Downham fire deaths on Boris Johnson's head after station closure, says campaigner

News Shopper: Protesters gather outside Downham Fire Station in Reigate Road Protesters gather outside Downham Fire Station in Reigate Road

A GREAT-grandmother who has battled to save Downham fire station four times says any lives lost from its closure will be on the Mayor of London’s head.

Boris Johnson is pushing ahead with some of his £29m cost-cutting plans which include axing Downham’s base in Reigate Road and Woolwich's fire station – while New Cross has been spared.

Campaigners fear increased response times – with Downham ward expected to shoot from an average 5.54 minutes to 7.38 minutes – in a high residential area with many disabled and elderly people.

Jean Vecchi, 79, lost her six-year-old daughter Yvonne in a house fire in Peckham in 1971 and has campaigned tirelessly since then - leading victories to save Downham’s fire station three times.

News Shopper: Jean Vecchi, 79, lost her six-year-old daughter Yvonne in a house fire in Peckham in 1971 and has campaigned to save Downham’s fire station three times.

The great grandmother of seven, who lives in Reigate Road, told News Shopper: "I couldn’t be angrier.

"Particularly as we have saved it three times previously and we were told they would not try and close it again.

"I am sure Boris has never been involved in a fire because, if he had, he would never dream of closing fire stations.

"We feel that it is terribly, terribly wrong and if anything does happen on this estate, he should have it on his conscience."

She added: "Most of the ones he is closing are in working class, highly populated areas like Woolwich."

More than 4,000 residents signed a petition against the closure of the station - which was last saved in 1992 and completely rebuilt – which was handed in to City Hall by the Lib Dems in January.

News Shopper: Protesters gather outside Downham Fire Station

Lib Dem councilor for Downham ward, Councillor Julia Fletcher said: "Obviously we are very disappointed as we think that Downham needs its fire station.

"It is a very large residential area with a lot of older people and people with disabilities and for them response times are particularly important.

"It is also one of the most deprived areas of the borough."

She said other concerns included the houses in the 1920s Downham estate which would be less flame retardant than modern buildings.

Cllr Fletcher urged people to lobby Boris ahead of a London Fire Authority meeting on July 18 where he has the power to override any decision made by the board.

The U-turn on New Cross follows months of angry consultation meetings over the Mayor’s proposals to axe 12 fire stations, withdraw engines and cut hundreds of jobs.

Now a revised plan will see New Cross station stay open with one appliance, with East Greenwich receiving an additional one, but an extra 32 jobs will be lost across the London service.

Lewisham Council was united against any cuts to the fire service in the borough.

Cabinet member for community safety at Lewisham Council Councillor Janet Daby said: "We are obviously very pleased for New Cross and our neighbouring borough Southwark, and that the London Fire Commissioner has taken our views on board.

"However, we are extremely disappointed for Downham as a lot of people live in and around the area.

"The proposed closure of the fire station there will almost certainly affect response times in an emergency."

The revised plans come from recommendations made by London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Mr Dobson said:“I would like to thank all of those who contributed to the consultation process.

"I listened very hard to the views of everyone attending public meetings and where possible, my revised plan takes into account some of the concerns raised.

“We have to acknowledge that the number of fires we attend has gone down by half in the last ten years, and our latest figures show that fires continued to fall at the same rate last year.

“Under my revised proposals response times in London will remain amongst the very best of any emergency service in the UK and firefighters will continue to carry out community safety work to prevent fires at the same level as they do now.

"Fire stations and fire engines do not stop fires happening -  proactive prevention work does.”

To contact the Mayor of London ahead of the London Fire Authority meeting on July 18 email mayor@london.gov.uk and include your postal address.

Or send a letter to Mayor of London, Greater London Authority, City Hall, The Queen's Walk, More London, London SE1 2AA.

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