CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Sadiq Khan urged to re-open Belsize fire station

Leader of the Tories 'sorry' for not campaigning to shield the base from cuts

29 June, 2017 — By William McLennan

Tulip Siddiq marching to save the fire station in 2014

LONDON Mayor Sadiq Khan is facing calls to step in and reopen Belsize fire station in the wake of the Chalcots estate evacuation and Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Camden Council has just awarded planning consent for a developer to turn the base in Lancaster Grove into luxury flats. Despite a campaign to save it from the axe – supported by the New Journal – the station was sold off by former mayor Boris Johnson in 2014 As residents met with council chiefs and local politicians on Thursday night, there were new calls to get it back in use as a fire station.

It is around 500 metres from the evacuated Chalcots estate.

Janice Davidson, who lives in Taplow block, said: “The closure of the fire station was unbelievable and now they are turning them into luxury flats. It’s beyond belief. They need to make a compulsory re-purchase of the station and re-open it immediately. We are living in a five-block village and there isn’t a fire station. We want our fire station back.” M

Ms Davidson said she was rescued from an earlier fire at Taplow in 2012 by crews from Belsize fire station. “If the fire station wasn’t around the corner then, I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you know,” she said.

Belsize ward councillor Claire-Louise Leyland, who is also leader of the Conservatives in Camden, acknowledged that she had been criticised for not campaigning harder to protect the station. She said that she has since “learned how to fight harder for longer” and, referring to response times that have increased in the area surrounding the station, said: “I absolutely agree that response times haven’t been what we hoped they would be. We took the expert advice in saying that they would get here quickly enough.” Cllr Leyland added: “I am sorry, in retrospect. I looked at the data and it looked as though we would get response times that were safe enough – looking at Grenfell, that’s a fire that’s unprecedented.”

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq told the meeting that she would “write with your local councillors” to Mr Khan “to see if we can do anything about Belsize Fire Station”. Cllr Leyland complained later in the week that the letter was sent without her having the chance to co-sign or have sight of it.

Some sceptics are unsure about the logistics of being able to buy back the building now the deal has passed the planning stage, but Ms Siddiq took the matter further by raising it in parliament, asking Conservative communities secretary, Sajid Javid, to intervene. Speaking in Parliament, she said: “In the past few days, residents have repeatedly brought up the closure of Belsize fire station, which was 500 metres away from the tower blocks in question. Will the Secretary of State give his support to reopening Belsize fire station, which was closed by the former Mayor of London in 2014, so that my residents can feel safe in their homes again?”

Mr Javid responded: “In the assessment that was done with Camden in recent days there is nothing to suggest that was the issue that might have led to an evacuation.” He instead spoke of the “huge concern” at the outcome of the fire risk assessment, adding: “Particularly, I think the issue around the fire doors.”

The New Journal has repeatedly raised the red alert around the issue of fire cuts through our Thin Red Line campaign, revealing concerns among firefighters that London would struggle to deal with more than one major fire at the same time.

Firefighter reveals the impact of cuts

A SENIOR Camden firefighter has said that the Grenfell Tower tragedy and emergency evacuation of thousands of people from tower blocks in Swiss Cottage have exposed the “devastating impacts of cuts to the brigade”. The firefighter, who spoke to the New Journal on the condition of anonymity over the weekend, said: “Everyone is talking about Grenfell and rightly praising the brigade for their reaction. They did amazingly. But no one is asking the question, what would have happened if there was a second incident at the same time? There was nothing left. We had very little fire cover for London.”

Pointing to the decision of Boris Johnson, who as Mayor of London pushed through the closure of 10 fire stations – including Belsize which is 500 metres from the Chalcots estate – the firefighter said: “If we hadn’t had 10 stations cut we would have 10 to 15 more appliances [fire engines] to provide cover.”

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