Aldous speaks up for Coastguard in Parliament

Waveney MP Peter Aldous spoke on Thursday in the Westminster Hall Debate on the Future of the Coastguard.

Aldous who has conducted his own consultation in the Waveney constituency spoke on points raised by constituents in letters and emails to him:

He praised the coxswain and crew of the Spirit of Lowestoft who were honoured for showing great bravery in rescuing crew from a craft stranded on rocks close to Ness Point in November 2009.

Aldous recognised that there is a need for review of the coastguard but asked to the Minister to address concerns expressed by Waveney constituents:

  • Increasing activity on the East Anglian coast due to the building of wind turbines; dredging; activity in the oil and gas sectors; fishing and leisure activity;
  • The complex nature of the Broads, made up of a network of rivers and waterways, extending over many miles with policing resting with a number of authorities and public bodies.
  • The region’s advantage of being close to helicopter rescue service at RAF Wattisham and on-ship fire and rescue service provided by the Suffolk Fire Service.

Aldous pressed the point made by many constituents about the importance of local knowledge, “the putty that you stick in the gaps in the first 5 minutes of an incident. If it is not there, the outcome can be tragic.”

He also praised the work of Coastwatch volunteers, including the Pakefield Coastwatch and asked that such services are integrated with the new Coastguard Service.

Commenting after the debate, Aldous said:

“I had a good response to my consultation with Waveney constituents who provided some very important points relating to our particular coastline and was pleased to make these points to the Minister in the debate. Our coastguard play an important role not only in saving lives during incidents but in helping prevent incidents occurring in the first place and any proposals should fully consider the issues on our coastline.”

PETER'S SPEECH IN FULL

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I am grateful to you for calling me early in the debate. Regrettably, I have to leave away for a previously arranged meeting in my constituency and I will not be able to stay for the winding-up speeches. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and to the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) for securing the debate. I shall begin by paying tribute to the Lowestoft lifeboat, which was founded in 1801.

Earlier this year, the coxswain and crew of the Spirit of Lowestoft were honoured for showing great bravery and for a magnificent team effort in rescuing three crew from a craft stranded on rocks close to Ness Point, Britain's most easterly point. The rescue took place at night in November 2009 in rough seas and strong winds. Coxswain John Fox received the thanks of the institution inscribed on vellum, while second coxswain Karl Jackson and crew members Ben Arlow, David Brown, Michael Beadle, Jonathan Flynn, Robert Lightfoot and Mark Ross each received a vellum service certificate.

While we debate the future of the coastguard in these comfortable surrounds, we must never forget the debt of thanks and gratitude that we owe to those people who risk their lives at all times of night and day, invariably in the most hazardous weather conditions. We owe it to them to come up with a sustainable, well-resourced and properly integrated coastguard service that is able to handle the demands of the 21st- century sea.

I recognise that there is a need for the service to be reviewed. There is a need to properly integrate the service and to fully utilise the new technology that is now available. I recognise the limitations of the system of pairing stations. There is a need for greater interoperability between stations. I agree with the reasons given in the consultation document for carrying out a review: the seas are becoming congested, ships are larger, the coastline is busier, and we are experiencing more extreme and variable weather conditions. That said, I have concerns, and I would be grateful if the Minister took them on board.

The proposed closure of the Yarmouth and Thames maritime rescue co-ordination centres has created worry and anxiety along the East Anglian coast. As the table in the consultation document shows, they are busy centres. With increased shipping activity envisaged off the East Anglia coast in the next few years, I urge the Minister to scrutinise those closures closely. If they are confirmed, there will be no centres between Dover and the Humber at a time when the seas off East Anglia are getting busier: some 1,000 wind turbines are going to be built, dredging continues, there is renewed activity in the oil and gas sector, and hopefully renewed activity in the fishing industry shortly. Construction work at Sizewell is to come, as well as ship-to-ship oil transfers, and increased shipping movements to and from Felixstowe and Great Yarmouth. There is also more leisure activity on the broads, on the numerous estuaries in Suffolk and Essex, and off the coast. The arrangements for the broads are an issue that is of particular concern to me, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), who has other commitments that prevent him from attending this debate. He is particularly concerned about Breydon Water in his constituency.

Given the nature of the broads, which are made up of a network of rivers and waterways and which extend over many miles in Suffolk and Norfolk, as well as the fact that most of the vessels there are leisure craft and that responsibility for policing rests with a number of authorities, there is an added risk, which should be scrutinised fully in any review. I urge the Minister to look at those issues and to consider whether there is a case for an additional centre for the broads and the surrounding area, which would reflect proposals made in the consultation on the Thames.

I would be grateful to the Minister if he confirmed that, in proposing that there should be no stations along the East Anglian coast, Ministers had regard to the fact that any station in the region has the advantage of being close to the helicopter rescue service operating from RAF Wattisham and to the on-ship fire and rescue service provided by the Suffolk fire service, which covers the whole East Anglian coast.

An issue that will be raised time and again in the debate is how the new arrangements will make best use of and fully harness local knowledge, which, in many cases, has been built up over generations. As was said in the briefings that I attended, local knowledge is the putty that we stick in the gaps in the first five minutes of an incident. If it is not there, the outcome can be tragic. People's main worry is that, without local centres, it will be more difficult for the coastguard to make best use of that local knowledge, which can be invaluable when the service is stretched.

The highest risks occur in the summer, when we often have leisure vessels crewed by people who do not know the area. In such a scenario, local knowledge of a long coast with many inlets can be absolutely critical when it is vital to get to an incident without delay. Whatever new arrangements are confirmed, it must demonstrated that local knowledge will not be thrown overboard, but retained and made better use of.

Some aspects of the proposals are attractive. Those aspects include providing high-quality jobs for coastguards, with job weight and pay reflecting the increased demands that will be placed on people. There is also the strengthening of the leadership and the support provided to volunteer coastguards. It is vital that the reorganisation is properly managed and resourced and that no effort or expense is spared in securing a successful transformation to bring about such improvements.

The Minister has previously given an assurance that the review is not just a cost-cutting exercise, but a genuine effort to restructure and improve the service and that adequate funding has been secured from the Treasury to implement his proposals. I am grateful to him for that. He has also indicated that this is a proper and full consultation, that alternative proposals for the future of the coastguard will be given full and proper consideration and that the current proposals will be amended if it is decided that improvements can be made to them. There is a worry that, in such a scenario, the Treasury might be an obstacle to securing the four-star service that we need. If that happens, I hope that the Department will do all it can to secure the additional funding needed.

My final request is for a service that not only is properly integrated, but works closely and in co-ordination with others to ensure that those on the seas receive the best possible service. The coastguard needs to be integrated with coastguard services in other countries and, from my constituents' point of view, with those on the other side of the North sea. The UK is already connected to the safe sea net system, but we need to consider whether improvements can be made.

I am aware of the excellent work done by Coastwatch volunteers, including those at Pakefield Coastwatch in my constituency, who form part of the Sea Safety Group. It is vital that such volunteers are fully involved and consulted in the review, that the service provided by them is fully integrated with the new coastguard service and that they are not burdened with additional costs or unnecessary red tape.

I am grateful to you, Mr Crausby, for bearing with me, and I thank you for allowing me to speak early so that I can depart early. I apologise for the fact that I will not be here for the summings-up.

3.14 pm

| Hansard

Surgeries

Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Beccles, Saturday 14th April
Lowestoft, Thursday 31st May

 

Get Lowestoft Moving Campaign

 

A47 Alliance

Suppor the A47 Alliance

Download the report...

A47 Gateway to Growth

Your Local Councillors

Enter your Postcode below for details of all your elected representatives:

  

Lowestoft Transport Prospectus

Constituency Map

View Waveney in a larger map