Saturday, 21 December 2013

Kingsland Fire Station Closure: Legal Challenge Rejected

On Friday, the High Court rejected Hackney Council's legal challenge to Boris Johnson's plan to close Kingsland Fire Station, potentially jeopardising lives in De Beauvoir.

The process started in January 2013, Boris Johnson announced that he has earmarked the fire station on Kingsland Road, on the eastern edge of De Beauvoir, as one of 12 stations across the capital that he wants to close.

His closure plans were resisted by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), which runs the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and whose general policy is set by the mayor of London. The LFEPA asked for the parts of the plan reducing front-line fire-fighting capacity to be removed from Mr Johnson's strategic plans for the LFB and it suggested an alternative budget to avoid the closure of fire stations or the axing of firefighters. Mr Johnson responded by taking the unusual step of issuing a “direction” to the LFEPA, ordering it to implement his plan without any amendment despite it being resisted by not only the LFEPA but also by a majority of the London Assembly and by 94% of the public responding to a consultation.

LFEPA members voiced scepticism of Mr Johnson's claims that the closures had been made necessary by fiscal constraint and the need to save money, pointing out that Mr Johnson proposed a 10% reduction in the Council Tax precept over the course of his mayoral term, representing a penny a day cut in Council Tax for Londoners.

Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe commented on how dangerous Mr Johnson's closure plans really are, saying “I understand the need to make savings, but response times are absolutely vital in fire fighting and these cuts come at a time when our borough’s population and tourism economy is continuing to grow – we need more support, not less.

Paul Embery, of the Fire Brigades Union was blunter in his criticism: “These cuts represent the biggest threat to the ability of the London Fire Brigade to function since the days of the Blitz.

The wards closest to the Kingsland Road fire station will be hit hard and response times will increase most strikingly in De Beauvoir from 4.24 to 7.37 minutes (according to the LFB), much higher than the fire brigade's 6-minute target average time for the first fire engine to arrive at an emergency, a policy that is designed to ensure residents' safety.

Labour London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold OBE said “This might not sound a lot but a fire can quadruple in intensity every two minutes.

That is why Jules Pipe has been lobbying Mr Johnson and the chair of the LFEPA since Hackney Council took a formal position opposing the closure plans in October 2012 and it is why Hackney Council joined 6 other London councils to bring a legal challenge to the fire station closures.

Cllr Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor of Hackney, explained the reasons for the Council's legal challenge: “We have decided to take this joint action in order to protect the lives of many Londoners, including the most vulnerable members of our community.

We are doing everything within our power to protect residents from the consequences of this flawed and damaging decision and ensure that stations are kept open and firefighters positions are not lost.

Following the High Court's judgment, Cllr Linden said herself to be “very disappointed with this result. But I am more disappointed that the Mayor of London chose to ignore the very real concerns of residents to force through these plans which put lives at risk.

As a result of these damaging cuts, a third of Hackney will now fall outside London Fire Brigade’s recommended response time and residents in De Beauvoir ward will have to wait more than three minutes longer for vital, life-saving assistance.

The Council is considering an appeal against the judgment.

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