£400k spent on security at empty fire station – as Islington Council reveals homes bid
Grade II-listed building in Clerkenwell was controversially closed in 2014 by former London Mayor Boris Johnson as part of Fire Service cuts
07 September, 2018 — By Samantha Booth
Clerkenwell fire station has been empty for nearly five years
MORE than £400,000 has been spent on security at the empty Clerkenwell fire station since it closed nearly five years ago.
It has also been revealed that, while the London Fire Brigade is spending £7,500 a month on security at the historic site, Islington Council want to turn the building into council homes and workspace if it can find funding.
Firefighters left their final shift in tears when the Grade II-listed building in Rosebery Avenue became one of 10 stations controversially closed in 2014 under former London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Fire Service cuts.
Paul Embery, from the Fire Brigade Union, said: “Our first wish is to see it as a fire station, but if that’s not possible then using it as housing is the next best thing.
“But someone needs to do something with it as it’s been four years and hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, which is inexcusable.”
Mr Embery, who is London representative on the FBU’s national executive, claimed there was an increased risk to the public since it closed and said Mr Johnson should take responsibility for it standing empty, as he took the decision to shut it.
In a letter to the Tribune this year, Paul Thornton, of the Amwell Society, said it was “disgraceful” that the building remained empty. The society had succeeded in their campaign to make it an Asset of Community Value.
A protest against the fire station closure in 2014
“At the very least, a temporary use should be found for the building – as a shelter for the growing number of homeless in central London,” he said.
A charity wanted to turn the former fire station into a museum and social housing last year but were stonewalled by the now defunct London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.
Cllr Diarmaid Ward, the council’s housing chief, said: “Islington faces a housing crisis and we’re committed to delivering the genuinely affordable housing Islington desperately needs.
“We believe Clerkenwell fire station has huge potential to deliver social housing and also affordable workspace, and we are continuing to work with the Fire Service to develop and explore this idea.”
The station closed in January 2014
The Town Hall, which opposed the closure of the station, is waiting to hear whether a bid for the Mayor of London’s Good Growth funding has been successful.
However, a bid for funding from the London Business Rates Retention pooling pilot failed.
In total, from January 2014 – when the station closed – to the end of August this year, £416,426 from the London Fire Commissioner’s (LFC) premises security budget was spent on the fire station.
Firefighters on the fire station’s forecourt before its closure
The building has around 40 empty family-sized flats already inside.
Labour’s Andrew Dismore, Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, who sits on the fire committee, opposed the closure. He said: “It’s a pity we had to spend that money on security, but if we didn’t then the building could end up being trashed, which is just as bad.
“It’s a pity it’s taking so long to go anywhere but I think the present regime is very keen to make some progress now and hopefully let’s see it providing homes that people desperately need.”
Specialist design and heritage consultants have finalised a report on the building which is being considered by officers at the LFC and GLA.
A spokeswoman for the London Fire Brigade said: “It’s important that this iconic building is put to the best possible use, including considering how it could contribute to the Mayor’s plans for more affordable homes for Londoners.
“We are currently continuing discussions with the London Borough of Islington about the feasibility of it acquiring the freehold interest in the property to provide affordable housing and workspace.”
City Hall declined to add anything further to the LFB statement.