The oldest and smallest fire station in Berkshire has been saved from closure once again – with six months to prove itself.

Wargrave Fire Station, in the historic village of Wargrave, has been earmarked for closure for the last two years as the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (RBFA) tries to cut costs.

The RBFA Management Committee voted last night to give the station another six months to reach availability targets or to see if funding could be found elsewhere.

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Councillor Colin Dudley, chairman of the committee, said: “The crews were very disappointed that they had not managed to achieve the 60 per cent target, especially due to the loss of two key personnel recently and the impact this had on the progress they were making.

“I know we would all like to give the crews a further year to meet this target, however we already have significant other budget pressures and this would not be possible without additional funding.

“Therefore, over the last four days I have been working hard with the chief and colleagues at Wokingham Borough Council to see if there is any way we can find additional funding.

“Because of this work, I believe we can find the money to give the crews another six months to achieve the 60 per cent target.

“We will also be much clearer on our budget position after April next year.”

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Cllr Dudley said this would be a “final chance” to meet the target.

The committee also agreed to conduct a study into the idea of turning Wargrave Fire Station into a community safety hub.

“Foolish” decision avoided

Plans to close the station were approved by the RBFA in April 2017 but have now been delayed three times to give the station a chance to overcome the reasons for closure.

Councillor Paul Gittings, a member of the committee, praised the decision but criticised the initial recommendation to close the station “based on a decision made two years ago”.

He said: “The extant decision is now an extinct decision. We have at least put [closure] on hold.

“I do feel that Wargrave has tremendous potential as a station.

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Cllr Gittings said it would be “foolish” to take a decision “before we know the implications” of the general election and “based on a decision made two years ago”.

“I welcome the change of heart and wish the station in Wargrave the best success in trying to achieve an extremely challenging target, one which only one other retained station is reaching.”

Why is the station threatened with closure?

The authority held a public consultation in 2017 on potential proposals to cut costs after it discovered it needed to make savings of £2.4 million to deliver a balanced budget.

Closing Wargrave and Pangbourne fire stations was the most popular option.

After a campaign by Wargrave residents and parish councillors,  the authority agreed to defer closure for 12 months in April 2017.

The 12-month period began in October 2017 and finished at the end of September 2018.

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The RBFA agreed in November 2018 to defer closure for another nine months to give the fire station more time to meet the target.

The station reached a high of 46.4 per cent availability in January 2019 but has not reached this level again since.

Although there was marked improvement in January – April 2019, this was short lived as there were three resignations in the next quarter.

What is a retained station and what is availability?

Wargrave Fire Station, which opened in 1903, is home to retained firefighters, which means they are on-call and must live within a certain distance of the station to be able to respond to incidents.

To reach 60 per cent availability means the station’s crew would have to be able to respond to a fire on six out of every 10 days.

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When retained stations like Wargrave are not available to respond, full time stations take over.

Wargrave Fire Station has had an average of 17 per cent availability over the last three months.

Crowthorne Fire Station is the only retained station in Berkshire which is currently achieving more than 60 per cent availability.

What impact would closure have?

Closing the station would save the fire authority £168,000 and the fire authority has not yet been able to find these savings elsewhere.

A risk assessment by the RBFA to find out where cuts would have the least impact found closing Wargrave Fire Station would impact the fire authority’s response time performance by less than 0.1 per cent.

But Cllr Gittings said the station has “a lot of potential”.