THE axe remains over Stornoway Coastguard station after the UK Coalition Government fudged their decision on the future of the emergency service.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has hit out that Scotland will be left with only one coastguard station that will be manned 24 hours a day, and a second station at either Stornoway or Shetland operating during daylight hours. In all, the proposals from the UK Government will see the number of maritime co-ordination centres cut from 18 to 8.
Commenting Angus MacNeil said: “These proposals from the UK Government show a Government that put saving money before saving lives, and will have a detrimental effect on many communities across the UK.
“This decision is one that makes me furious and comes at a time when the seas around our coasts are getting busier and busier with ship traffic. The UK Government are proving here that they are getting their priorities wrong, and this decision will come at a cost.
“I am particularly disappointed that the coastguard station at Stornoway in my constituency is under threat, and I will be pressing the Minister to ensure that the Stornoway base is kept open, and will emphasise to him that the closure of the Stornoway station will have a catastrophic effect on the local community.”
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, meanwhile, will vigorously oppose proposals to shut either Shetland or Stornoway Coastguard Station and are setting up a Task Group to fight the closure moves.
The proposal, announced by Shipping Minister Mike Penning, is out to consultation.
The Comhairle is seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the move which, they say, would put lives at risk, costs jobs and bring serious environmental consequences.
Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell said: “I have spoken to the Leader of Shetland Council today and we have agreed that we will not be set against each other. Rather we will fight a joint campaign to retain both Shetland and Stornoway Cooastguard Stations.
“Coming on top of the proposal that the tug is to be removed from the Western Isles this is outrageous. I believe there is a real risk of loss of life if these proposals are allowed to go ahead and a danger to the environment.
We will be forming a Task Group to oppose these proposals in the strongest terms.”Donald Crichton, prospective Labour Party candidate for the Western Isles for the Holyrood elections, has called for a taskforce to bring together Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Islands parliamentary repesentatives to secure the future of the station.
Mr Crichton said: “This is a critical juncture for the future of our coastguard station and we have to act now. Its retention is crucial for the safety of the Western Isles seaboard and not least local jobs. I am proposing that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar form a taskforce comprising of the local parliamentary representatives and other relevant agencies to put together a strong case to take to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and to the Secretary of State for Transport Phillip Hammond.”
He continued: “ We have already seen the success of the Hebrides Range taskforce under the leadership of Angus Campbell. This success can be repeated with a similar approach, a united team and a strong case put together and argued well could make all the difference.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant also slammed the closure proposals, saying: “These changes will cost lives. The removal of the tug could also have a devastating effect on the environment should any vessel run aground. These cuts are false economies.”