Controversial cost-cutting plans to close three fire stations and open a new £5 million station on the edge of Kidderminster have been backed by district planners.
The new so-called Emergency Services Hub for Wyre Forest will be built on Stourport Road, between Kidderminster and Stourport, close to the district council’s HQ.
Despite its grand title the new premises will be home to the only fire station in the district and fire training facilities, allied to a small police presence and a voluntary search and rescue service. Existing fire stations in Kidderminster, Bewdley and Stourport will all close. There are no plans to house ambulance services there.
The scheme was approved by planners at a meeting of Wyre Forest District Council’s planning committee last night. (Tuesday March 20th)
Controversy surrounded the plans after an independent study organised by Hereford & Worcester Fire Authority revealed that response times to emergencies across the district would be adversely affected.
Average response times to emergency callouts – which were around 10 minutes 30 seconds – would lengthen by 20 per cent, according to the report. That means it would take an average of two minutes 30 seconds longer for the first crew to reach fires and car crashes.
Worst affected would be Bewdley, the report showed, though the number of incidents reached in 10 minutes or less would also fall in Stourport and Kidderminster..
The Fire Brigades Union also voiced concerns about the proposals.
Yet despite these findings cash-strapped fire chiefs pressed on with the plans, claiming the district is a “low risk” area generally for fires and road accidents, and that the majority of those that do occur are in Kidderminster.
They also highlighted that the whole district would now be served by a full time, 24/7 service, rather than the retained service currently provided from Bewdley and Stourport.
The report concluded that, while it would be best to have full time stations in every locality, “this is impractical…the Authority has to allocate its resources fairly and to the best effect having considered the level of risk and resources available.”
Stephen Brown, Wyre Forest Labour spokesman, said he was disappointed to see the plans go ahead. “Every second counts when there is an emergency. However, we understand that the fire service is under huge pressure to make savings because of gross underfunding – already this has seen the loss of thousands of firefighters nationally.”
Chief Fire Officer Nathan Travis, in a press statement today, said: “We are pleased that planning permission has been approved, which means that we can now progress with the construction phase of the hub.
“As the hub will be shared with some of our key partners, we will be able to seize opportunities for joint training, work more effectively together in areas such as prevention and enforcement, and ultimately make the best use of public resources.
“This is great news for residents living in the Wyre Forest as we will be able provide them with the best services possible.”
The new station will include offices, conference rooms, a gym and staff rooms, living accommodation for on-call staff, a two storey hot fire house for training, and a garage for up to five engines.
In emergencies a “hurry call” could be sent to the nearest traffic lights to allow engines a safe and speedy exit.
The station will host up to 25 full time staff and 80 part time staff, including up to 15 police staff.
The district’s voluntary search and rescue charity SARA will also be located at the premises.
The original vision was for a hub hosting all of the district’s 999 services.
The report cited above is the ‘Wyre Forest Emergency Services Hub Station consultation on choice of site report’ 2016. In it the fire service indicated a preference for the hub to be located at nearby Silverwoods but instead the brownfield site chosen was the second option, the former Romwire factory site, at Finepoint, which has been empty since 2001. You can read the consultation document here.