Published: 19 October, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
PLANS to close two of the borough’s three fire stations were condemned as “crazy” and “reckless” by Labour chiefs yesterday as the Lib Dem opposition leader said the shutdowns would happen “over my dead body”.
The comments were part of mounting opposition to a bid by fire chiefs to save £65million.
Clerkenwell and Upper Street stations are on a list of 17 candidates for closure drawn up by London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson should London Mayor Boris Johnson – who lives in Islington – insist on the cuts.
Islington Lib Dem opposition leader Councillor Terry Stacy sits on the London Fire Authority, which makes decision – and he has the casting vote.
He told the Tribune yesterday: “I will not vote to shut down fire stations in Islington. Boris Johnson needs to cough up the cash. It will happen over my dead body.”
But because it is a budgetary issue, the Mayor can rail road through the cuts whatever the Authority decides.
Cllr Stacy added that London Fire Authority had written to Mr Johnson arguing that the cuts were “unacceptable” and that the “consequent reduction in attendance times” could “impact on public safety”.
“Clerkenwell and Upper Street fire stations provide critical cover for residents, many in high-rise blocks, as well as the City and other high-profile locations,” he said. “They are also the Mayor’s own local fire stations.”
The planned closures stemmed from budget cuts set by Mr Johnson, he said. “The Mayor recklessly set the level of cuts for the next two years without taking any advice from anyone as to the consequences,” added Cllr Stacy.
The fire authority warned that the scale of the cuts needed could result in 30 fire stations shutting down across the capital, stating: “The authority demand(s) that the Mayor reconsiders his budget guidance to enable the frontline service of the London Fire Brigade to be protected from such draconian cuts.”
The list of 17 stations includes Kingsland fire station just over the boarder in Hackney – but which attends fires in Islington. The plans would leave just one fire station – Holloway – to serve the entire borough.
The Fire Brigades Union and politicians have pointed out that the stations earmarked for closure are all in prime locations. “Clerkenwell and Upper Street fire stations would be worth a mint,” Paul Embery, London regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, told the Tribune.
Islington South Labour MP Emily Thornberry is fighting the potential cuts. She argued they could imperil the lives of Islington residents. “We are the most densely populated constituency in the country,” she said. “If there is a fire it has to be controlled quickly.
“We have also suffered the fire in King’s Cross station and the appalling 7/7 terror attack. Clerkenwell fire station is one of the response stations for emergencies. We are outraged that these closures are being considered.
“Boris Johnson lives here. He should know what the situation is on the ground.”
London Fire Authority will consider the proposals next month. There will then be a period of public consultation, with the final decision taken in March next year.
But Mr Embery said that, because it is a budgetary decision, Mr Johnson can have the final say.
But any hope of a united Town Hall front looked slim as senior Labour councillor Paul Convery accused Cllr Stacy of propping up Conservatives on the authority who are pushing for the closures.
Of the 17-strong panel, eight are Tories, six Labour, one Green and two Lib Dems. “If Terry Stacy wants to be brave he would go into coalition with Labour and the Greens,” Cllr Convery said.
He added: “Slashing fire stations is a crazy thing to do. Cutting them to save money is just lazy. They are arguing that these fire stations are antiquated, but that is not the case. The Tories are talking about them in terms of an estate, as if they are minor aristocracy who have had a stately home handed down to them. We are going into battle over this.”
Cllr Convery also pointed out that the Mayor is considering closing Holloway Police Station, with Safer Neighbourhoods teams already operating out of Holloway Fire Station.
Labour council leader Catherine West added: “In a borough with over 200,000 residents it is unacceptable and reckless to have only one operating fire station. I’ve written to the Mayor today and arranged an emergency meeting with Islington’s fire commander.”
The Fire Brigade stressed yesterday (Thursday) that no decision had been made. “Like virtually every other public service, the brigade is facing the need to make savings,” a statement said. “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.
But Mr Embery responded: “Clearly, this plan was shown to the fire authority and a lot of work has gone into it. This is not them merely floating an idea. This is their preferred option.
“It’s not just about response times. It’s all very well a fire engine getting to a fire in minutes.
“But what if it needs to call in assistance to stop the blaze getting out of control?”