March 8 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, January 9, 2014
As a vigil gathers to wave goodbye to the country’s oldest fire station, a bold plan has emerged which could possibly save it.
Current and former firefighters will join Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members and councillors outside 100-year-old Clerkenwell station at 8.30am today before the final watch is asked to leave an hour later.
But while the service mourned “one of the saddest days” in its history, a community group has launched an ambitious bid that may potentially see it reopen as a fire station.
Campaigners want Islington Council to recognise Clerkenwell as an Asset of Community Value – which would stop the station being sold for six months while the group tries to raise the cash to buy it.
Cllr Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for community safety, said: “I understand there will be an application to the council, which I would fully support. It would mean it couldn’t be sold and they would have first refusal. There would be a very practical six-month effort to raise the money, although I have no idea how much it would cost.
“Their plan is to use it for a mixture of things; a heritage site, a museum, possibly some affordable housing upstairs.
“But if at some time in the future, wiser minds decide that central London needs more firefighters, at least that building will still be there. It’s a long shot, but if it were turned into luxury flats, it would really add insult to injury.
Cllr Convery ruled out a community-run fire station, however. He said: “By far the best people to fight fires is the London Fire Brigade.”
Clerkenwell is one of 10 set to be closed across London – along with the loss of more than 550 firefighters and 14 fire engines – as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, looks to slash £45million from the budget over the next two years.
A firefighter, who asked not to be named, said: “We’ll finish the last shift at 7.30am. Then they’ll kick us out at 9.30am. I can’t understand how they’re going to do it. There’s too much to do before they close the station.”
Paul Embery, London regional secretary of the FBU, said: “The Mayor will have blood on his hands. It will be only a matter of time before someone dies because a fire engine does not get to them in time.”
He added: “It will be one of the saddest days in the history of the brigade when these stations close their doors.”
James Cleverly, chairman of the capital’s fire authority, said: “Londoners will continue to receive one of the fastest emergency response times in the world.”
A legal challenge to the closures last year, led by Islington along with six other boroughs, failed to prevent the cuts from going ahead.