Friday, 12 October 2012

Open Letter to Station Commander Nigel Kirk


I think I need to clarify some issues around the situation regarding the application I submitted to have Gipton listed as an historic asset.  And perhaps I should emphasis at this point the listing has gone in under my personal name and address so I take full responsibility for it. 

I am part of a group who call themselves COVEN – Community Organisation for Viable Environments Neighbourhoods based in East End Park Leeds, our site is here HERE  

Up to June 2011 I was the co-opted community representative on the inner east area committee, so I received the papers for and attended every meeting of the IEAC . And when I lost my seat in June 2011 I made it very clear I would continue attending the meetings and when “allowed” I would participate in the discussions.  I believe in local democracy being very much participative hands on activity

When I read the papers in October 2011 which presented the case for the IRMP in which the business cases for the closure of both the stations at Gipton and Stanks were laid out, I studied them with interest. In part because I was brought up very much in the bosom of the old Huddersfield Fire Brigade as my father and brother were fire fighters  and secondly because over the 10 years I have lived in East Leeds I have watched what was left of the old community  infrastructure be stripped away by the local authority. 

Apart from that I am an informatics business manager whose day to day stock in trade is reading and authoring documents such as business plans; and in my “expert” opinion these two had some serious holes in them.  So knowing little of fire and rescue but being an active trade unionist I did what I thought best - I emailed the West Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union and asked for their professional opinion.  And the result of all that was getting to know David Williams. My introduction to Andy Killingbeck was purely an accidental one. Cllr Ralph Pryke who had up to the April been a member of the fire authority forwarded to me an email he had written to Ralph on the subject of the proposed closures. Me being me,  as he seemed a like minded soul I emailed him  and I also discovered via Dave he had been the FBU membership secretary  prior to his retirement. 

I would like to think we gave Simon Pilling & Co a run for their money, as far as Gipton and Stanks is concerned anyway, but the vote went in favour of the cuts. And after a couple of weeks of licking my  wounds  I started to think of alternative ways of keeping Gipton inparticular, open and operational.  It was a chance “rant” at a completely unassociated meeting when it was suggested to me by a member of the Leeds Civic Trust  - Jim Brettell, that even an application to English Heritage would   throw a large and hungry cat into WYFRSs pigeon loft at Birkenshaw.  At this point I emailed Dave and Andy and suggested it and got a “yes, we have nothing to lose” back from them both – it was worth a go. At this point way back in January   I genuinely thought we had about a 10% chance of success. 

We cheered up considerably when for a simple £8 fee we downloaded her details from the land registry as it referred to a deed of covenant from 1914 restricting the sale of alcohol on the premises – she had some history at last!  Andy and I set ourselves the not inconsiderable task of finding out all about her. We spent hours in the local history library reading old watch committee reports, made several trips to the archives at both Wakefield and Sheepscar to read original documents and brushed up on our local political  history all in an effort to discover Giptons  past. 

As to the photos – well Sam Hirst is a member of COVEN has a keen interest in both old buildings and local history so he was introduced to Andy and they went into Gipton on a Sunday with the consent of Tony Head. It was agreed that the pictures would be used for the 75th Birthday Party which Andy was by then on the organising committee for. 

By August we were good to go with the application but it was pointless just submitting it and seeing what happened. All of us involved feel that the brutal cuts in provision are irresponsible and that WYFRA should explore different avenues instead of the straight and very narrow path they seem to be on at the behest of Simon Pilling, and when the 2012 /13 IRMP was announced we seized the opportunity for publicity to promote our anti cuts stance.  Giptons 75th Birthday was the perfect day to announce what I had done. 

Had I had my way I would have turned up to Gipton with local film crews from ITV and the BBC and anywhere else I could muster,   but Andy insisted we respect the privacy of the party. But from my years of campaigning I do have a decent list of press contacts and I used those to get publicity for our cause.  The BBC pre empted us though by announcing what we had done early on Saturday morning.  After that I wasn't even sure I would be allowed in to give you the cake but I was ushered straight through. Andy did try to tell you about it in advance by printing off the page from the net.

From what I can gather you seem to think Dave, Andy and I spent hours huddled in corners hatching plots- this is far from the truth. In fact, amazing as it may seem,  I had never seen Andy and Dave together until we were stood in the yard  last week. And at that point we did not know that Monday morning we would have press beating a path to our door, we got much better coverage than I had ever anticipated. But I am damn glad we did – if it brings the cause of the fire fighters to a wider audience I most certainly will not complain. No other members of your staff were involved at all, but how we kept it a secret i will never know.

Surely you can understand why Andy and Dave were complicit in what I did? Do you really want to see the fire service that is already stripped to the bone pared down further? Can you say hand on heart you like giving heavily weighted reports to Councillors that make everything out to be rosy  when anybody with half a conscience can see that these cuts will mean people die unnecessarily?  

Andy &  David have seen in their professional capacity what fire can do, to both property and people. There is no way on earth any member of the public can thank them and their colleagues enough for the dirty, dangerous and horrible job they do.  For the job that you do too.  

If you can say hand on heart that you want Gipton to close and the viscous cuts in services be implemented and Gipton to perhaps be demolished and replaced by yet more uninspiring square boxes some people have to call home; or worse that she is sold to a disreputable property developer and is left to rot as was the former library on York Road then I will apologise publicly and unreservedly for what i am trying to do.  

If you can say truthfully that the fire and rescue service after it is decimated by the past, present and future rounds of cuts  will not result in people dying I will become passive voter, buy a TV and go and watch soaps all evening instead of rolling my sleeves up and getting stuck in. 

If you can do both of the above, then I am afraid you value your job and position in WYFRS more than the truth and my  communities well being. Your predecessor Tony Head stood by the courage of his convictions and for that has my utmost respect. As do David Williams and Andy Killingbeck – it would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to stand back and let me do this alone but they have  taken joint responsibility for my actions. If we succeed in knocking some sense into the heads of the fire authority in regard to keeping Gipton operational I will be pleased, getting her listed will be a bonus.

But whatever happens , I get the best deal of all out of this – the gift of friendship from Andy and Dave, because regardless  of all the discussions, debates and “what ifs” of the past 9 months I can now call them my true friends,  and friendship is fortunately something politicians can’t ruin.


Anybody wanting to read the firecutscostlives site just click HERE


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