London’s fire authorities have confirmed that an £11-million training tower they want to build in Croydon will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, potentially producing dense smoke close to a densely populated residential area and four schools.
The London Fire Brigade’s two existing training facilities are well away from homes, while it is beginning to emerge that the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) has chosen Croydon fire station for its south London training centre over an alternative site at the less-congested Biggin Hill simply on cost grounds.
At a meeting of the fire authority on Friday, Dany Cotton, the fire service’s director of safety and assurance, said that she hoped that the proposed six-storey fire tower in Croydon would be used “seven days a week, 24/7”, and that she was pleased that the police, London Underground, the GLA and Heathrow Airport are talking to the fire brigade about using the tower for their staffs’ safety training. Such usage by other agencies is likely to generate an income for the centre’s operators.
With more than 100 high-rise towers under construction across the capital, Cotton apologised for a pun about a “growing risk” needing to be met for the Fire Brigade’s training.
Cotton cited the tragedies at Lakanal House and at Shirley Towers in Southampton, and told the politicians around the table at City Hall that the Brigade must have a specialised training facility to deal with the dangers of “high-rise incidents that are complex and challenging”.
With “reduced fire incidents numbers” arising from fewer fires after better public education, “extra training was needed” Cotton said.
Harrow councillor Susan Hall, a member of the panel, described the matter more succinctly. Firemen and women “love a good fire”, according to Hall.
Croydon residents, including those living in the high-density almshouses and social housing above the fire station close to the Flyover, may not find the whole thing so amusing when they discover that they may soon have a fire tower billowing smoke across the neighbourhood all-day and every day.
The two smaller Fire Brigade training bases are both sited well away from residential areas, one by the Thames adjacent to the Beckton sewage works and gas works, the other on the Park Royal industrial estate.
In the initial report recommending Croydon as the site for the south London training centre, it was suggested that the alternative, at Biggin Hill, was not big enough. But at Friday’s meeting, the additional lease costs at Biggin Hill were admitted to being a factor in the decision. The Fire Brigade owns Croydon fire station.
The need for new training facilities are due partly to the previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, having closed and sold off the training facility in Southwark, which had been used since 1878.
Croydon, by comparison, was described as having “a local townscape” that “is considered poor”, as justification for siting the fire tower there. So that’s alright then.
Cotton also said that the buildings at Croydon fire station “aren’t terribly beautiful” and that she wanted “a more attractive site” with community use. Perhaps she has children’s parties in the tower in mind?
The Fire Brigade’s training service is provided through a contract with private sector provider Babcock.
Green Assembly member Caroline Russell was told that scrubbers would remove smoke emissions. Presumably the muck gets washed down the drains into the River Wandle and Wandle Park instead?
Gareth Bacon, the new Tory leader on the Assembly, said that he and other members had been lobbied by Waddon ward councillors to allow residents to be asked their opinion. Merton Labour councillor Martin Whelton felt it “important that local residents are engaged with”.
A planning application is due to go in to Croydon Council by April, with the facility due to open in February 2019.
Fiona Twycross, the chair of the authority – and a Croydon resident – got the committee to agree that there will be a “full and robust consultation with local residents”.
Twycross said: “I want make sure local politicians are comfortable with the consultation.” She and the fire authority will need to work hard, then, to justify building such a facility in a residential area in Croydon when in other parts of London they are kept well away from people’s homes.
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