Will Forster

Lib Dem Spokesperson for Woking and Councillor for South Woking Learn more

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Chobham Common fire leads to petition

by willforster on 29 September, 2020

During August, a major incident was declared on Chobham Common due to a huge fire.  A lot of local residents had to be evacuated, roads closed and around 30% of this Site of Special Scientific Interest – over 500 acres – was destroyed.

A whistle-blower firefighter has since come forward to say that this giant fire started as a typical small grass fire, which ordinarily should have been extinguished in hours, yet the fire took ten days to put out.

That firefighter is placing the blame on the Conservative County Council’s cuts to Surrey’s Fire and Rescue Service as only two appliances were available to attend in the first, crucial, hour.  If there were more firefighters on the ground then it would have been a straightforward incident, not a major emergency.

The Council is controversially in the process of cutting £1.5 million from the Fire and Rescue Service budget and reducing Surrey’s night-time fire cover.  Every fire station that has two or more fire engines, is seeing its resources cut back at night, while three fire stations are closing completely.  Woking Fire Station, along with stations in Camberley, Guildford and Spelthorne are all losing fire engines.

All of this prompted two well-known Surrey residents to campaign against the Tory Council’s cuts.  Author Emma Kennedy created a petition to reverse these dangerous cuts, and she is backed by Queen guitarist Brian May, who runs a wildlife rescue facility adjacent to Chobham Common.  During today’s Council Cabinet meeting, Emma Kennedy presented the petition – but the Cabinet sadly refused to act on it.

Following the meeting, the Lib Dem Group and I have restated our support for local firefighters.  We voted against the fire cuts, and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with firefighters to ensure they are able to deliver services which are safe for residents and safe for them.

Instead of further cuts, the Council should focus its attention on gaining the public’s confidence by being more open and transparent on how the fire service is performing and to work with firefighters and their union to do more to address their concerns.

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