Sighs of relief in New Cross today, as its fire station has escaped closure under revised plans to make £29m of cuts to the London Fire Brigade.
But the news isn’t so good for Woolwich fire station, tucked away in the back streets – one of 10 stations still due to shut by October, although fire chiefs now plan to give East Greenwich a second engine to partly compensate for the loss.
The Fire Brigades Union says the campaign against the remaining closures, which also include Downham fire station, will go on; while the political fall-out is bound to continue.
But it’s worth comparing and contrasting the approaches taken by both Lewisham and Greenwich councils with emergency services under threat in their patches. They differ somewhat – and, as we can see, ended up with differing results, too.
Lewisham fired off a seven-page response to the proposals from a senior council officer, after inviting its borough commander to two council meetings. Lewisham had two stations under threat on its patch – New Cross and Downham. Its response takes each point in turn, and contains a wealth of statistics and real examples of how the borough and its neighbours would be affected by the proposed closures (51% of New Cross call-outs are in Southwark, with a small handful in Greenwich).
That latter point’s an important one – borough boundaries are irrelevant in the fire cuts debate, as many stations predate even the old metropolitan boroughs, never mind the current ones; indeed, east London tenders are sometimes called to fires on this side of the Thames, and vice versa.
So we learn from Lewisham’s document that one in 20 of Downham’s stations call-outs go into Greenwich borough – presumably towards Eltham and Mottingham.
Greenwich sent a two-page letter from cabinet member Maureen O’Mara. It focuses solely on Woolwich and contains two glaring errors.
The first is in a strange example given to demonstrate traffic congestion…
Woolwich often experiences serious traffic congestion particularly when the Woolwich Ferry is busy with large lorries queuing to cross the river or when only one ferry is in operation. For example, the mean weekday run time on bus route 472 (which runs on the Woolwich side of the ferry), over a six month period (January to June 2012) is 1.1 minutes. However the maximum run time (during congested periods) is 42.6 minutes.
And the other seems to get Plumstead and Greenwich fire stations mixed up…
There is a major chemical factory in the Plumstead area which the Fire Brigade has committed to attend within six minutes in the event of a fire. If appliances based at Greenwich had already been called out to a fire elsewhere, the next closest ones would be in East Greenwich and would not be able to arrive within the agreed time frame.
Hopefully a corrected version was sent. There’s no mention of Downham, even though it serves Greenwich borough residents. It also misses the fact that Woolwich fire station serves a small part of London City Airport’s crash zone – a big argument on its favour.
The response largely falls back on the same old stuff about population growth, but there’s no research into how the fire brigade serves Greenwich borough. Compared with Lewisham, it’s a very limp response indeed.
The question’s got to be asked – how serious was Greenwich Council about saving Woolwich fire station?
The London Fire Brigade report into the consultation says the council refused to put up posters publicising a consultation meeting held in Greenwich on 28 May – forcing it to rely on editorial in the council’s weekly Greenwich Time instead. Why on earth would any council decline to put up posters for a public meeting about something which could have such grave consequences for its residents?
It’s worth pointing out that local Labour party members – including local councillor and cabinet member John Fahy – actively campaigned to retain the fire station. But why didn’t the council that their party supposedly runs back them with something meaningful, rather than a token letter?
Still, if Greenwich Time is stil limping on in a year’s time, there might be a nice little puff piece for some luxury flats in an old fire station in Woolwich, with some quote about how it’s a pleasing sign of the area’s regeneration. We’ll just have to hope a fire doesn’t break out…