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Yarmouth coastguard will be axed before test phase over

PUBLISHED: 21:58 08 March 2012

Havenbridge House and Haven Bridge, Great Yarmouth.
Photo: Andy Darnell

Havenbridge House and Haven Bridge, Great Yarmouth. Photo: Andy Darnell

Archant © 2011

GREAT Yarmouth coastguard station must close by June 2013 as it cannot renew its lease, the Mercury can reveal.

The new coastguard system will not have been tested by this point as the proposed National Network will not be fully operational.

Havenbridge House’s landlords - Citygate Developments - say an offer to extend the lease is on the table and they want the coastguard to stay.

But the building’s main tenant is the government’s tax department - HMRC - so the coastguards’ hands are tied.

Just two coastguard stations - Yarmouth and Clyde, in Scotland - are to close before the new National Network is fully operational.

A total of eight of the UK’s 17 coastguard stations are set to close.

Campaigners say they are “gob-smacked” by this news and concede the fight to save the Yarmouth station has been lost.

But they are determined to press for better coverage of the Broads, which they say needs local knowledge.

Paul Rice, county councillor for South Smallburgh, said: “I’m gob-smacked and I didn’t see this coming. It’s quicker than they said and it’s a total disappointment.”

He added: “It’s a lost cause but there’s still a lot to fight for and I still firmly believe local knowledge does save lives.”

Shipping minister Mike Penning confirmed Yarmouth’s control centre will close before the proposed new configuration has been tested due to “external factors”.

In a House of Commons written answer he said the tenancy agreement is “coming to an end and not being extended by [its] landlord”.

Havenbridge House’s main tenant is HMRC and responsibility for its running is outsourced to asset managers Mapeley.

Richard Parkes, director of maritime operations at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), says once the MCA’s prime lease ends in June 2013 they cannot extend it - as it is in the hands of Mapeley and HMRC.

It is understood they will not be renewing the prime lease.

Iain Reed, a director at Norwich-based Citygate Developments, said: “We’ve put a proposal on the table but it’s confidential.

“We would like the coastguard to commit for as long as possible.

“It’s in the interest of Great Yarmouth, but the main tenants have resisted signing a new lease.”

The control room at Havenbridge House must be completely bare when its lease terminates in June 2013, so it is likely to close at an earlier date.

But Yarmouth coastguard officers say calls can safely be handled at stations on the Humberside and Essex coast when their control room shuts.

Peter Wheeler, union representative for Yarmouth Coastguard, said: “When they close us it could be dealt with by dividing our work between Bridlington - the Humberside station - and Walton on the Naze - the Thames station.

“They can deal with it by splitting us between neighbour stations.”

Once the new coastguard system is in place, Humberside will operate a 24-hour station which will field calls from Great Yarmouth.

Government sources say that sophisticated technology will ensure staff can deal with calls away from the locality. But there is continuing resistance from campaigners who say call-handlers must have local knowledge of the area they are covering.

The coastguard stations closing in the reorganisation are: Brixham, Clyde, Forth, Yarmouth, Liverpool, Portland, Swansea and Thames. Remaining open are Aberdeen, Belfast, Falmouth, Holyhead, Humber, London, Milford Haven, Shetland, Stornaway.

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