War of words about support for merger

By Carole Dennett May 17, 2024

Tory councillor for Lake North, Tig Outlaw, has claimed Islanders and local firefighters did not oppose the merger of the Isle of Wight & Hampshire’s Fire & Rescue Services in 2001.

Last week, the IW Observer reported on the urgent closure of East Cowes Fire Station on safety grounds, and local councillor, Karl Love’s, concerns that it could mean permanent closure ‘by stealth’, after the combined fire authority admitted a £4 million-pound black hole in its finances next year.

Cllr Love said he voted against the merger, claiming it was opposed by the majority of Islanders and firefighters. He accused the former Conservative administration of simply believing “what they were told.”

Now Cllr Outlaw has hit back. He said: “I led the merger, and it is incorrect to say it was opposed by the majority of Islanders and fire fighters. There was extensive consultation. I met the majority of IW fire and rescue staff, who understood that combination was necessary to ensure future investment in the service, including £3 million received since the merger.

“I also attended numerous sparsely-attended public meetings and could have counted the members of public who opposed the change on the fingers of one hand.

“East Cowes Fire Station has suffered subsidence for years. These problems were there with or without combination. This is certainly not closure by stealth.”

When the announcement was made last week the IW Observer contacted Hampshire & IW Fire & Rescue Service (HIWFRS) about the future of the building. The new organisation was aware of the condition of the building when it was handed over as part who merger deal, when they said the Island fire estate would be brought up to mainland standards. A spokesman stressed there are currently no plans in place to rebuild it.

Cllr Love said that Cllr Outlaw was being overly defensive. He said: “I knew many people who were against the merger, the FBU didn’t support it, nor did many individual firefighters.

“When IWFRS took over the building, they knew it needed significant investment and they said they would bring all stations up to mainland standards. Three years later the simple truth is they haven’t spent any money on it, and there are no plans in place for the future.

“We need a plan to keep a fire station in East Cowes.”

Cllr Outlaw added that he believed Cllr Karen Lucioni and the council are seeking to resolve the situation, and firefighters would be working to keep Islanders safe.