CUMBRIA county councillors face a very difficult - but crucial - decision next month. They must decide whether or not to close retained fire stations at Arnside, Staveley, Walney, Lazonby and Frizington.

The county council argues the authority needs to slash £55 million from its budget over the next two years due to ‘continuing significant cuts from government’. But it stresses there will still be 33 stations, 39 fire engines and well-trained, well-equipped personnel dealing with emergencies, even if the retained fire stations close.

Local authorities are being forced to make extremely painful cuts. This is evidence of austerity coming home to roost where it hurts.

But losing the fire stations at Arnside and Staveley is a step too far, which is why The Westmorland Gazette launched its campaign Save Our Fire Stations in November. Since then nearly 230 people have either signed our special coupon or signed an online petition urging the council to retain the two stations. And this week demonstrators turned out in force at a county council meeting to call on councillors to save the stations. They handed over a petition of 2,878 names against the closure at Arnside.

Parish councils in both Staveley and Arnside have thrown their weight behind the Gazette’s campaign and there is an eloquent and well-argued letter from Staveley with Ings Parish Council chairman Arthur Capstick on this week's Westmorland Gazette letters pages.

It is difficult to recruit retained firemen - closing stations will surely only make this harder. Retained firemen have a huge amount of local knowledge which will be lost if the stations close. They provide assistance in surrounding villages and towns - particularly important during the recent devastating floods.

This week Cllr Patricia Bell, CCC’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, urged people to let the council know what they think of its budget proposals. There is widespread public support to keep Arnside and Staveley open and we hope the council will listen to their views.