‘Don’t let Westminster fire station become a wine bar’

The ‘West End Extra’ reports;

westminsterfirestation

“A FIRE station that served Westminster for more than 100 years has gone on sale to the highest bidder.

Westminster Fire Station in Greycoat Place was shut earlier this year as the London Fire Brigade (LFB) struggled to cope with a £29million funding cut.

It was hoped that the grade-II listed building could be maintained as a community asset or be transformed into a new school. But it is now being advertised to property developers and could be sold by the end of next month, raising fears among campaigners that it will be turned into “a wine bar or a luxury hotel”.

Regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Paul Embery, said the sale was “outrageous”, adding: “These buildings, that have been protecting Londoners for over a century, are now about to be flogged off to the highest bidder and turned into luxury apartments or something similar. It’s very upsetting for firefighters to see those stations on an estate agent’s list, ready to be sold off to the highest bidder.”

Last month it emerged that £13,000 has been spent on security measures at the empty station in the last four months, with a further £55,000 projected for the next year if it is not sold quickly.

Opponents of the closures remain hopeful that, while the stations are still publicly owned, there is a chance they can be reopened. Labour councils fought hard against the closures, taking a judicial review to the High Court. But any change in political leadership at City Hall is likely to be too late to save the fire stations, with the next mayoral elections not taking place until 2016.

As the plans were first mooted last year, and in the face of stiff opposition from residents and politicians, the chairman of the London Fire Brigade, Ron Dobson, insisted that the retail value of the stations was not a factor in deciding which 10 would close.

But as early as November last year it had been calculated that the sale of all 10 stations would earn £50m and plans were drawn up on how to spend the cash.

The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) – who run the London Fire Brigade and oversaw the closures – had totted up the value of Westminster Fire Station at the same time, but have refused to make the figure public.

Andrew Haigh, who is leading the sale for property firm Dron & Wright, said the future of the station was uncertain and said both residential and commercial developers have expressed an interest in the site.

But he refused to be drawn on how much the station is likely to make, adding: “We’re not instructed to give guide prices, but we’ve had lots of interest.”

Artemis Kassi, who had led the fight against the closure in Westminster, said it was “more than galling” to see the station up for sale, adding that she hoped it could become a “community asset”.

“We just hope it doesn’t get turned into a wine bar or a hotel,” she said.

The sale of the public buildings have been scrutinised in the past when promotional literature was created to target foreign investors, but Dron & Wright insisted the advert has only been placed in the industry magazines Estates Gazette and Property Week.

The future of the station is already restricted due to its status with English Heritage, preventing major alterations to the building’s exterior. Minutes of a meeting from November last year suggest that all stations with heritage listing will be sold on an unconditional basis – meaning complicated contracts will not need to be drawn up – and the sale could be completed by the end of May.

Secure tenants, who live above the fire station, will have to move out before the property is sold. The LFEPA said the £50m made from the sale will be used to tackle the mounting “maintenance backlog” on their other stations that will cost around £140m in building works.

Mr Embery said the FBU still hoped the stations could be reopened, adding: “We think those buildings should be re-opened as fire stations. While they are still owned by the Fire Authority, they should be turned back into fire stations. They’re as needed now as they ever were, with a growing population and changing risks, the heart of London, we’re told, still at risk of terrorist attacks. To say that those stations are not needed is complete nonsense.”

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