MP questions move of rescue base to Wales
North Devon's MP has demanded to know why one of the search-and-rescue helicopter bases serving the South West will be relocated from its current Westcountry home to south Wales.
It was announced last week that Texas-based firm Bristow Helicopters would take over the operation of the search-and-rescue service in Britain, ending the RAF and Royal Navy's 70-year link.
The £1.6 billion privatisation deal will see helicopters withdrawn from RNAS Culdrose in Helston and RMB Chivenor, near Braunton, to move to new sites in Newquay and St Athan in south Wales.
But Sir Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat MP for north Devon, has asked minister Stephen Hammond at the Department for Transport (DfT) and Bristow for a detailed explanation of the decision.
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He said: "I want to see the numbers. All the infrastructure exists at Chivenor and will have to be replaced, and moving the personnel to Wales will cost money. I want to see the details of how they have come to the view that moving the service makes financial sense.
"And in logistical and operational terms, I would also like a fuller explanation of why St Athan is believed to be a better base, when Chivenor has performed so well for so long.
"Of course the facility, wherever located, is to provide a regional and not a local service, but I have had people contacting me worried about longer response times in our locality."
There are currently two helicopters based at Chiverton, each manned by four crew and supported by other mechanical staff.
Once the contract changes hands in 2015, the existing personnel will be given the chance to apply for positions on the new service or be redeployed within the military.
A DfT spokeswoman said: "Bidders were able to put forward proposals to deliver search and rescue operations from alternative locations, provided they were close enough to existing bases to offer the same level of cover."
A Bristow spokesperson added: "We started with a clean sheet. A detailed analysis of the historical data has allowed us to select bases and helicopters specifically matched to the rescue requirements in the different geographical areas."