I am the Vice-chair of the local constituency Labour Party and I’m presenting the petition today.

I am also the General Manager of Cobham Area Foodbank. The Foodbank parks its van at Painshill Fire Station, which is also one of the Animal Rescue centres. Because of our regular contact with our firefighters, I believe I am well-placed to know how well-founded the public anxiety about possible cuts is.

We understand that the narrow focus of our petition – that Esher Fire Station should not be closed – may no longer be moot, as I understand that there is currently no longer a proposal to close it – although there has been no confirmation of this. I understand that a new County safety plan will be open for consultation next week, on 4th March.

Our petition is aimed wider than this. We do not think that the fire service – or the animal rescue service – in Surrey should suffer any further cuts. We acknowledge that there has been some new recruitment of fire fighters following the very critical report of HM Inspectorate [for Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services], which found that Surrey was the worst of the first 14 fire brigades they inspected.

We have very old fire engines – the one at Painshill is 13 years old – and shifts not fully manned, which prevents the fire engines from going out. The previous proposals included ideas of replacing proper fire engines with converted Transit-type vans loaded with fire extinguishers, and further closures of the animal rescue service. This would be saving money at the expense of safety and cruelty.

What if it was your daughter’s pony which had fallen into a ditch and was in distress? If, as happened recently with a cow in a local farm, you had to wait, with the animal in pain, for a Sussex animal rescue team to come out, because the Surrey teams were not sufficiently crewed? What if, when you came home from a nice supper out, it was your house which was on fire because the electrics had shorted or someone had left a pan on by mistake, and the fire engine had to come from the other end of Surrey – or worse, if it wasn’t a proper fire engine at all?

It isn’t right to deny our fire-fighters adequate staffing levels, or to deny them the proper equipment – which means up-to-date proper fire engines with full crews of firefighters. Far from further cuts, local people need the Council to prioritise the necessary extra investment in order to keep us and our animals safe.

Hugh Bryant

26th February 2019