Campaigners to save Shetland’s coastguard station welcomed the announcement today of a full parliamentary inquiry into plans to streamline the service.
MPs on Westminster’s transport select committee will carry out the investigation into the government’s modernisation plans, which have pitted the Lerwick station into an unwanted battle with its Stornoway equivalent.
The committee will also examine the impact of the government’s decision not to renew the current contract for emergency towing vessels when it expires in September.
It will review arrangements for the Maritime Incident Response Group, which responds to incidents at sea for which fire-fighting, chemical hazard and/or rescue teams may be required.
The decision follows a hearing almost two weeks ago when Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) chief executive Sir Alan Massey faced intense questioning from MPs over the proposals.
The inquiry will build on the oral evidence gathered at the time.
The committee expects to hear further oral evidence from a range of interested parties from Easter.
Local Save Shetland Coastguard campaigner Alex Dodge said she was confident the plans would not stand up to close inspection.
“We welcome the news. It means the proposals will be subjected to the full scrutiny they deserve,” she said.
“We feel sure once these proposals are thoroughly examined they will be seen as being not fit for purpose.”
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael encouraged people to put their views across to the select committee.
“The changes that have been put forward by the MCA for consultation could bring profound changes to the way the coastguard goes about its business,” he said.
“It is only right that the views and opinions of those likely to be affected most are canvassed widely. News that the transport select committee is to hold their own inquiry on the MCA’s plans is an important move in this respect.
“I know this is an issue that has generated strong feelings in the Northern Isles, and would encourage people in Orkney and Shetland to consider making a submission to the select committee inquiry.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said MPs would find the MCA’s plans were “dangerously wrong”.
“A strong case has already been made for the retention of full-time coastguard stations in Lerwick and Stornoway, as well as the one in Aberdeen.
“The MCA’s plan to leave just Aberdeen and one part-time station, in either Lerwick or Stornoway, is ill considered and has rightly been widely condemned.
“If the MPs listen to the case, they will find that the extent and complexity of Scotland’s coastline needs at least three full-time stations.
“The MCA’s plan for only one-and-a-half coastguard stations, working with communication links which cannot be guaranteed, is dangerously wrong.
“I hope that this news means that the plan is dead in the water.”
SIC convener Sandy Cluness, who recently met UK shipping minister Mike Penning over the plans on a trip with other senior council representatives, said the news presented a “great opportunity” to fight for full 24-hour retention.
“We’ll take whatever advice we need that will enable us to make representations to the inquiry,” he said.
A statement from the committee said it would welcome written evidence from any individual or organisation affected by the plans. Submissions should be sent by Tuesday 26th April.