You may not have noticed that you have a problem with fire stations, but fortunately the Department of Communities & Local Government is there to put you right. Today, the bit of government that is all that remains of John Prescott's expensive and ephemeral empire unveiled its "vision for a new generation of open, accessible, inviting and environmentally friendly fire stations" in the shape of its guide, Achieving Design Quality in Fire and Rescue Buildings.
We need this? Apparently, yes. "The design of many fire stations - often intimidating and closed-looking Victorian buildings - does not make them naturally attractive places for the public," it says here. "The popular image of fire stations is often of red bay doors opening briefly to allow out a blue light fire engine before closing again to the outside world."
Um, yes. They have fire engines in them, when there's a fire the doors open and the fire engines go to the fire. Your point is?
Well, apparently this is A Bad Thing, and the design guide is intended to change this. "Firefighters' first job will always be fighting fire, but stations can also play a greater role in promoting good community relations by opening up to them and putting a greater emphasis on prevention by increasing education about fire safety," said Fire Minister Parmjit Dhanda.
We have a Fire Minister? Apparently we do, although a swift look at Parmjit Dhanda's web site suggests it's news to him too - he thinks he's Minister for Cohesion and Neighbourhoods.
He continues: "Many of our traditional fire stations are magnificent buildings that are an important piece of the architectural landscape and play an important part in local communities. But we want to add to the range of buildings and facilities that the fire and rescue services have at their disposal." When the department whose hobbies include knocking down Liverpool starts talking about magnificent buildings, traditional fire stations should feel nervous.
The trouble with fine old buildings, of course, is that they're not environmentally friendly (the guide announcement is headlined "Green fire stations to open up to local communities"). And they don't "offer high tech facilities",* aren't "welcoming and accessible to the community", or environmentally friendly". They don't meet the needs of diverse communities, "reflecting them in their workforce."
So the guide suggests new uses that would help engage the local community (and, one might speculate, point towards alternative roles for fine old but redundant buildings). Hosting community events and services, "on site cashpoints", car parking space for rural areas, and providing "space for art displays." Or property development opportunities - but we made that last bit up (possibly). ®
* NB, this is the tech angle. Thank you.