Woolwich fire station closed this morning.
There was a small demonstration outside the graceful Victorian building, tucked away in the back streets, which now has prime redevelopment potential. About 20 people, including Greenwich Labour councillors and candidates, plus MPs Nick Raynsford (a former fire services minister) and Clive Efford, gathered outside for its final hour.
Woolwich fire station is the victim of budget cuts, yet there was still money in the GLA kitty for two private security guards, two policemen, a police van to lurk around the corner, another police van and the Greenwich borough commander to keep watch.
“All very peaceful, the local MP’s here,” one copper radioed back to base. This was no raging against the dying of the light. As the wind whipped up, this was a final farewell to London’s second oldest operational fire station, which seems to have been written off as terminal long ago.
When Shooters Hill fire station was closed (by a Labour government) in 1998, residents were assured they’d be safe because Woolwich fire station was still there. Now Woolwich is gone, too, thanks to Boris Johnson.
One of its tenders will move to East Greenwich fire station, but a gap in fire coverage has opened up around Woolwich, a district in the throes of redevelopment. More people will live in Woolwich, but they’ll have to wait longer for a fire engine.
With Woolwich fire station gone, could more have been done? I certainly wish I’d covered the issue more, rather than fearing duplicating what other local media were doing. But where was the community anger? It was an issue which seemed to struggle to get beyond local Labour party stalwarts. Local councillor and cabinet member John Fahy comes out of this with credit, organising a 433-strong petition against it.
But Fahy’s own council barely bothered to take up the cause. It can organise a petition to build a new road to please developers, but it didn’t back a petition to keep a fire station eyed by up developers.
As reported here in November, Greenwich’s only response to the cuts proposal was to fire off a two-page letter from cabinet member Maureen O’Mara, containing glaring errors. Neighbouring Lewisham did some research and sent off a seven-page document, detailing the impact on it and other boroughs, and saw New Cross fire station saved as a result.
Greenwich wouldn’t even put up posters for a formal public meeting about the closure.
The council belatedly joined a court action to stop the cuts – but it was too late.
John Fahy – recently given a warning by his party over allegedly leaking council leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail to him – was there this morning. So were cabinet colleagues Denise Hyland and Steve Offord and a smattering of other councillors and candidates. No sign, though, of O’Mara, Roberts, or his deputy Peter Brooks – the ones who really could have done something.
But maybe the blame lies with all of us, for not kicking up a bigger stink. Perhaps not enough people even knew the station existed. Or it points to something nobody wants to face up to – how the public are now completely disconnected from local issues. Or maybe nobody really cared enough.
But now Boris Johnson will have leave a little bit of his legacy behind in Woolwich, when the old Woolwich fire station becomes a free school or luxury flats. Sadly, and despite the efforts of Labour activists, I can’t help thinking either result would meet few complaints from Greenwich Council.
Goodbye, Woolwich fire station. Sorry we didn’t try hard enough.