Last night representatives of COVEN were present at a sparsely attended meeting at the Richmond Hill Community Centre to discuss the proposed closure of the fire stations at Stanks and Gipton which is to be replaced by a new build Fire Station at Killingbeck, but with reduced engine capacity. All three of our ward councillors were there and though the meeting was small the representatives from the Fire Brigade found themselves with some very difficult questions to answer many of which they were unable to respond to and had on many occasions to say they didn’t know!
Steve Rhodes, Fire Service Area Manager who leads the risk management team, and Mick Smith, Group Manager and Leeds District Commander set out the reasons for such a drastic cut in services in Leeds and surrounding areas stating they felt it could be done with the least overall impact to the communities affected. Basically it was stated that the Government, who provide 60% of the funding of the fire services in Leeds, are implementing a 26% reduction to the budgets resulting in the need for these visceral cuts.
Gipton at present is an low cost efficient station with 2 engines covering a VERY HIGH risk area. Stanks has 1 engine covering a medium risk area; it is proposed the new fire station would be placed at Killingbeck and have 2 engines. Steve Rhodes stated that because the Fire Service has not had any money to recruit and train new fire fighters since 2009 they now did not have enough personnel to staff as many engines as they have now, even if they did not have the 26% cut and this situation will only get worse in the future.
Many points were raised at the meeting but amongst them was an increase in response times for some parts of Burmantofts and Richmond Hill Wards due to moving the fire station further away – it was admitted that these would increase but the Fire Service felt they would still be acceptable, COVEN however were less convinced.
Sarah from COVEN took the officers through their business plan point by point and exposed what we certainly feel are the key weaknesses not least being that areas of highest need will end up with less cover, and whilst COVEN can see that certain circumstances such as fire resistant building materials and furnishings may have made some households safer this is not the case for most of the housing stock in Richmond Hill. We also acknowledge the excellent work the Fire Service itself has done in providing free Fire Safety Checks however it cannot be denied that some areas such as ours, topping as we do the Indices of Deprivation for the city, and with 2 major roads running through the ward needs more support than the leafy and by and large safer suburbs. Much of our housing stock was built in the late 1800’s to middle 1930’s when building codes were not as strict as today on fire proof materials or design.
Susan of COVEN pointed out that no one knows how many people actually live in our area, many houses have been converted into houses of multiple- occupation without any fire checks and this together with the age of the housing stock; its tightly packed nature and very transient and deprived population means that the good work of the fire service is often undone in less than 3 months by the endless rotation of tenants. The officers were asked if there was a set number of engines to be provided by head of population but apparently there isn’t.
Sarah of COVEN suggested that since the main driver behind this move was cost it would surely be better retain and re-furbish the Gipton fire station pointing out it has already the facilities that were proposed for the new fire station and if the extra 2 minutes + would not be detrimental to Richmond Hill, an area of VERY HIGH risk it could surely not be excessive what applied to the Stanks area which is a medium risk station. The officers did agree that this could be one of the options open to them, albeit reluctantly.
Overall we felt that the officers had not come adequately prepared for the very difficult and well researched questions they encountered from an audience which though small has a vital interest in the question of where the Fire Station should be and how many engines it can provide fully staffed. Did the officers consider that a public meeting in an area of such high deprivation there may be residents attending who could actually read business plans, compose cogent and articulate questions and expect more than a muffled grunt of yes or no in response to an answer; we suspect not?
Residents were also very worried about the fact that no new fire fighting personnel have been recruited since 2009 and that very soon we will be losing experienced staff and their skills to the detriment of the service and our community as whole.
The consultation ends on 8 December so there is still time to make your views known of this subject by going to
Full consultation is open until 9 December 2011, and formal representations must be made in writing/email to Stephen Hardy, Consultation Co-ordinator, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Oakroyd Hall, Bradford Road, Birkenshaw, BD11 2DY or firstname.lastname@example.org
A special Hotline has also been set up to guide people through the consultation process: