Fire station cuts challenged in Parliament

Tower Hamlets Labour Group

The proposal to close 17 fire stations across London will be debated in Parliament tomorrow, as east London politicians call on Boris Johnson to re-think the cuts.

Labour’s Barry Gardiner will open the half-hour debate, supported by east London MPs Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick.

Tower Hamlets Labour group has sent a letter to the Mayor of London expressing concern over the: “Threat and potential loss of life” the cuts could bring to the borough’s fire stations.

It comes after a leaked document earlier in the month revealed plans to close stations including some in Lewisham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

In Tower Hamlets, Bow and Whitechapel stations were earmarked for closure, which would result in the loss of four fire engines in the borough.

The letter argues that closures would have a: “Significant impact on Tower Hamlets’ ability to deal with major incidents”.

It was signed by Tower Hamlets MPs: Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick, and Tower Hamlets Labour Group Leader Councillor Joshua Peck and Assembly Member John Biggs.

It states that Tower Hamlets had the greatest number of fires in London (1,523) last year.

Addressed to the Mayor, it said: “You will undoubtedly argue that cuts need to be made to the fire service budget.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this argument, it cannot be right that in the borough with the greatest number of fire call outs in London you are proposing cutting the number of fire stations by a third.”

Hackney Labour Group has put forward an emergency motion at Hackney Full Council condemning the plans, which would see the borough’s Kingsland fire station closed.

The Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe said, “This is just the latest example of the Coalition Government reducing essential public services.

“We know from the number of fire incidents in Hackney that there are more in the south of the borough – Kingsland fire station attended 720 incidents across Hackney in the last 12 months alone.

“The closure of this fire station would increase response times, thereby putting local residents at risk and increasing the risk of fire causing serious harm or loss of life in the borough.”

The cuts outlined in the leaked document were to be put before a meeting with the London fire authority on November 22. The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) have been told by Boris Johnson, to save £65m over two years. Over 600 jobs would be at stake.

The Fire Brigades Union have expressed “grave concerns” over the proposal and raised alarm over “unprecedented risks to public safety posed by deep and dangerous cuts to the fire service. “

FBU’s regional secretary for London, Paul Embery said: “These proposals present the biggest threat to the London Fire Brigade since the days of the Luftwaffe and would lead to the decimation of fire cover in London.”

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said:

“Like virtually every other public service, the Brigade is facing the need to make savings. There is a target for these savings but the full details will not be known until at least December, when the Government announces its grant to the Brigade.

“We expect to be able to maintain our current target response times. No decisions about any possible fire station closures have yet been taken. Before they are, there will be a full public consultation.”

Johnson has denied having seen a proposal to close specific fire stations but said, there are “certainly various options”.

Speaking to the London Assembly at the Mayor’s Question Time October 17, after the document was leaked, he said: “We will make sure that we don’t see a reduction in our ability to fight fires.”

The proposal is expected to be discussed at a meeting with the London fire authority on November 22.

The FBU was represented at the TUC anti-cuts demonstration on October 20. You can read the full EastLondonLines report here.

Matt Wrack, general secretary at FBU said it would “defend stations threatened with closure”.

He said: “If there is no local fire station, response times will be even longer. Delays cost lives.

“People deserve to have their lives, homes and businesses protected. As firefighters, we have a duty to spell out to the public the risks of ever-deepening cuts. More cuts will mean slower response times to emergencies, putting lives, homes and businesses at greater risk.

You can read more about the campaigns at Hackney Labour group’s blog and Tower Hamlets Labour here.

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