A HIGH Court judge has today thrown out a bid to block West Mercia's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) from taking over governance of the region's fire service.

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd approved John Campion's proposal to merge the services into one body in March 2017, meaning the PCC will be solely responsible for governing Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) and Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service - replacing the 42 councillors on the existing authorities.

But critics accused the takeover of being "undemocratic", while Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority (HWFA) said the move "would not significantly improve the economy, effectiveness or efficiency of the service".

The authority challenged Government's process in the High Court, but today learned its appeal had been unsuccessful.

Responding to the decision, Mr Campion said: "The benefits of joint governance have been clearly and consistently acknowledged.

"It is a change that can deliver significant benefits to our communities and our police and fire services, by focusing resources on front line emergency service deliver.

“This process has gone on long enough. The significant cost the Fire Authorities have incurred and the delay orchestrated have done nothing to help our police and fire services, nor the communities of West Mercia.

"Two years on from when I published my business case, the potential improvements within it remain almost entirely untouched. I don’t believe that is what our communities want, need or expect.

"The money that the Fire Authorities are spending on expensive legal fees could be better spent on frontline firefighters and the resources they need to keep us safe.

"I hope the Government will now progress joint governance without delay that will focus on delivering the best possible services to our communities.”

But the HWFA has already announced plans to appeal the decision after seeking legal advice.

HWFA chairman Councillor Roger Phillips said: "We are disappointed with the decision of the High Court as we provided a strong argument to show that the PCC’s business case would not improve the economy, effectiveness, or efficiency of the Services, any more than under the governance of the Fire Authority.

"The judge decided not to grant our application for judicial review even though he agreed with our argument that the Home Secretary had applied the wrong test when considering the PCC's business case. In light of this and having considered legal advice, we believe there are grounds to challenge the Court's decision and will therefore be applying for leave to appeal.

"In the meantime we will continue to work collaboratively with the PCC’s office and with our colleagues in West Mercia Police to deliver the best Fire and Rescue Service for communities in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

“HWFRS will also continue to explore the Alliance with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service to secure resilient and sustainable emergency response and rescue services for all our communities now and in the future.”