Friday, January 11, 2013

Threat confirmed to South London Fire Stations

The threat to a large number of London fire stations first became apparent late last year, with the leaking of a report. Now the threat has been confirmed with the publication of the draft 'London Safety Plan', released today at the London Fire Brigade Headquarters. The draft plan includes proposals to close 12 London fire stations, with the loss of 520 firefighter and office jobs, in order to enforce Mayor Boris Johnson's cuts of £45m.

South London stations earmarked for closure include:

- New Cross;
- Downham;
- Southwark
- Woolwich;
- Clapham.

Along with Belsize, Bow,  Clerkenwell, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, Silvertown and Westminster

It is clear that Peckham was also on the closure list, but has been spared because it would be politically unacceptable to close it at this time as  'This proposal would be under consideration in parallel with the Lakanal inquest (which starts on 14 January 2013)'. Peckham is now instead recommended to have the number of fire appliances reduced from two to one.

Six people died in the 2009 Lakanal tower block fire in Camberwell, with others being rescued by firefighters. Would as many have survived there, and at the Carrisbrooke Gardens fire in Peckham in the same year, if there had only been one fire engine in Peckham and no station at nearby New Cross from which to get back up? Or how about the 12 people rescued from a fire at a hostel in Lewisham Way, New Cross in November 2010?

In 2011/12, fire engines were mobilised from Lewisham's five stations on more than 6,300 occasions. If two of the five close - New Cross and Downham - there will inevitably be less cover available from the remaining three (Forest Hill, Deptford, Lewisham). The London Fire Brigade target is that the first fire engine should arrive at an incident within six minutes of being called - already in Lewisham they miss this target on more than one in five occasions (21%). With fire engines having to travel further to get to areas like New Cross and Brockley this performance can only get worse, putting lives at risk (Lewisham statistics here).

My local fire station in Queens Road in New Cross has been saving lives since it was built by the London County Council in 1894 (the picture below from Ideal Homes dates from 1903- apart from busier traffic outside it looks much the same today).  28 jobs would go there if it is closed.

With my local accident and emergency department also under threat at Lewisham Hospital I do feelthat my safety, and that of my neighbours, is being compromised. More broadly it's beginning to feel like the state is gradually withdrawing from this part of the world, at least in terms of community services and facilities, as fire stations, health services and libraries disappear!

There have already been a few meetings about saving local fire stations, including a public meeting in Peckham last November. Now the campaign will need to really get going.  The draft fifth London Safety Plan will be considered by the  London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority on 21 January 2013. A public consultation will follow, with a final decision due to be taken in June 2013.

The Fire Brigades Union has called for a 'Save our fire service' demonstration on Monday 21 January outside the LFEPA meeting, assembling 1:30 pm at the London Fire Brigade HQ, 169 Union Street SE1.

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