SCOTTISH POLITICAL EDITOR
SCOTTISH POLITICAL EDITOR
FIRE chiefs are to spend up to £90,000 upgrading fire stations which are scheduled for closure.
The cash will be used to improve toilets and showers, build access ramps, alter doorways and provide parking bays to bring five stations in Lothian and Borders into line with the law on disabled access.
But today opposition politicians said the move was “a complete waste of public money” and called for the law to be made more flexible so buildings due to close could be exempted from expensive obligations.
A controversial shake-up of fire stations across the area will see Edinburgh’s Marionville and McDonald Road stations close, along with bases in Musselburgh and Tranent.
Melrose is also scheduled to shut, although Borders Council has expressed an interest in taking it over.
The cost of the improvements for all five stations would cost around £90,000.
Eric Smith, the brigade’s technical services director, said the upgrades were approved before the decision on closures was taken.
“Now they have endorsed the proposals, we will look at them again.
“We don’t want to pay money that will be wasted, but we still have to consider what we need to do to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act,” he said.
“We will look again at what we absolutely have to do and what can we put to better use elsewhere.”
Today, the Disability Rights Commission said it was unlikely that a building earmarked for demolition would be prosecuted for breaching disability legislation.
Edinburgh Tory group leader Iain Whyte branded it “a complete waste of taxpayers’ money” and said it was down to the rigid requirements imposed by the law. He said: “This will look very strange to the public, who will be bemused by the waste of money.
“The real issue is the inflexible way legislation is sometimes implemented and public bodies find they end up spending money unnecessarily because of some statutory obligation,” Mr Whyte added.
Julie Britee of the Marionville “Save our Station” campaign said it was bizarre to be spending money on the stations due to close.
She said: “It doesn’t seem the most sensible use of resources.”
Fire board convener Ken Harrold said no-one wanted to spend money unnecessarily, but the stations had to comply with the law.
He said: “By the very nature of it, we won’t be employing firefighters who are disabled, but we could have people on the education or admin side who might need disabled access.”
The Disability Rights Commission, which helps individuals bring prosecutions under the act, said it applauded Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue service for their “wholehearted commitment to disability equality”.
But it said there were ways of making cost-effective adjustments.
A spokeswoman said: “Organisations are expected by law to make ‘reasonable adjustments’.
“Each case would be judged on its own merit, but a building that is due to be demolished might, for example, use a temporary ramp rather than building a fixed ramp for wheelchair users.”