Monday, January 14, 2013

Emergency Services in Southwark

Southwark's emergency services face an unprecedented attack.  With the closure of three Police Stations, one Fire Station, and the partial closure of another, the presence of the emergency services in our borough will be hugely scaled back.

Last week I chaired a meeting at City Hall with Stephen Greenhalgh, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne - who is in charge of territorial policing in London.  The meeting exposed real concerns from the public and local representatives about the loss of the three police stations at East Dulwich, Rotherhithe and Camberwell, and equal concerns about the impact which budget savings will have on Safer Neighbourhood Teams across the borough.  At the meeting we were told that Peckham Police Station would remain as the only 24 hour station in the borough, although this was subsequently corrected to Walworth.

I challenged Boris Johnson in a letter dated the 11th of October 2012 to keep his pledge about the future of police stations in Southwark and in his response to me on the 13th of December 2012 he reiterated his "clear commitment that no police front counter will close unless and equivalent or better facility for public access has been identified".

As a council we are working with the Met and MOPAC to find those "equivalent or better" facilities, but we have not been told what if any budget the police have for these new front counters.  At a time when all of our budgets are being slashed the council cannot just hand over premises or parts of premises to the police without any payment.

There seemed little if any clarity from the police about the structure of Safer Neighbourhood Teams going forward.  And although the much vaunted restructure will apparently bring 1200 new front line police officers into the city's policing, only 2 of those seem to be heading to Southwark.

At the same time the Fire Brigade have announced the closure of Southwark Fire Station and the loss of a fire engine from Peckham.  On the day when the Lakanal fire inquest has begun at Lambeth Town Hall it seems remarkable that the fire service are contemplating removing any fire engines from Peckham.  Surely it would be better to wait for the outcome of the inquest before making any decision about how Peckham will be covered by the fire service in future?

And with The Shard and the London Bridge area bringing new buildings, new attention - and to some extent new risk - to Southwark it seems remarkable that the fire service would choose to close the fire station which is closest to this part of Central London.  Apart from some general justification about ensuring that every part of London is within 6 minutes of a fire station I have yet to hear any specific justification for why Central London is losing so much support.

These are truly worrying times for our emergency services and for Southwark.

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