£14million fire service reforms

IPSWICH'S Colchester Road fire station is to close by the end of the decade as part of a huge series of fire service reforms, The Evening Star can reveal today.

IPSWICH'S Colchester Road fire station is to close by the end of the decade as part of a huge series of fire service reforms, The Evening Star can reveal today.

The fire station at the headquarters is to be converted into a training centre.

It will be replaced by a new fire station of the same size at Martlesham which will serve communities to the east of Ipswich.

The proposal is the cornerstone of a £14 million investment in fire premises across the county which has been approved by the government this week.

The Martlesham fire station will have space for five appliances and will be staffed 24 hours a day by full-time firefighters.

It will not lead to the immediate closure of the Woodbridge fire station - although its future could be reviewed if it is felt surplus to requirements in future years.

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As part of the £14 million programme, there will also be a new five-appliance fire station built in south Lowestoft.

The town's main fire station is currently based to the north of the river, and includes the county's training centre.

That will be closed and replaced with a small retained fire station.

As part of the £14 million programme there will also be new fire stations built at Needham Market, Hadleigh, Clare and Nayland to replace existing premises.

"This is very good news for the fire service - it will make us much more effective," said chief fire officer Malcolm Alcock.

"Ipswich has two fire stations barely a mile and a half away from each other, and given its size and the expansion we have seen over the last two decades it makes sense to replace Colchester Road with a new station in Martlesham.

"That will enable us to convert Colchester Road into a new training centre which is in a much better place than the current centre.

"At the moment firefighters from Haverhill have to go to Lowestoft for a day's training - and that's one heck of a trek!"

Mr Alcock insisted that moving the Colchester Road fire station to Martlesham would not increase the risk for anyone.

"It's not going to make it more difficult for us to get out to any properties.

"Properties on the western side of the town can be reached easily from Princes Street fire station in the town and it will make it much easier for calls in the east of Ipswich," he said.

No location had yet been decided for the new fire station in Martlesham.

"We have identified two potential sites, both by the A12 and both would be a very good location. We are currently in negotiations with the landowners," Mr Alcock said.

The new fire station would make it easier for rescue equipment sent to crashes on the main roads in the area because it would be right beside the A12, he added.

Firefighters from Colchester Road would transfer to Martlesham - there would be no impact on uniformed staff.

The £14 million will come from the government's Private Finance Initiative - the new buildings will be constructed and owned by private companies who will rent them back to the fire service.

The private companies will also manage the fabric of the buildings, so maintenance and catering staff would transfer to them rather than being directly employed by the county council as fire authority.

The funding will also be boosted by the sale of the five acres of land in north Lowestoft currently occupied by a large fire station and training centre.

The administrative headquarters of the fire service will remain at Colchester Road in Ipswich, as will the control room.

However the future of that is also in doubt as the government considers whether to introduce a regional fire control system for local fire services across East Anglia.

The deal with a private company is expected to be signed by the end of next year.

That would mean work on rebuilding fire stations across the county would start during 2006 and the whole programme would take between three and five years to be complete.

A fire service spokesman said there was no clear decision on when the Martlesham fire station would be built.

However that is likely to be in the first phase of the development plan because Colchester Road would have to be closed and converted to a training centre before the changes could be introduced in Lowestoft.

The Fire Brigade Union have welcomed the move. Chairman of the Suffolk branch Vince Jell said: "It will help us provide a greater coverage to the east of Ipswich and, as it stands at the moment, there will be no job losses.

"We haven't had a chance to look into it in great detail yet but we see no problems with it at this stage."

nWhat do you think of the plans to replace Colchester Road fire station? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk