Closure of two search-and-rescue helicopter bases 'could cost lives'


Moves to shut two search-and-rescue helicopter bases could cost lives, a senior MP warned Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary.

The Government has faced anger over the moves to close rescue operations from RAF Boulmer in Northumberland and Portland coastguard centre in Dorset.

They are to be scrapped as part of an overhaul that will mean emergency helicopters being run from ten central bases around the country.

Louise Ellman, the chairman of the Commons transport select committee, said she was “surprised and disappointed” about the moves and appealed for a last-minute rethink by Mr McLoughlin.

She wrote to him: “People rightly expect the Government will listen to their views and concerns, taking them into account before major decisions are reached.

“This has not happened with the planned closure of the helicopter bases at RAF Boulmer and Portland, despite compelling arguments that these closures may cost lives.

“It is not too late for the Government to consult and, if necessary, to change their proposals before the new contract is let.”

Her committee has called for more information from the Department for Transport (DfT) about the plans, including details of response times once the closures take place.

Search and rescue operations are currently provided by the Ministry of Defence or the Coastguard Agency from 12 bases. Emergency teams at Boulmer and Portland will cease in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “A modern, faster fleet of helicopters operating from ten full-time bases will provide a more reliable overall service that still meets the key search and rescue requirements and does not increase the overall risk of loss of life.

“Independently verified analysis shows the two bases from which it would be operationally most sensible to remove search and rescue operations would be the daytime-only base of Portland and RAF Boulmer in Northumberland.”