10:00AM, Saturday 18 July 2020
A fire station in Wargrave has closed after failing to reach its availability targets.
Wargrave Fire Station closed on Wednesday, July 1, following three years of uncertainty over its future.
The on-call fire station was first set for closure in April 2017 after members of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (RBFA) voted unanimously to close it down following a public consultation and discovering that savings needed to be made.
The decision to close the station, which opened in 1903 and is Berkshire’s oldest fire station, has since been deferred three times, for crews to reach the required availability targets.
However, as stated at the virtual meeting of the RBFA on Thursday, June 25, the required availability target of 60 per cent was not met, with crews reaching 18.3 per cent in the year 2019 to 2020, 4.9 per cent in April 2020 and 2.8 per cent in May.
Speaking at the meeting, vice chairman Cllr Pauline Helliar-Symons (Con, Wokingham Borough Council) said: “I can’t see that there’s any alternative. To keep Wargrave open would need us to dig into our reserves to the tune of £225,000.
“Wargrave’s fires are already put out in good time as we’ve heard from other stations and not by the Wargrave engine because it’s just not available.”
She added: “Instead of going up they’ve gone down and down and down. In the meantime we’ve spent literally thousands of pounds just to have a fire engine doing nothing in a building.”
Cllr Paul Gittings, (Lab, Reading Borough Council) said: “The root cause for that decision does remain the underfunding of our service by the Government. It just does not feel right in the middle of a global pandemic to close Berkshire’s oldest fire station, however valid the reasons might be.”
Echoing Cllr Gittings comments, Cllr Jo Lovelock (Lab, Reading Borough Council) said that although the station was given six months to improve targets in December 2019, they have only had three months to do this due to lockdown and the community should be given ‘another chance’ to work in more normal times.
Cllr Dexter Smith (Con, Slough Borough Council) said: “The targets that were set were very clear, sadly the performance of the station never got anywhere near those targets.”
He added: “I cannot see any virtue in deferring this decision any longer because of the financial impact that its going to have.”
Summing up, chairman of the RBFA, Cllr Colin Dudley (Con, Bracknell Forest Council), said: “We cannot afford to keep a very very expensive fire appliance that is only available for an average of 50 minutes [a day].”
The motion was carried, and it was announced that on-call staff at the station would be given the opportunity to ‘transfer to the role of whole time firefighter’ without having to go through the recruitment process.
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