diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 13, 2013

This is Bow Police Station.

That's Bow Road Police Station, not Bow Street Police Station which is five miles away. It's a lovely building, for a police station, built in the Neo-Baroque style and opened in 1903. Designed by John Dixon Butler, it has a quality of craftsmanship you'd never find in any police station opened today. Look at that handsome six window bay façade, admire the tall mansard attic, and isn't that a splendid stone balustrade? If you're thinking "the ground floor windows have shaped aprons and lugged architraves with broken segmental pediments linked by their keystones to the first floor mullions", you'd be right. Some original features survive inside the building, including the cells where Bow's suffragettes were locked up 100 years ago. Meanwhile round the back are the stables, opened in 1938, from which horses trot out on Saturdays when West Ham are playing at home. This annexe strikes a very different architectural note, built from white concrete in the Moderne style, and was designed by the wonderfully named Gilbert Mackenzie Trench. It's collective splendidness like this which earned Bow Police Station a Grade II listing a few years ago.

Alas, Bow Police Station is closing. It's on a shortlist of 65 London police stations proposed for closure to help cut £500m from the Met police budget. Rather than a daytime office counter that almost nobody uses, the plan is to shunt front desk operations into post offices and supermarkets. Tower Hamlets is scheduled to lose three of its six police stations, all from the eastern edge of the borough. We'll keep Bethnal Green, Brick Lane and Poplar, with only the former offering a 24 hour service. This is a borough with quarter of a million residents, whose population has increased by 25% over the last decade, having its number of police stations halved. It's lucky we're all so well behaved around here.

Police stations proposed for closure: Addington, Albany Street, Barking, Barnet, Battersea, Belvedere, Biggin Hill Airport, Bow, Brentford, Brockley, Camberwell, Cavendish Road, Chelsea, Clapham, Crosspoint House, Dagenham, East Dulwich, Feltham, Gipsy Hill, Greenford, Greenwich, Hackney, Hampstead, Harlesden, Harrow Civic Centre, Harrow Road, Havering PASC, Hornchurch, Isle of Dogs, Kenley, Leyton, Marks Gate, Marylebone, Millbank House, Morden, Muswell Hill, Norbury, North Woolwich, Northwood, Orpington, Pinner, Poplar, Purley, Putney, Rainham, Rotherhithe, Ruislip, Shepherds Bush, South Norwood, Southgate, St John’s Wood, Straight Road, Stratford, Sydenham, Thamesmead, Tooting, Waltham House, Walthamstow×2, Wanstead, West Hampstead, Whetstone, Willesden Green, Winchmore Hill, Woodford, Woolwich

This is Bow Fire Station.

The building won't win any prizes for architecture, it's much too functional for that. But it's also closing. A home base for two engines and a few dozen firefighters, it's been deemed surplus to requirements in the latest round of cost-cutting and probably won't see out the year. This time £45m needs saving, so twelve fire stations are getting the chop and Bow is on the extinction list. Apparently London sees far fewer fires now than it used to, so the 100 remaining fire stations should be sufficient to maintain an appropriate level of coverage. And that's fine if your local fire station has been retained, but mine's going. At present if I set fire to my flat an engine only has to whizz down Parnell Road and Fairfield Road and it's at my front door. In the future I'll be living in a freshly-created 999 hole, at least two miles from the nearest fire stations in Bethnal Green, Poplar and (the far side of) Stratford. I know a lot of you who live outside London will be thinking two miles, that's nothing, but the service reduction is disconcerting all the same.

Bow Fire Station won't make nice flats, not as it stands. But knock the place down, as I'm sure they will, and the site's big enough to build a fair number. I bet they won't be affordable flats, certainly nothing a redundant fireman could afford. And if you do ever move in, use some tact - it's probably best not to ask the London Fire Brigade to come round and check your smoke alarm.

Fire stations proposed for closure: Belsize, Bow, Clapham, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, New Cross, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster, Woolwich

We're doubly unlucky in Bow, scheduled to lose both a police station and a fire station, a misfortune we share with with the residents of Clapham. But that's how London's going these days. More places to live, to serve our growing population, but fewer services on our doorstep because funding is being inexorably cut back. Don't forget that these assets can only be sold once, so the likelihood is that more closures will be required in the future to match the finances of a declining public sector. If your corner of London's survived the cuts this time, next time you might not be so lucky.

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