A £11.1 million scheme to build a six-storey training tower at Croydon fire station seems likely to be given the go-ahead at a meeting on Friday, though local figures have accused London Authority officials of being “arrogant” and expressed concerns that the proposals could end up seeing the Fire Brigade “harming the people they are there to protect”.
Croydon has been selected as the only suitable site in south London large enough to provide the capital’s firefighters with a third training facility, where they can practice and rehearse evacuations of high-rise buildings.
With similar training facilities already in east and west London, the Fire Brigade says that it needs a south London training base to save on travel and subsistence costs. A site at Biggin Hill Airport has been dismissed as too small.
But Croydon fire station, on Roman Way, close to the Flyover, is positioned among some high-density housing in Waddon and Old Town, in an area already noted for particularly poor air quality caused by exhaust fumes from two urban motorways. There is a secondary school and a primary school close by, with another to be built. The fire station site is also less than a mile from where Westfield wants to build its £1.4 billion shopping supermall.
The use of the carbonaceous fire tower would see high intensity training drills using smoke being staged on a near-daily basis. Two firefighters have died in recent months when involved in rescues from fires in high-rise tower blocks.
In the report submitted ahead of Friday’s resources committee meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, such considerations for local residents are shrugged off as unimportant.
“While the potential for noise and issues relating to clean air, as well as the location of the fire house, are likely to be concerns and key issues for local residents and town planners, these should be addressed from the outset and the development does have some noted opportunities and advantages,” the report states.
“There are no noted heritage issues to consider for example and –as the local townscape is considered poor – it should be possible for the development to make a positive contribution to the appearance of the local area.”
But local councillors say that the fire authority is wrong and “arrogant” in its report’s assumptions about the local plan.
“LFEPA is wrong to say that there are no heritage issues when our draft Local Plan seeks to protect views from the fire station’s location of Croydon Minster,” Labour councillor Andrew Pelling said.
“To describe the local townscape as ‘poor’ betrays an arrogant attitude to Waddon,” Pelling said.
Pelling and the other Waddon councillors say that they are lobbying London Assembly Member Fiona Twycross, the chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and a Croydon resident.
“We have concerns about smoke emissions and will want to get a better understanding from the fire service as to how often the facility will be used and about the release of smoke and pollutants,” said Councillor Joy Prince.
“The area around the fire station is a sensitive one with the Elis David almshouses above the site, high density local social housing at Duppas Court and Cromwell House, and the St Andrew’s, the Minster and new Avanti local schools.”
Peter Underwood, the chair of the local Green Party, also took issue with the Brigade’s attitude to the area when Inside Croydon showed him the report.
“While we agree with the Fire Brigade Union that a training centre in the south of London would be a benefit, we do have concerns about building this right in the middle of Croydon,” Underwood said.
“The suggestion that a multi-storey tower billowing smoke would make ‘a positive contribution to the appearance of the local area’ shows what an insulting attitude these planners have towards Croydon and we don’t think that local residents and pupils at the nearby schools would welcome clouds of toxic fumes added to the already dangerous, dirty air they have to suffer next to the Flyover.
“We think that the London Fire Brigade need to revisit these plans to make sure that they are not harming the people they are there to protect.”
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