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Questions remain after helicopter briefing

Concerns: Nia Griffith MP
Concerns: Nia Griffith MP

MP s whose constituencies are set to be affected by changes to police helicopter provision attended a briefing on Friday (Jul 10).

Those in attendance at Police Headquarters included Nia Griffith and Jonathan Edwards, who have both publicly voiced their opposition to the NPAS 15 base model which will come into use early next year. Conservatives Simon Hart and Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) were also in attendance, as were the leaders of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion Councils. Stephen Crabb MP had pre-arranged meetings in his constituency, but has apparently requested a one-to-one meeting with the Chief Constable to discuss the matter.

The briefing included statistics which repeated the NPAS claim that 85% of priority one cases should be reached within 20 minutes. However, the times given in the briefing show that Milford Haven and Aberywstwyth, two of the main population centres in west Wales, will take more than half an hour to reach from St Athan.

The benefits of fixed wing aircraft were also mentioned, though their inability to land and hover was brought up – which is significant bearing in mind that according to the force’s data, 11 casualties have been evacuated from the Dyfed Powys area by X99 this year alone.

Nia Griffith agreed that questions were raised by this briefing: “I am grateful to the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner for arranging the helicopter briefing, but I am very concerned at what I heard. We, the police tax payers of Dyfed Powys, will be paying into a National Police Air Service, but without the Pembrey helicopter, it looks like we could get a very raw deal. With the few remaining helicopter bases (down from 34 to 22 then to 15) situated near the big centres of population, our nearest being St Athan, this inevitably means longer response times for us here in West Wales. The response time for our area is up from 4 minutes to 18 minutes, and for Milford Haven up from 12 minutes to 32 minutes and the time left actually to spend on the task in either area is halved from two hours to one hour. And what if there are competing demands for police helicopter time, who knows what response we would get? We have also been given to understand that use will also be made of ‘fixed wing aircraft’ (tiny aeroplanes to you and me… They look like something you would expect Amelia Earhart to jump out of ) although NPAS’ own study in 2012 concluded these would not be anything like as good as helicopters on mountainous terrain or coastal cliffs, of which we have a great deal in Dyfed Powys. It is not even clear how much Dyfed Powys Police is going to be charged for its use of the service. If we are paying into this ‘National’ service (and we have no choice), then we should be getting the same access and response times as other areas of the UK, and a 24 hour base at Pembrey would achieve that. We should not accept second best, and I shall continue to pursue ministers on this matter.”

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Dayne Stone

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