Impacts of climate change

Plenary on 2013-12-04
Session date: 
December 4, 2013
Question By: 
Jenny Jones
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
James Cleverly AM (Chairman, LFEPA) & Ron Dobson (Commissioner, LFEPA)


Are you monitoring climate change research suggesting that, on the basis of current policy failures, the world may warm by more than 2 degrees centigrade within thirty years, and are you reviewing your risk analysis and adaptation actions to consider this high emissions scenario?


Answer for Impacts of climate change

Answer for Impacts of climate change

Answered By: 
James Cleverly AM (Chairman, LFEPA) & Ron Dobson (Commissioner, LFEPA)

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning):  The answer is, yes, we are.  As part of the LSP, we reviewed the climate change risk to London as a whole.  We are also part of the climate change risk assessment that is being carried out nationally.  What we have seen throughout the country in the last five or six years is an increase in the national resilience assets that were available to fire and rescue services.  For things like flooding, there are many more boats available now.  The London Fire Brigade has changed its operational capability as a result of that assessment, so we now have many more boats available to us.  For example, for flooding, we have new equipment coming in, high‑volume pumps and things, to be able to move water around.  The answer is, yes, we do.  We have assessed that at the higher end of the emissions predictions.  What those assessments have shown is that we do not necessarily identify any new types of incidents that we may encounter, but for the types of incident that already occur which could be related to climate change such as, for example, flooding, we do identify an increased precedence or increased rate of those incidents occurring.  Maybe they will take place over a wider area than perhaps they have done previously.  The answer is, yes, we do assess all of that.


We are also very proactive in terms of what we are doing to reduce our carbon emissions across the whole of London.  We have seen some significant improvements in LFEPA across the board, actually, in relation to this.


There is one particular issue, if I may, which I would like to bring out.  We do see some issues nationally - and certainly in London we have seen it recently - with regard to things like recycling sites like the site down in Orpington at the moment where we have attended many fires at the moment.  One of the things that we believe is that the legislation that controls the safe and effective use of those sites is lagging slightly behind the commercial interests of people that are involved in actually storing them.  For example, to take that one site, and I will not go into too much detail, our ability to actually control the management of that site is quite limited.  It really relies on the Environment Agency and even their ability to control it in a way which prevents the fires and our attendance there and all the carbon emissions that arise from that is actually quite limited.


Jenny Jones (AM):  Thank you very much for that.  I know you are doing a lot internally and that is great.  Have you done any exercises?  For example, if we had something like the floods of 2007, it was chaos elsewhere in Britain.  If we had that sort of event again, are you doing exercises to make sure that we can cope?  I declare an interest.  I have a ground-floor flat in Southwark which is very low-lying, so if there are problems and you do not cope with it, I will be on your doorstep.


Darren Johnson (Chair):  You could get on your boat!


Jenny Jones (AM):  That is another option.


Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning):  We do.  One of the focuses of the London Resilience Partnership training and exercise programme is very much on flooding.  We do exercise our response above a ‘table-top’ level and actually exercise with ‘boots on the ground’, as we like to call it, quite regularly really in terms of flooding.  We also take part in national exercises around flooding as well because the national resilience arrangements enable fire and rescue service resources to be moved around the country to support other areas.  We saw that very much in Gloucestershire with the floods back in 2007 and more recently in Cornwall, Cumbria and elsewhere where the London Fire Brigade was able to deploy outside of London to assist with the flooding in certain places.  The same thing will be able to happen within London.


Jenny Jones (AM):  Thank you.  Can I ask Mr Cleverly about the London Resilience Partnership?  I know that the Mayor has hit his target for river restoration of 15 miles or whatever.  It is my impression that the partnership has short-term targets.  Are you beginning to think a big more long term?  That is not a criticism.  It is a straight question.


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  Thank you.  I am genuinely very pleased you asked that question because it does highlight one of the completely shared frustrations of the Resilience Partnership.  Our function is to deal with the response‑orientated stuff and we have a whole load of very well worked-up response plans.  When you start doing that risk analysis and start looking at the risk register, you start identifying things that we as a forum would want to intervene in.  Actually, there are some of the areas where we can say, if we could be a bit more proactive, there is a whole avenue of risks that we are currently working up responses for that we would actually prefer to spend our time, effort and resources avoiding.  Risk mitigation rather than risk response is an area that we want to look more into. 


For some of the climate-affected risks, so extreme weather and so on, there are actions that we would like to take to do a bit more mitigation rather than just response, so I am very pleased.  If you are happy to continue pushing on that, you would be pushing an open door.


Jenny Jones (AM):  That is brilliant.  Presumably, there are options for partnership working on storm defences and that sort of thing?


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  Yes.  The Resilience Partnership does not have a statutory footing and it cannot dictate the action to any of its component organisations, but there is a very good working relationship where, when organisations recognise things that they could be doing either individually or in partnership, action is taken.  There is no statutory footing.  The resilience forum cannot dictate to anybody actions, even if we collectively feel they are the right things.  They tend to happen anyway because they are obviously the right things to do, but there is no statutory footing for that.


Jenny Jones (AM):  If you are going to look at bit more long term and look at mitigation rather than adaptation or risk management, who are you getting advice from?


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  One of the big advantages of the forum is that it has around the table basically the experts in the field.  We have the Environment Agency.  We have representatives from the utilities sector, the business sector and the charitable sector, so we do plug into a lot of those knowledge bases.  We get information from whomever.  In terms of the Government, we plug into the Cabinet Office and obviously the Home Office, the Department of Health and DCLG through the respective ‘blue light’ services and others.


Jenny Jones (AM):  General awareness of climate change is not that well developed.  That is my impression, sitting here for quite a long time.  For example, the World Bank actually asked the Potsdam Institute to look at the issue of climate change and they think that we are moving much faster towards some real problem areas and that we are on course for 2°C of warming by the late 2030s.  That is really close.  You might still be in post and you might still be living in London and this might affect us quite strongly, so I am saying some expert advice - and I am afraid I do not include the Environment Agency in that - might be timely, just to have somebody along to talk to you about just how it could be experienced in London.


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  One of the things that has happened through a number of different organisations, so it has happened partially through the resilience forum and our Gold Group exercises that we have had, is we have had guest speakers talk to us.  It is lucky that we have in-house experience as well, but very recently the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service spoke about his experience in Cumbria when he had to deal with the Cumbrian flooding and the implications of that.


We do not have the capability, the time or the resources to do the real big-picture change in direction of travel which is at the Governmental level.  What we do is we look at the current and emerging risks: severe weather, flooding, issues around evacuation and shelter.  These are the kinds of things which may be by-products of the climate.  We focus on those rather than energy production and fossil fuel utilisation.  That is too big a picture, so we do deal with the responsive side of things more.


Jenny Jones (AM):  You can.  If we are going to face, for example, more flooding, a lot of brigade officers go out and talk to people and they could talk to them about things like permeable paving, very simple stuff that they can do or not do to make themselves a bit safer.


Darren Johnson (Chair):  A quick answer to this now because the Green Group is running out of time.


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  There are many things.  Our firefighters, when they do home fire safety visits, are really good.  They are not blinkered.  They do talk about fire safety but they also talk about a range of other things as well.  I am a little bit cautious, however, about giving them everything because there is a strong argument for first aid advice.  There is a strong argument for healthy eating advice.  There are lots of strong arguments and actually, if we are going to keep them moving and keep them visiting lots and lots of properties, we have to trim their natural exuberance a little bit.


Murad Qureshi (AM):  I am glad we have moved on to flood risk, really.  James, is it really wise to propose closing so many stations in the centre of London given the flood risk we have in areas particularly like Pimlico?


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  I do not want to sound glib.  There is a very strong argument for not having flooded fire stations. 


I do not want to sound critical, but the Assembly chose not to have a meeting specifically to generate a response to the LSP5 consultation.  That was the choice of the Assembly and that is fine.  I am a bit uncomfortable now retrospectively doing that submission to LSP5 at this stage because many of those issues with regard to emerging and changing risk, locations, travelling times and all the questions that Mr Dismore discussed were thrashed out at quite some length during the consultations.  Members did not have those discussions at that point, but the plan is in place.  The mayoral direction has been issued.  It is currently being judicially reviewed.  Through you and at your discretion, Chair, I am unconvinced that this is the best time now to have those discussions that perhaps could and should have been done during the consultation period for LSP5.


Murad Qureshi (AM):  I am just grateful that the Greater London Council left us as its legacy the Thames Barrier.  Otherwise, this would be a much more severe issue than I think James realises.  Can I just make a comparison to ‑‑


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  No, I am sorry ‑‑


Murad Qureshi (AM):  Sorry, James.  I have made my comment to your preamble.  I will continue. 


Can I make the comparison with one of your home boroughs, Bromley?  In Orpington, you gain a fire engine whilst the City of Westminster actually loses two stations?  They are Westminster and Knightsbridge fire stations.  That is on the border of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster and 60% of its trips are in the city.  Given the Westminster fire station covers quite a unique area with a huge concentration of historic buildings, the footfall of daytime population is the highest anywhere in town, it has a vibrant residential population, we have just heard about the flood risk there in particular, does all this just confirm the suspicion of local residents that that station has been flogged off to get the highest capital receipts to plug the financial gap that you have in your budgets?


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  I am very glad that you asked a question that is so tightly specific to climate change.  The simple fact of the matter is ‑‑


Murad Qureshi (AM):  No, respond to that.  I never actually mentioned climate change at all.


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  Local people, I am sure, stimulated by conversations with you and your colleagues, may have suspicions of all kinds of things.  I can give you a categorical assurance that the sales value of fire stations was not a consideration in their choice.  The locations and travelling times, emerging risk and running costs were.  Recent and future investments in refurbishments were.  The future sales value absolutely was not.


To bring it back to climate change, which I am sure was the intention behind your question, actually, whilst Westminster fire station is close to an area in which there may - in extreme, but not so extreme that they are unforeseeable circumstances - be the risk of flood.  Westminster fire station is not itself inherently better prepared to deal with flood-related incidents than a number of other stations and indeed in some instances worse.


We did take a full range of current and predicted risks into consideration when the Commissioner and his team did the modelling to choose the fire stations, but I can assure you that risk and response, not value and income, were the reasons to sell the station.  Otherwise, the list would be very different.  Whilst you highlight the point that Westminster is in a highly desirable and expensive location and Mr Dismore highlighted that Belsize is similar, Mr Duvall has highlighted that Woolwich fire station and Downham fire station very much are not and Silvertown fire station very much is not.  For every one station that you can say, “You are choosing this because it is worth lots and lots of money”, I am getting criticism from other places saying, “You are picking them because they are in areas of deprivation”.  They cannot by definition both be right.  The simple fact of the matter is neither of them is right.


Murad Qureshi (AM):  I will be amazed if it does not get the highest capital receipts when you put it up for sale under your chairmanship.  Can I for the record just confirm?  I did not actually mention climate change.  I just concentrated on the flood risk in my question.


Kit Malthouse (AM):  Incidentally, I do not remember Murad and Val [Shawcross AM] protesting quite so much when they slammed the doors of the Manchester Square fire station, but there we are.


One of the issues in terms of climate change would be the type of vehicle that you use, but that also has an impact on other things.  For instance, smaller, more manoeuvrable vehicles might cut response times.  I wondered what advances had been made in researching new types of vehicle that might both speed up responses, particularly in central London where manoeuvrability is important, and also cut climate change or cut your emissions. 


James Cleverly (Chairman, LFEPA):  I will answer briefly and then I am going to ask the Commissioner to intervene.  I have had discussions with both the Leader of Westminster and the Leader of Kensington and Chelsea about the specific implications of those station closures.  Ideas have been put forward which are very much in concert with ideas that we have been thinking about within the Fire Authority in terms of the nature of the risk.  I have already highlighted that fighting primary fires, while still a very significant part of the Fire Brigade’s work, is diminishing in proportion to change driven by climate change and changing risk.  The manoeuvrability, the water-carrying capacity, the crew-carrying capacity, the agility, the speed of response of our primary appliance fleet is something that I do think is well worth looking at, as I say, prompted by conversations with colleagues in central London but also very much in the direction that we were thinking.  That is something that when we do the fleet review in a few years’ time or next year we will take very serious consideration of. 


Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning):  One thing that is very clear in the LSP is that we need to look at alternative types of deployment because the risks in London are changing.  The risks in London are changing, the environment is changing, we need to be responding to that in some way.  Outside of London there has been some small evidence of fire and rescue services looking at alternative types of vehicles for particular risks.  I do think that is one of the things we should be looking at for the future.  Members of the Assembly will already be aware of the problems we had with our provider of vehicles and equipment a couple of years ago, and we are in the process at the moment of a re‑tender for that.  One of the things that is part of that is for them to be much more proactive with us in working with the way in which we could change the fleet to make it more responsive to change in risks in London.


One of things we should be looking at is smaller vehicles not only for quicker response times, but also because we can have a greater impact in reducing our impact on the climate by reducing our emissions.  The smaller the vehicles the more opportunity there is for things like hybrid technologies and electric vehicles.  Currently at the moment, given the size of our fire engines and the weight they are, those technologies do not necessarily exist, although I have spoken to officers in Transport for London about what lessons can we learn from them because obviously they have been quite successful in terms of hybrid buses, hydrogen buses and that sort of stuff.  If you can do it for a bus, I cannot work out why you cannot do it for a fire engine.  Those are the sorts of things we should be looking at for the future and that is clearly signposted in the LSP. 


Kit Malthouse (AM):  My other question was about the largest piece of your work or the largest bit of business that you do that is driving your emissions, particularly vehicular, is false alarms.  By far the largest thing that you attend.  I wondered how confident you were about your ability to drive down the number of false alarms over the next few years.  Looking at the data that you have provided, it pretty much tracks the rest of your level of activity.  There is no change in false alarms compared to actual incidents that you have to attend.  If you have been doing work over the last four or five years on false alarms, it has not had any proportional impact.  I wondered what, if anything, was going to change because obviously lots of appliances driving around London to the 100,000-odd false alarms you attend each year is a crazy waste of diesel.


Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning):  You are absolutely right in terms of the proportionate decrease.  There has been a decrease that needs to be seen also in terms of the number of new automatic fire alarm systems that are going in in London as a result of new buildings going up.  We are doing reasonably well in terms of suppressing that additional demand and still making some inroads into it.  What we have done over the years is reduce the amount of fire engines we actually send to automatic fire alarms, which has reduced the impact to the environment and also risk on roads of large red fire engines going at high speeds. 


Kit Malthouse (AM):  Just remind me of the proportion.  It is more than nine times out of ten an automatic fire alarm was a false alarm?


Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning):  Yes.  The authority has just agreed as well as part of the LSP a charging regime.  Where people hit a particular threshold in a building and there is no indication that appropriate steps are being made to reduce the level of false alarms, we will start to introduce a charge for that now.  That has been very successful in relation to the amount of people shut in lifts that we have attended across London over the last seven or eight years.  That has reduced very significantly.  We are hopeful that that will once again be a factor in improving people’s maintenance of automatic fire alarm systems and a reduction in the number of false alarms we attend.  There is a lot of national work going on around false alarms as well.  Some fire and rescue services have taken the approach that they will not attend automatic fire alarms now.  I do not think that is the right approach for London at the moment.  We are taking a very measured and staged approach towards charging, and I am hopeful that will have a more significant impact than perhaps what has been done in the past.


Murad Qureshi (AM):  Thank you very much.  As Kit mentioned, I just confirm that at the time that LFEPA dealt with Manchester Square it was coming to the end of its lease and I was not actually present at the meeting which voted on agreeing to walk away from the lease and to look for other provisions in the City of Westminster.  In comparison to Kit who has voted for a budget which has approved the closure of two fire stations in Westminster, I can simply say I have looked out for Westminster residents in the way that he has not and is not intending to. 


Valerie Shawcross (AM):  A point of personal explanation, if I may.  I was also named.  I have to say that the time that that fire station was closed there was complete and utter cross-party agreement that it was surplus to requirements and was in need of extensive refurbishment.  I do not think Kit has a ground to complain on this one. 


Darren Johnson (Chair):  Thank you.  We will then move on to the final question on the order paper today.