MP calling for lessons to be learnt from fire at food factory

NORTH Tyneside MP Mary Glindon is calling for lessons to be learnt from the fire that devastated one of the borough’s factories three years ago.

Mrs Glindon is urging businesses to get sprinkler systems fitted to help keep their workers safe.

Speaking at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary fire and safety group last week, she told how a fire at Longbenton’s Findus frozen food factory in January 2009 ended up costing its 420 staff their jobs.

“The business had for many years made frozen foods for Findus, but the damage of the fire that day was so great that the business collapsed shortly thereafter, and all the 420 employees lost their jobs,” she said.

“The impact on the local community and economy was so severe that significant effort was expended by my predecessor Stephen Byers, North Tyneside Council and other local representatives to ensure that the factory could be rebuilt and business continue on the site.

“Their efforts were rewarded, and within a year a new business took on the property and business and re-employed over 300 of those who had lost their jobs.

“It seemed that at least something had been literally been salvaged from the fire, but there was also a cost in addition to all the trauma and uncertainly of the previous months.

“The rebuild and the refitting of the factory was only possible with significant investment, including £3.4m from the regional development agency One North East. At the time, it was felt that the money was very well spent.

“To me, there was real hope, expectation even, that the factory would now have a long and successful future. It was, in a round-about way, a good news story. But it was not to be. For whatever reason, the new owners soon found themselves in trouble and after less than one year of trading, the new business went into administration.

“Efforts by myself and others the second time round to maintain a business on the site and to save the jobs were not successful and in March last year, the business closed – and again the employees joined the list of the unemployed.”

The MP said the Benton Lane factory’s closure was a prime example of the devastating impact that fire can have.

“I have learnt that the impact of fire – even when, thankfully, there are no injuries of losses – can be severe and long-lasting,” she said.

“In this case, one fire has resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs, a huge public expenditure – and all for what? Nothing. The jobs and business lost again.

“The failure of the second business was not due to the original fire, but the whole process was started by the fire. If it had not happened, the original business would most likely still be doing what it did best.

“The experience in my constituency is not a one-off. Businesses across the country succumb to fire all the time.

“And the impacts of these fires are equally felt far and wide – sadly sometimes through loss of life, but nearly always through job losses, through loss of business and through real environmental impacts.

“The impacts of fires in commercial buildings are always felt long after the fires have been put out.”

Mrs Glindon wants to see sprinklers used more widely in business premises to avoid further such heartache and is calling on the government to promote their use.

She added: “Fortunately, no lives were lost during the fire in Longbenton, but many, many livelihoods have been ruined.

“I wouldn’t wish our experience upon any other community.

“In this day and age, when there are so many external pressures on business which cannot be controlled, it does seem logical to put in place measures to at least ensure protection against events which can be controlled.

“I am informed that had the original factory been fitted with a sprinkler system, the fire would have been doused or controlled before the fire brigade arrived, and most likely it would have been business as usual within a few hours of the incident.”