Fire stations close across London: Destroying public resources crushes the heart of communities

By extending response times to many areas with these closures, we're sentencing more and more people to suffering an agonising wait for help to turn up

Share

There was hardly a dry eye on the windswept streets of North London last Thursday morning as Clerkenwell Fire Station, which was the oldest in Europe, closed. The images of big, burly fire fighters like 30-year-veteran Alex Badcock weeping as they left following their final watch reached far beyond the site.

The station is one of 10 set to be shuttered across London – along with the loss of more than 550 firefighters and 14 fire engines – as London Mayor Boris Johnson looks to slash £45 million off the budget over the next two years.

Seconds count when fighting fires, and this cold-hearted move has left locals in increased danger. I know from my own personal experience what it is like to wait for a fire engine to arrive in a critical emergency situation.

Every second feels like an age. By extending response times to many areas of London with these closures, we're sentencing more and more people to suffering an agonising wait for help to turn up.

While there was understandably an atmosphere of mourning at the closure, what was also evident was the community’s strong resolve to fight to save one of its vital community resources. They want to preserve it as a community asset, so it can be reopened in the future, or at least used for community benefit.

As Leader of The Green Party of England and Wales, the only party committed to fighting unnecessary, ideologically-driven cuts and preserving public resources for current and future use, it was heart-warming to see. It was cheering to see that there are local activists who will continue to fight to keep buildings like Clerkenwell Fire Station from being sold off for development, activists determined to maintain community resources for the common good.

But what we need as well as these individual fights are a concerted campaign against the sell-offs of the family silver that Chancellor George Osborne is proposing as a possibility for every national resources.

The 'right to contest' scheme will allow businesses and individuals to submit a proposal for any of the government’s £330billion worth of land and property. Oh, but don’t worry, says Mr Osborne, we’re not going to sell off the British Museum, we’re just offering it out there.

Well, no, the British Museum might be safe for now, but it’s clear that almost no other public resource is.

The Clerkenwell fire station is a good example. It’s perfectly located for its role – right beside the City of London, ready to dash to any crisis in that densely crowded square mile, whether it be fire in a high rise or terrorist attack, an experience with which the City is all too familiar, on an immensely expensive block of land that it’s hard to imagine the government buying today.

But it was established, generations back, in the right place, as a community resource. The civic fathers and mothers put in the investment for the future, not expecting that their descendants would treat it as a cash cow, to be milked for the present and lost to the future.

For once these facilities are gone, they are gone. I was recently on a walking tour on the political history of London, and we stopped outside Caxton Hall, the site of an early women’s parliament and many other important moments in political history. It’s now been converted into luxury flats.

And what’s been lost is not just all of that history, but an affordable, central London meeting space – something in precious short supply, yet essential to the proper exercise of our democracy.

It’s the same with that library that becomes a supermarket, that Sure Start centre converted into offices, that social housing converted into luxury flats, they were community riches built up over time.

Communities to function properly need a full range of public resources, from fire stations to libraries to community centres. These facilities are their heart, their pressure valves, their lifeblood.

And yet we’re destroying them, selling them off, leaving us at risk – particularly in London – of creating endless deserts of luxury flats, let by investor owners or maintained by absentee owners from Hong Kong or Moscow who use them as pads to drop into a couple of times a year, tended by workers travelling from distant empty commuter suburbs and towns with weary resignation.

The problems that we’re storing up for the future for short-term financial gain are obvious. What we need is governments that can look beyond the short-term figures to the long-term future – just as we need company bosses who can do the same.

@NatalieBen

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?