London Fire Authority blocks Boris’ cuts to fire services leaving future of 12 stations in doubt

Pic: Ian Britton

Pic: Ian Britton

The future of 12 London fire stations, among them stations in Hackney, Whitechapel and New Cross, has been thrown into further uncertainty after the London Fire Authority voted, on Monday, against  Boris Johnson’s order for a public consultation on plans to close them.

In January this year, the London Assembly voted against station closures but the Mayor ignored that vote and issued a  directive for the closures consultation to continue putting 520 jobs at risk.

Then in Monday’s  meeting the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA)  also voted against the Mayor’s decision.

While Johnson holds power over the authority, he may now have to seek a legal challenge to proceed against LFEPA’s vote.

The proposed cuts are part of plans for a saving of £45 million.

Ron Dobson, Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade has said:  “The plans have been designed to modernise London’s network of fire stations. He also said   that “additional savings cannot be found without making significant changes.”

He added: “Demand for the brigade’s service has changed dramatically and it’s time to reflect that in how our fire stations, engines and staff are organised.”

Among the stations earmarked for closure are Bow station in Tower Hamlets, Kingsland station in Hackney and Downham and New Cross in Lewisham. Whitechapel station would see the number of fire engines cut by half.

Speaking after the meeting, the FBU’s regional secretary for London, Paul Embery said: ”Authority members did the right thing” and the union, “applauds their stance.”

He said: “Hostility to the mayor’s planned cuts is growing by the day. The fire authority, the workforce, the public, the Greater London Assembly and even some Conservative councils have all expressed opposition to the cuts. The cuts would mean 4.7 million Londoners across twenty boroughs waiting longer for a fire engine, and that is dangerous and wrong. It’s about time the mayor grasped the nettle and abandoned his reckless plans.”

In an open letter last year, Tower Hamlets politicians urged the Mayor to reconsider his line, saying the closures would have a: “Significant impact on Tower Hamlets’ ability to deal with major incidents.”

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.”

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.

In January EastLondonLines reported further on Dobson’s plans for the London fire stations, which he said would aim to  “Take pride in making London a safer city” and that it is committed to: “excellence and providing a quality service.”

He said there had been a sharp decrease in the number of fires over the last decade, and although each of the boroughs has increased in population size, the total number of fire incidents in Tower Hamlets over the last decade has decreased by 49 per cent, while Hackney  has seen a decrease of 48 per cent and Lewisham 39 per cent.

As part of the proposal, Dobson also suggested setting up the world’s first 999 twitter feed.

But the Fire Brigade Union called the cuts “wreckless and wrong” and said the London Fire Brigade’s own figures reveal that the cuts would result in increased response times for nearly five million Londoners, with only a fifth of the capital’s population seeing an improvement.

Reacting to yesterday’s decision, Colin Tandy, a Conservative member of the authority, told the BBC that hundreds of thousands of pounds could be spent on legal costs if the dispute ends up in court.

“In the end, the mayor will win,” he said. “He is within his rights – we should get on with consulting the public.”

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