The oldest and smallest fire station in Berkshire will be closed, after three years of uncertainty over its future.

Wargrave Fire Station, in the historic village of Wargrave, will close on July 1 after eleven members of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (RBFA) backed the closure.

Plans to close the station were approved by the RBFA in April 2017, with the station initially given 12 months to improve its availability, but a final decision was eventually delayed three times before the vote on Thursday (June 25).

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Reading councillor Paul Gittings, who voted against the closure, said: “It just does not feel right, in the middle of a global pandemic, to close Berkshire’s oldest fire station, however valid the reasons might be.”

Another Reading councillor, Jo Lovelock, called for the fire station to be given another three months due to the coronavirus lockdown, which was echoed by Wokingham councillor Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey.

But a majority of councillors concluded the station had been given enough time to improve.

Slough councillor Dexter Smith, who backed the decision to close the station, said: “The performance of the station never got anywhere near the targets.

“I cannot see any virtue in deferring this decision any longer because of the financial impact it is going to have.”

Why is the station closing?

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 the Wargrave and Pangbourne fire stations was the most popular option and the authority agreed to shut them.

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

The station, which opened in 1903, was told it must increase the ‘availability’ of its crew to six out of ten days or be closed.

A fire engine is only considered available if there are at least four appropriately qualified crew members available.

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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.

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

The station was given another six-month lifeline in December 2019 but availability levels have not improved and dropped to just 3.9 per cent in the first two months of 2020/21.

Pauline Helliar-Symons, a councillor for Wokingham, added: “Instead of going up, they’ve gone down and down and, in the meantime, we’ve spent thousands and thousands of pounds just to have a fire engine sitting in a building doing nothing.”

The fire authority would have had to dip into £225,000 of savings to keep the station open, while closing the station would decrease the average response time by only around 13 seconds.

Councillor Colin Dudley, chairman of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority, concluded: “We cannot afford to keep a very expensive fire appliance that is only available for an average of 50 mins per day.”

Who voted to close the station?

Eleven councillors voted to close the station, including Reading's Jane Stanford-Beale and Bracknell's Cllr Dudley, while seven voted against, including Reading's Cllr Lovelock and Cllr Gittings and Wokingham's Imogen and Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey.

One member abstained, while another was unable to connect during the virtual vote.

What will happen now?

The fire station will close on Wednesday, July 1, with firefighters at the station to be offered full-time roles elsewhere.

Proposals for a community safety hub at the station have been scrapped, with the fire service finding there was “insufficient interest and limited advantage” after speaking with local authorities.

Further options for the site will now be considered, with a new report to come to the committee later this year.