A public consultation on plans for a revamp of West Midlands Fire Service has been labelled a ‘ridiculous charade’ by a Birmingham MP amid fresh concerns it will cost lives.
Steve McCabe MP (Lab, Hall Green) criticised the service for failing to engage residents in the consultation he says has been hurriedly compiled with no firm detail.
Rose Jones, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in the West Midlands, said proposals to knock down ten stations and build a smaller number in more central locations will decrease response times and cost lives.
Mr McCabe said: “This consultation is a total sham. Almost all the people in that room said they only knew about the proposed closure because of my letter. That is not what I call consultation. The fire chiefs were unable to answer the most simple questions about their plans. They could not even tell us where the new stations are likely to be. How then can they argue that response times will be faster?
“These proposals are poorly conceived, ill thought out and illogical. The Fire Service should call a halt to this ridiculous charade and come back and talk to people when they have clear, well thought out proposals on the table.”
Under the proposals, set across a five-year period, Billesley and Hay Mills stations would make way for a centrally-located facility with a similar move mooted for Cradley Heath and Halesowen depots.
Smethwick is likely to close and its crews relocate; Bickenhill is earmarked for reform, though the details are not yet clear;, and Ladywood and Highgate are set to each lose a crew.
Ms Jones said: “They are saying there will be a quicker turnout but our concern is there will be lives lost. It seems they are rushing through these plans for the new financial year.
“Sandwell Council has said the plans should be dropped because there’s a lack of resources. Money should be spent on improving frontline services and training.
“Another big issue is the fact the public don’t feel they have been consulted.
“It’s the theme of meetings we are going to.”
A public consultation document on the plans is available at www.wmfs.net until it closes on January 7.
A fire service spokesman said: “The proposals out to public consultation are based on a detailed study of incident and resource data across the whole of the WMFS area, designed to identify better locations for fire stations and engines in order to improve overall response times.
“Under the proposals, ten of the existing fire stations would cease to operate, while eight new stations would be built in strategically better locations.
“The number of frontline fire engines available to respond to emergencies would remain the same.
“The consultation has included adverts in the local newspapers, press releases, an ongoing programme of public meetings, information on the fire service website and on other local authority websites, presentations at council meetings, letters to businesses and direct correspondence and liaison with politicians.”