I recently announced my retirement from London Fire Brigade after 32 years of service. Like all major milestones in a person’s life, this has been followed by a period of reflection as I look back over my career. But I also want to look ahead at what there is still to do to ensure I leave the Brigade with the very brightest of futures.
One key decision about that will be made at a future meeting of Lambeth Council’s planning committee, where councillors will decide the fate of an application to redevelop the London Fire Brigade’s former headquarters at 8 Albert Embankment.
The building is home to the current Lambeth Fire Station, but most of it has been disused since the Brigade’s headquarters moved to new offices in 2008. We want it to be transformed into a mixed use site with housing, retail, hotel and community use under joint plans submitted by ourselves and our development partner U+I.
As well as carefully restoring the existing listed building, the scheme will provide funding for both a complete transformation of the fire station and a permanent home for our museum, enabling us to protect not only the history of the London Fire Brigade but our place at the heart of Lambeth’s community too. It will also deliver 146 affordable homes as part of the wider mixed-use development of the site, which will create 417 homes in total, workspace to support over 1,250 jobs and a hotel.
Lambeth Fire Station is one of the busiest in London and is strategically located to respond to incidents in the borough and a wider area in the capital. Its refurbishment will include a brand new community room, allowing more public access to the fire station than ever before, and much-needed modern facilities for our firefighters.
There will be new resting and changing facilities to support a diverse workforce and bigger and better training space and equipment, including the existing listed drill tower, repurposed as a training facility. It will also trigger a host of other upgrades to fire stations across London, a third of which were built before 1940 and are in dire need of modernisation.
A new permanent home for our museum, which has been operating out of a temporary space on the site for the last three years, will finally allow us to expand on our already popular programme of school visits and educational activities, and to showcase some fantastic artefacts that, sadly, have for too long been out of public view.
The unique location of the museum will ensure a permanent link between old and new, with visitors able to see into an operational fire station as well as look at historic fire engines and other exhibits. The Brigade’s Memorial Hall, a monument to firefighters who have died in service since the 19th century, will be re-opened to the public for the first time in 10 years.
As exciting as this prospect of a new-look site on Albert Embankment is, the thought of it not going ahead is nerve-wracking. A decision by Lambeth Council to refuse planning permission would delay vital capital receipts and mean Lambeth and London-wide upgrades will be put on ice for several years. Very different plans put forward in 2011 were rejected.
My vision and ambition for the London Fire Brigade I will leave behind when I cease being its commissioner includes a modern fire station and an irreplaceable museum at the centre of Lambeth – and of London as a whole.
Dany Cotton joined the London Fire Brigade in 1988 and became its commissioner in 2017. Follow her on Twitter.
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