Comment: Who wants to live in an area with no fire service?

Belsize Fire station is rumoured to become luxury flats

Belsize Fire station is rumoured to become luxury flats - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Property prices are pushing our most vital services out of central London. If we want to keep living in areas like Camden, we must do something to stop them being priced out

Fire has been big news in NW3 in recent weeks. First, two devastating fires in one day in October led to one death, and the destruction of dozens of homes. Then it emerged that Belsize Fire Station, which was closed by the Mayor of London in January 2014, is earmarked to be turned into 19 luxury flats by developers, in a deal reported to be worth more than £20million.

Plans suggest that one of the flats is set to span all four floors of the fire drill tower and the fireman’s pole will be kept to form a distinctive feature – a speedy alternative staircase-cum-racy party prop perhaps.

While for those who can afford it, a high-end property in a period building in the centre of Belsize Park is a perfectly attractive prospect – particularly one with such novelty period features – the attraction of living in an area where fire services struggle to cope with more than one fire at a time raises questions about what exactly people are buying into when purchasing property in Camden.

The wealthiest among us need support from the emergency services as much as the poorest, as shown by the recent attempt by panicked Hampstead residents to crowdfund additional bobbies on the beat in the Village. And yet rising land values combined with government cuts to services is diminishing the viability of essential services having a physical base in expensive parts of London.

It’s not just fire stations and police services that are falling foul of London’s crazy property market either: the threatened closure of specialist contraceptive clinic the Margaret Pyke centre is in part a result of the cost of their King’s Cross location.

A stopgap response like that of the Hampstead residents who feel insufficiently protected against a wave of violent robberies may be to pay privately for an enhanced service but are we really suggesting a two-tier approach to public services is an acceptable response to spiralling property prices?

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Private enterprise is adversely affected too. Even wildly successful and much-loved local independent businesses – the sorts of cafes, shops and bars that attract people to an area in the first place and give them their ‘village’ appeal – are falling foul of rent rises that far surpass any profit level they can achieve.

If we want our loveliest boroughs to remain habitable, we must do something to stop this relentless rise.