Plans for a new fire station at Salfords have been unveiled which would leave Horley without a fire engine in the town.
Surrey County Council has unveiled the proposals put forward by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), drawn up following neighbouring West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service's (WSFRS) decision to remove its fire appliance from Horley next April.
Currently, WSFRS operates on a largely historic model that has seen little change over the years, and its area includes the Horley station in Povey Cross Road.
However, now WSFRS is to withdraw its engine from the town from April 1 as part of a raft of changes across the service being made to save £2.5 million.
Its Horley crews will be moved to merge with colleagues at Horsham Fire Station, at which point Surrey County Council has said Surrey firefighters will take over. And now the shape that future fire cover for the Horley area may take has been revealed, with new fire stations proposed at Salfords and Burgh Heath, to “create a chain of fire engines in East Surrey” which the county council has said “would mean crews getting to emergencies faster.”
A statement from the county council said, if given the go-ahead, SFRS’ plan “would create a chain of fire engines in East Surrey, stretching from Epsom down to the outskirts of Horley.
“In-between, firefighters would be based at Reigate and the new Burgh Heath station.”
An eight-week consultation for residents to have their say started this week and will run until February 1.
Surrey County Council cabinet member for community services, Kay Hammond, said: “Surrey has an excellent fire service and these plans will make sure our firefighters can continue to keep the people who live and work in the east of the county safe in years to come.”
Coun Hammond, Conservative councillor for Horley West, said: “Opening stations in Salfords and Burgh Heath would create a chain of fire engines that would be able to provide cover faster. “By investing in these stations, we would be investing in people’s safety.”
She said: “The fire service have drawn up these proposals and it is only right that we now give people the opportunity to give us their views. “I look forward to hearing from them during the consultation.” The planned changes would see one of the two fire engines currently based at Epsom moved to Burgh Heath, and one of Reigate’s two appliances switched to Salfords.
Until the proposed new Salfords station opens, the fire service will operate from a temporary base nearby.
Surrey County Council performs the role of fire authority and has the statutory duty for providing fire cover and services in Horley. The move though has been questioned by some fearing the knock-on effects of having fire cover provided from Salfords – about two miles from Horley town centre - may result in slower response times to emergencies in the town and the surrounding area, and particularly the M23 and Gatwick Airport, potentially putting lives at risk.
A spokesman for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Surrey was not available for comment.
But Mick Cambers, FBU chairman for West Sussex, said: “I think obviously, what’s happening if you look at the over-all picture, is we are reducing the over-all staffing levels, so we have less resources and resilience.”
He said although WSFRS, which owns the Horley Fire Station building, is not technically closing it, from the FBU’s point of view, withdrawing the fire engine from the town means it will have ceased to function as a fire engine station.
Mr Cambers said the service’s acclaimed Technical Rescue Unit, which is based there and which is sent around the world to help after international disasters such as earthquakes, will remain at the site, but will not be answering regular fire service calls.
He said their expertise may be called on if there is an emergency perhaps involving a collapsed building or heavy goods vehicle traffic collision, but otherwise, he said, Horley fire station “will be an empty building.”
“We have Gatwick Airport - an international airport, the second London operating airport - and it’s got to be a priority,” he said.
“We’ve got to be prepared, at the worst, for a plane coming down.
“Horley was a back-up fire appliance for Gatwick.”
He said: “We’ve got worries about the individuals who will be working under Surrey County Council having to undergo a lot of training now to be able to do the same job that our firefighters did when they were supporting Gatwick.”
He said: “The population is increasing, there’s more factories, more cars on the road and we seem to be having less firefighters protecting the public.”
Residents can give their views on SFRS’ proposals by completing a questionnaire at www.surrey-fire.gov.uk/psp, emailing comments to email@example.com, or calling 03456 009 009. Alternatively, people can write to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, Croydon Road, Reigate, Surrey RH2 0EJ.