‘Fire response times are worse but not that much worse’ - London Fire Brigade on Boris Johnson’s cuts

Demonstrators join firefighters leaving Belsize Fire Station for the last time. Picture: Nigel Sutto

Demonstrators join firefighters leaving Belsize Fire Station for the last time. Picture: Nigel Sutton. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

It is nearly a year since Boris Johnson forced the closure of Belsize fire station in the face of widespread opposition from the community, firefighters, politicians of all stripes – and his own fire authority.

On January 9, Belsize station, in Lancaster Grove, closed after 99 years of serving the community.

The Mayor of London had invoked special powers to override the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) after it refused to support his plan to save £28.8million by axing 10 stations across London, 14 engines and 552 firefighter posts.

Today (Thursday), the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is due to deliver its report on the impact of the cuts to the LFEPA.

It has published average fire response time figures for every ward in London since the changes took effect – and they show a raft of increases in Camden.

Predictably, Belsize was hardest hit. The average time for the first fire engine to reach a blaze in 2012/2013 was 4mins 7secs; from January to August 2014, it rose by 1min 52secs to 5mins 59secs – now the longest wait in Camden.

Thirteen others saw increases, ranging from 37secs in Haverstock to 3secs in Swiss Cottage.

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However, the figures have not borne out fears Camden would suffer the most of any borough.

Forecasts published by the LFB in May last year suggested firefighters would take an extra minute or more to reach emergencies in six of Camden’s wards after the cuts. Seven were expected to fall outside the LFB’s key target of an average six-minute wait.

An LFB spokesman was keen to stress the increases were smaller than predicted – and no ward exceeded the six-minute target.

Conservative Cllr Jonny Bucknell, who represents Belsize, said: “Nobody wanted to lose the fire station, but the figures seem to have panned out in the LFB’s favour. Appliances consistently made it to Belsize within the six target minutes.”

But Labour’s Andrew Dismore, London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, and a member of the fire authority, drew little comfort: “The fact is, they have got worse and that’s a problem.

“If you have to wait half a minute longer for a fire engine, that’s an awful long half a minute.”

Paul Embery, Fire Brigades Union regional secretary for London, said the new figures remain “very troubling” despite being less extreme than expected.

He noted that LFB commissioner Ron Dobson recently told the London Assembly he had been keen for last year’s predictions “to be on the pessimistic side”.

Mr Embery said: “It’s reasonable to assume that they went to the worst-case scenario so when the data did emerge, they could say it’s not as bad as we first thought – and that’s exactly what they are now saying.

“But it’s not about predictions, it’s about what is happening in the real world – response times are going up and more people are going to be at risk.”

An LFB spokesman said: “The brigade has always maintained that we would not be able to make reductions in resources without having an increase in response times.

“The challenge has been to make these changes with minimal impact.”