as you know, considerable opposition within the workforce generally and from the Unions in particular. This gives rise to fears that the introduction of roving appliances would in reality be very difficult to deliver. 

Overall, I welcome this consultation as it shines a light on the hard work that the Service has undertaken in improving fire safety which has led to a reduction in the number of call outs. I, however, hope that you consider North Devon’s rurality, its growth and its geography when coming to a decision on how the fire service can best provide the level of cover with which the North Devon community will be comfortable. I will continue to reflect the community’s concerns and ask that these points are fully considered before final decisions are made.

Thank you once again for the work that you and your Safer Together team have undertaken in holding this consultation. I am sure that on reflection, and with analysis of the responses received, that workable, manageable and positive improvements can be made to the overall service provided in North Devon.


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