Leaked emails: Road closures WILL delay emergency services, say fire bosses

Email sent by Sean Comerford to St Albans Council

Leaked emails sent by St Albans and Dacorum Sean Comerford (inset) and another senior fire officer show that they believe any city centre road closures will delay emergency service responses - Credit: Archant

Firefighters will be delayed in responding to emergencies if roads are closed in St Albans city centre, according to leaked emails seen by the Herts Ad.

In messages sent to St Albans council, senior fire officers said they would prefer for all roads to be fully reopened, although a final decision will be in the hands of the county council as highways authority.

In December, SADC's cross-party Public Realm Committee unanimously agreed that County Hall should “seek confirmation” that road closure trials would not "negatively impact” emergency services.

St Albans councillors vote on road closures

All parties unanimously agreed in December that County Hall should 'seek confirmation' that emergency service response times would not be affected by road closures - but leaked emails explicitly warn that they will be - Credit: St Albans Council

But emails seen by the Herts Ad show fire service bosses had already explicitly warned that delays would be unavoidable if any closures remained in place.

Annie Brewster, head of scrutiny at St Albans council, said proceeding with closures in spite of the “alarming” messages would endanger public safety.

“It has been made clear on more than four occasions that road closures will directly impact fire, ambulance and first responder response times," she said.

Conservative councillor Annie Brewster, head of scrutiny, raised concerns about emergency service ac

Head of scrutiny Annie Brewster said that now it was known that emergency services believed closures would delay response times, they should be permanently abandoned - Credit: St Albans Council

Firefighters

“It is absolutely the case that any barrier, bollard or other form of gate would affect the time taken for a fire service response direct from our London Road station to George Street, the Abbey or that area of the city,” said a November email sent by Sean Comerford, district commander for Dacorum and St Albans.

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Alex Woodman, the fire service’s executive director of community protection, also wrote in November: “It does slow our response times with having to open barriers, and we may be further delayed if we have to cut through the padlocks or posts in the event of issues with the locks.

“This can be caused by someone changing the locks and not giving us the new codes, or vandalism in one form or another.”

The emails were sent to Cllr Brewster after she emailed the fire service in her role as head of scrutiny.

She shared them with all members of the Public Realm Committee before they met to consider road closure options earlier this month - but no members mentioned them during the public meeting.

Cllr Brewster asked that it be made clear she was not the source of the leaked emails, and had only commented on them after being approached by the Herts Ad

Email sent by Sean Comerford to St Albans Council

In one leaked email, St Albans and Dacorum district commander Sean Comerford said it was 'absolutely the case' that road closures would slow down emergency service responses - Credit: Archant

Ambulances

In his November message, Mr Comerford said the ambulance service also faced delays.

“At a recent site meeting the ambulance service representative, Jonathan Perry, indicated there would be an impact on response times to addresses within the affected area,” he wrote.

“He also said those delays could be attributable to other factors and would not necessarily be solely down to the road closures.”

One paramedic has previously described the closures as “a nightmare” and council meetings have heard of at least two incidents where the closures impeded paramedics in medical emergencies.

In one, paramedics had to abandon an ambulance and carry equipment on foot. In another, they were delayed in attending to a child in anaphylactic shock.

East of England Ambulance Service

Paramedics have already been repeatedly hampered by road closures, according to evidence presented to previous council meetings - Credit: Jacob Savill

Approached for this story, the East of England Ambulance Service would only say: "We have been liaising with Hertfordshire County Council on the restrictions, providing them with feedback and comments around the measures and any impact this may have on our service."

Reopening 'not an option’

Mr Woodman wrote in his email that, “The council have indicated that reopening the high street back to the original pre COVID use is not an option.”

As a result, he said, emergency services had tried to consider what closures would have “the least impact for us and the community.”

But, he made clear: “In an ideal world a return to pre-COVID arrangements would be our preferred option."

George Street is currently closed to traffic.

Roads were closed in St Albans city centre in 2020 to enable social distancing - but now some local councillors want them kept closed to facilitate markets and al fresco dining - Credit: Matt Adams

Asked whether any staff had told the fire service that reopening all roads was “not an option”, County Hall did not answer.

A spokesperson only said that fully reopening “isn’t one of the options that will be part of the trial”.

“Of course, any change to road layouts could have an impact on emergency service response times,” they said, adding that emergency services’ needs would be “taken into account in the options that are to be trialled."

“We are listening to a wide range of opinions,” they continued. “The reason for trialling these measures is so that we can understand what impact they have before making any long-term decisions."

For more, read:

City centre road closures are blocking ambulances, meeting hears

St Albans road closures decision: Everything you need to know

St Albans city centre road closures reduce spaces for Blue Badge holders

Shop-owner: 'Hare-brained road closures are affecting my online business'

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