Avon Fire and Rescue Service currently have a Firefly hovercraft based at the seaside town’s fire station which they use to rescue people trapped in the Severn estuary.

Although they have no brakes and can be difficult to steer, hovercrafts can glide quickly on water and mud, making them suitable rescue vehicles for tidal environments.

But the fire and rescue service’s hovercraft at Weston-super-Mare needs to be replaced, at a cost of half a million pounds.

At the Avon Fire Authority’s meeting to set its budget on February 17, Neil Butters, a Bath and North East Somerset councilor who is part of the authority, disputed the figure.

He said: “That sounds like a lot even for a hovercraft.”

Deputy Fire Chief Richard Welch explained: “That would be the replacement for the current hovercraft, but we would also need a vehicle to transport it. You are currently in a very old vehicle that is no longer fit for purpose.

“So it’s not just the hovercraft, it’s also the vehicle to move it, which will need a crane.”

The fire and rescue service will go through a procurement process to replace the vehicle.

At the meeting, the Avon Fire Authority agreed to an increase in the fire ordinance, the charge that people in North Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset have on their council tax which funds the fire service.

Weston Mercury - The hovercraft can glide seamlessly from the water to the beach.The hovercraft can glide smoothly from the water to the beach. (Image: Avon Fire and Rescue Service)

Members of the authority were presented with the choice of increasing this by £5 a year for a household in council tax band D (equivalent to a 6.41 per cent increase) or a 3 per cent increase.

The fire authority’s acting treasurer, Kevin Woodward, said: “The difference between the two is £1m (…) so if members decide to go with option two, we would look to take £1,014,000 out of the reserves to finance that.

“But as members will know, that’s only a short-term fix. We would have to look for efficiency savings beyond that to balance future budgets.”

Members voted unanimously in favor of the higher increase.

Richard Eddy, a Bristol City Council member who sits on the council, said: “There are probably fewer members in the sub-region than us who are in favor of low taxes and that is particularly the case in the cost of living crisis (… ) but we are talking about preventing risks to life and limbs.”

South Gloucestershire Councilor Ben Nutland said he did not take the decision lightly but added: “We can only cut so much before we fail in our basic duty to protect the public.”

It’s not just about replacing the hovercraft. The fire authority’s £12.5m capital program over the next three years will see £4.9m to replace and upgrade its fleet of vehicles, with many more electric vehicles to be purchased.

Woodward said: “Members will know that the authority has committed to moving to a net zero carbon position by 2030, so everything within that program is moving towards that.”

Avon Fire and Rescue Service’s Firefly is not the only hovercraft to have operated out of Weston-super-Mare.

In 1963, a hovercraft ferry briefly carried passengers between the Somerset seaside town and Penarth in Wales, but the six-week experiment was never repeated.


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