Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Davies Snub Adds to Boulmer Worry; but Minister Insists Cut Is a Wise Decision

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Davies Snub Adds to Boulmer Worry; but Minister Insists Cut Is a Wise Decision

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Wood

DEFENCE bosses have been criticised over lack of consultation on plans to cut back a regional lifeline, after shunning an invitation to meet councillors.

The Ministry of Defence announced earlier this year that 24-hour cover provided by search and rescue helicopters at RAF Boulmer's 202 squadron will cease from some time after 2012.

Instead cover will only be provided from the base, near Alnwick in Northumberland, for 12 hours a day.

This is part of government plans to bring the nation's search and rescue cover under a single operator, rather than have it operated variously by the RAF, coastguard and civilians, and to provide a new modern helicopter fleet.

The decision on Boulmer prompted Northumberland County Council to pass a motion voicing concern over levels of cover last month and to invite defence minister Quentin Davies to send a representative to a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

However, he wrote back saying he would not be able to send anyone due to the sensitive stage reached in the process of appointing an operator.

Last night, Coun Glen Sanderson, who penned the motion and the letter to Mr Davies, branded the reply disappointing.

He said it typified the government's apparent reluctance to consider or even hear views of interested parties on its proposals or to give more details.

The councillor said people want answers on who will provide cover, and whether work done by the Boulmer team with local lifeboats and fire crews and a mountain rescue team in Cumbria, will continue.

He highlighted the arrangement whereby, if available, a helicopter from Boulmer carries firefighters to incidents on Holy Island when the village is cut off from the mainland by the tide.

The councillor said: "There appears to be no timetable for consultation, no clear initiative by the government to speak to local people and the key partners. The government seems to be completely unaware or uninterested in all the work that goes on here above the call of duty. …

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