Decision on controversial planning application APP/16/00985 (Saughall Massie Fire Station) delayed as councillors call for change of venue, site visit, special meeting & more transparency

                                             

Wirral Council’s Planning Committee meeting held on the 10th November 2016 was standing room only because of the planning application about a fire station at Saughall Massie (APP/16/00985)

Wirral Council’s Planning Committee meeting held on the 10th November 2016 was standing room only because of the planning application about a fire station at Saughall Massie (APP/16/00985)

Updated on 30th November 2016 by JB: The site visit is scheduled for 11 am on the 13th December 2016. Contrary to what was said at the Planning Committee meeting reported below, the Planning Committee will then meet at Wallasey Town Hall on the 15th December 2016 starting at 6.00 p.m. in order to decide on this planning application.

Last night’s Planning Committee at Wirral Council was another event in the long running political saga that is the attempts to start a new fire station at Saughall Massie and close Upton Fire Station and West Kirby Fire Station.

Committee Rooms 1 and 2 which were the venue for the Planning Committee at Wallasey Town Hall were both full (standing room only as you can see from the picture above) and Committee Room 3 in another part of the building was being used as an overflow.

Dan Stephens QFSM (Chief Fire Officer for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service/Chief Executive for the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) was looking very smartly dressed in what I will describe as his ceremonial uniform. He was there with what I will describe as an entourage of people from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service including Ria Groves (Trainee Solicitor) and Colin Schofield (PFI Project Manager (part of his job is to manage the Saughall Massie Fire Station project)). Dan Stephens QFSM and his entourage stood near the door.

Also present were the three local councillors for Moreton West and Saughall Massie ward (Cllr Chris Blakeley, Cllr Steve Williams and Cllr Bruce Berry). They have opposed this planning application along with groups such as the Saughall Massie Village Conservation Area Society and the Wirral Society.

The vocal and public disagreements about this political issue between Cllr Chris Blakeley and Dan Stephens QFSM are mainly already on the public record, well documented and have been reported on by myself before and others, so I’m not going to rehash in detail the rather long history of the matter here.

I will briefly state however that Wirral Council withdrew its offer of land for this at Greasby which is what led to Saughall Massie being proposed. The effect of that is it has given some people hope that people power can overturn the previous cross-party political consensus behind it.

Also I had better point out that there was a rather long running First-tier Tribunal case in which I was the Appellant about the financial breakdown of expenditure for the new fire station first at Greasby, then Saughall Massie.

Present at the Planning Committee was Alan Rundle who had exchanged letters with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about a proposed judicial review before the Greasby plans were abandoned for very similar issues to those that the First-tier Tribunal (in case EA/162016/160054) covered.

However in summary, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority have estimated £300,000* to pay Wirral Council for the land and an estimated £550,000 from the sale of the fire stations at Upton and West Kirby. To build a new fire station will cost an estimated £3.7 million (I’m not including the figure for the land in that), with £1.5 million offset by a government grant. The complete capital cost breakdown was not made public prior to the two twelve-week consultations (first on Greasby, then on Saughall Massie) that Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service ran on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s behalf.

* estimates were made for sale and purchase prices in 2015

For those who were turned away from the Planning Committee meeting (which was also what happened at some of the consultation meetings) video I took of last night’s Planning Committee meeting is below. However as the Saughall Massie Fire Station planning application has attracted a certain degree of public interest I include a transcript of what was said at the meeting on the matter below too.

Planning Committee (Wirral Council) 10th November 2016 Part 1 of 4 (the discussion on the Saughall Massie Fire Station planning application APP/16/00985 starts at 4:26)

The discussion starts at agenda item 3 (site visits) which starts at the 4m:26s point in the video above.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):        OK, are there any requests for site visits? Steve?

CLLR STEVE FOULKES:        Errm Chair, sorry with your indulgence and err errm with some trepidation, errm I’d like to move site visits on two sites errm.

The least err controversial one I think might be item 13 which is err Pipistrelle Rise which is well-known to Planning Committee and has one with a varied planning history, it’s a very unusual site given it’s site levels. So I’d therefore request that we have a site visit before we make any decision on that matter.

[5:00]

The next one is errm item 9, which is the err fire station, as you referred to Chair. I think it’s fairly obvious to any elected Member the level of concern and the public interest in this debate and I think it would be better for all elected Members who are making that decision to be forewarned, forearmed with an actual site visit and the layout of the area.

Secondly I think it will be plenty of time for us to get arrange as they said in Jaws, “I think we need a bigger boat!” Err, I think we need a bigger room, if we can arrange that in time for the next err meeting it would make it better for the public to engage with us.

I don’t expect people to be in a standing position for any length of time, I find it errm, it is of a matter of great public interest that we do have a site visit. I’m hoping errm, if we have brought you out on a winter’s night for to no avail, but it’s not unusual that applications of this type to have a site visit, so I will move a site visit on that matter.

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Chair?

[6:00]

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         OK, can I take you first?

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Chair, I endorse what Councillor Foulkes has said, but particularly in terms of where we have the meeting next time to discuss the fire application, can I suggest that we try and find a venue in Moreton/Saughall Massie to allow as many people as possible in that area to attend?

*LOUD CHEERING AND APPLAUSE*

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Can I explain why Chair just for a moment? Clearly the number of people here tonight would be you know they’ve come along to take part in the democratic process to see how they make a decision.

There will be other people in that area, who haven’t been able to get here.

To drag everybody, these people again late December, can I propose we try and find a venue nearer to the site to consider this application, as an exceptional application?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         I think you know the only thing that I would say you know and I totally agree with what you’re saying there and if we can do that we should but in terms of we need to have the right systems in place, wherever it’s going to be.

We need to have the visual and the sound system, if we could find a venue

[7:00]

that will support that, then I’m happy for it to be there.

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         OK, thank you very much.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         We may actually need to consider whether it’s a one item agenda,

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Yes, ok.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         as well so we will look into that. So we’ll see if we can find a venue, that is suitable and if we can then we will move it to that area.

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         OK, thanks Chair.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         David?

CLLR DAVID ELDERTON:         Yeah thanks Chair, just to endorse I totally support it, the move to

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         We can’t hear you!

CLLR DAVID ELDERTON:         controversial development, which will give a full opportunity for people to see

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         David, David, sorry David could you start again?

CLLR DAVID ELDERTON:         Apologies for that, errm I totally endorse the move by Councillor Foulkes to have the site visit for number nine. It is essential that we get the widest possible publicity and transparency ‌in making sure we end up with the right decision. So I do endorse that.

My quick reason for speaking at this time of course is to ask for a site visit on item twelve, which is Stone Hive, Darmonds Green, West Kirby. That is it looks a simple site in

[8:00]

terms of the application agenda we’ve got but it’s far more complex than it would appear on paper. So no doubt we will benefit from having a site visit for that particular development before we make a decision to approve or refuse it. Thank you Chair.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):        OK, are there any others? OK, if I could just read those three out that have been requested and get Committee’s approval?

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         Excuse me, can I ask a question?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Sorry no you can’t ask.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         It’s just about site visits.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         If I don’t cover it, then I’m sure we’ll get someone to cover the answer for you, but I may very well cover it in a moment for you.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         Can I just mention the site visit, …

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         I’m sorry, I’m sorry, if, I’m sorry can I, can you just listen to what I’m about to say and then if it’s not covered then we’ll get somebody to cover it for you.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         OK.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Agenda item 9 which is land adjacent to Saughall Massie Road, errm agenda item 12, which is Stone Hive, Darmonds Green, West Kirby and agenda item

[9:00]

13 Pipistrelle Rise, Noctorum. Are the Committee happy to have all those as site visits?

COUNCILLORS:         Absolutely.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):        can I suggest that we have a site visit on Tuesday 13th of December? And we’ll meet at the Town Hall at 10 am?

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         What time?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         There’s, we will be meeting at 10am and then going to the various sites, so there will be a different time allocated for each of these sites. It’s normally twenty minutes to half an hour for each site, depending on how long we’ve got to travel, but it will be publicised and the agents will be advised of exactly what time that will be.

And the ward councillors will be also be advised.

CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY:         Chair, can I just raise a point to raise what’s been raised by Councillor Lewis, if you’re going to use a one item agenda for the fire station at a err location nearer to the site, in Saughall Massie, will the site visit

[10:00]

still be on the 13th? And will the meeting then, when will the meeting be?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Err, well we don’t know all of that detail at the moment so, Councillor Blakeley because we don’t know whether we’ll be moving the venue, whether it will be a one item agenda, so as soon as we are aware of that we will make it known.

CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY:         Thank you Chair.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         OK, thank you. As the lady was asking the question, has your question been covered?

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         Can I, I think if we do have a meeting whether here or Saughall Massie, we’ll be doing comparisons with the Upton fire station and I don’t know about West Kirby, but certainly it refers to Upton so maybe we should consider visiting both of those, if you’re able to ..?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         We can only consider the one application, which is before us I’m afraid.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         OK.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Thank you for your comment. Anybody who would like to leave now, please feel free to do so because we will not be discussing those items this evening and thank you for your attendance.

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What were the most read stories on this blog for each month in 2016?

                                    

Councillor Steve Foulkes (Labour) (right) speaking at a recent meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee (28th July 2016) while Councillor Pat Cleary (Green) (left) listens

Councillor Steve Foulkes (Labour) (right) features in one of the stories

As we’re approaching the end of the year, I thought it would be useful to look back and see the posts that were most read on this blog each month from January 2016 to November 2016, along with some comments of my own.

January 2016
Why are people objecting to the Hoylake Golf Resort plans?

People are still objecting and it goes to a call in meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

February 2016
Why did Wirral Council’s Cabinet recommend closure of Girtrell Court despite a protest against closure and opposition from the trade unions?

Another long running story that had its twists and turns in 2016.

March 2016
Tribunal confirms that Wirral Council paid ~£48,000 to Emma Degg connected to confidential compromise agreement

A pay off to Wirral Council’s former senior manager in charge of their press office, would Emma Degg have approved of a Council newspaper?

April 2016
Tribunal date set for 16th June 2016 over Wirral Council FOI request; but who’s being gagged?

Gagging of a different sort but the Tribunal theme continues.

May 2016
Who wouldn’t want you to read this story about the election of 4 Wirral councillors?

The elections came and went in May 2016.

June 2016
Why has Wirral Council sunk deeper into the quagmire of poor corporate governance surrounding a complaint about Cllr Steve Foulkes?

No public or filming was allowed at the public meeting to decide a complaint about Cllr Foulkes.

July 2016
Plans to consult on changes to bin collections put on hold as Cllr Stuart Kelly requires councillors to look again at Cabinet decision

The recently elected Cllr Kelly called in the Cabinet decision to consult on changes to the bin collections. So did the Conservatives, however Labour made sure that the consultation went ahead.

August 2016
5 days after Lyndale School closes, Labour councillors on Wirral Council’s Cabinet will meet to decide on a further consultation on sale of Lyndale School and the playing fields

Lyndale School was heading for closure and the Cabinet had further decisions to make.

September 2016
Planning Committee (Wirral Council) 22nd August 2013 refuses plan for Tesco in Wallasey Village

Strangely this story from 2013 was the most read in September 2016.

October 2016
Do Cllr Christina Muspratt’s election expenses add up (a councillor who is on Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee overseeing £billions of public money)?

This story published in June 2016 became October’s most read story.

November 2016
Do Cllr Christina Muspratt’s election expenses add up (a councillor who is on Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee overseeing £billions of public money)?

And then it became November’s most read story too.

So the themes of stories most read for 2016 were Hoylake Golf Resort, a pay off to a former senior manager, gagging, elections, secret public meetings, bins, Lyndale School, a planning application refused for a Tesco supermarket and election expenses.

Who knows what will happen in 2017?

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Mayor Anderson rejects plan for NHS cuts at packed meeting of protestors

                                    

Mayor Joe Anderson at a meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board 1st December 2016

Mayor Joe Anderson at a meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board 1st December 2016

protest before Liverpool Health and Wellbeing Board (Liverpool City Council) 1st December 2016 (Cunard Building)

Liverpool Health and Wellbeing Board (Liverpool City Council) 1st December 2016 Part 1 of 3

Last week I witnessed a large protest of local people angry at proposed changes to their National Health Service.

Despite a very large number of people with banners and a megaphone who came into the Cunard Building, unlike previous protests in Liverpool neither the local police (or even Liverpool City Council’s own City Watch) nor local newspapers appeared to be present.

In fact the protest was so large, there was not enough space for all of them in the Banquet Suite on the 6th floor where the public meeting was held.

Mayor Joe Anderson (of Liverpool City Council), Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board and the Board rejected the NHS STP (Sustainability and Transformation Plan) emphatically and let some of the protesters address the meeting with their questions.

Clearly, the protests about this issue are getting bigger and the protesters louder.

Some are openly predicting an early General Election. At this point in time I see an early General Election as unlikely but the political outlook is very fluid.

It remains to be seen what happens next, Liverpool certainly has a long history of protest politics and of calling for political reforms.

The rise in racist abuse following the Brexit referendum is concerning and political uncertainty coupled with economic uncertainty mean that these are ideal conditions for civil unrest to happen.

The recent 2011 riots (at a time of anti-austerity protests) were sparked by the police shooting dead a black man in London. There is a concern that the rise in racism following the Brexit referendum could lead to history repeating itself.

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Why did a councillor refer to NHS Plan for cuts as a “PR disaster”?

Before I write about what happened at Monday’s People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Phil Davies shut down any debate and ruled that he wasn’t allowing the public to speak at an earlier public meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board (which he chairs) on the Sustainability and Transformation Plan.

Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall side door 28th November 2016 38 Degrees Wirral West over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan

Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall side door 28th November 2016 38 Degrees Wirral West over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan

Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall 28th November 2016 Green Party over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan

Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall 28th November 2016 Green Party over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan

Prior to the People and Overview Scrutiny Committee starting there were two protests at ways in to Wallasey Town Hall (photos above). Apologies for the poor quality of the photos!

The Sustainability and Transformation Plan is published on the Wirral CCG website or alternatively you can watch the video of the meeting (which contains a long presentation by the NHS followed by discussion by councillors).

Video of the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan starting at the 6m35s point)

I’ll try to sum up what this means in a nutshell. If you look beyond the fancy words, glossy brochures in essence it’s a plan for NHS cuts (that is if the plan is implemented people will lose their job).

In addition to that with such a radical reorganisation of how NHS services are delivered locally proposed, services to the general public are also likely to be altered too.

Before a decision is made there will have to be a formal consultation with the public.

I’ve been asked to decipher what decision the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee made on the STP Plan.

However councillors do have a scrutiny role over matters such as this. To give an example, the move of some of the functions of Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology to a new hospital in Liverpool from 2019 was rubber stamped by a scrutiny committee made up of councillors from the affected areas. The impact on thousands of Wirral patients and the consultation was reported previously on this blog.

This is what was agreed by councillors (although some voted against) at the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee (followed by my analysis of what it means).


  • The People Overview and Scrutiny Committee thank Phil Meaken for attending the meeting and presenting the key points of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan.

  • The Committee is concerned that elected Members [councillors] have had no opportunity to feed into the development of the STP, nor have they been given the opportunity to see the plan before it was published on the 23rd of November.

  • The Committee is also concerned by any lack of meaningful consultation with the public of Wirral prior to the publication of the Plan.

  • As a result of the failure by authors of the Plan to engage with local authorities in Cheshire and Merseyside Committee is concerned at the high level of anxiety and speculation of the implications for the future delivery of health services on the Wirral which the Plan has generated.

  • The Committee further notes that though there is very little detail included, many of the proposals would represent a significant variation in service delivery and would therefore need to be presented for scrutiny to this Committee and possibly a pan-Merseyside and Cheshire Committee before any proposals could be implemented.

  • The Committee does not believe that Wirral Council can agree to the STP without absolute clarity on the proposal and a meaningful process of consultation, that engages with elected Members [councillors] and local residents.



My analysis is briefly this, consultation on the Plan was going to happen and if the result of the Plan is to change how local services are delivered, the pan-Merseyside and Cheshire Committee would happen too any way. For whatever reason politicians are agreeing to steps that would happen in any event.

Obviously there is a lot of concern as to what the impact will be for staff and patients of the NHS.

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Why was trouble brewing in the Shire about a fire station? (Lord of the Rings parody)

                                     

This is a parody of local politics based on the Lord of the Rings. As someone referred to in it I’d better declare an interest. As a child I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a Wirral Council library that Wirral Council later tried to close (but the government stopped them) because of people who Wirral Council would probably label “unreasonable”.

=====================================================================================================================================

The Shire in the Lord of the Rings as imagined in the film

The Shire in the Lord of the Rings as imagined in the film

In the Shire, trouble was brewing. Not only were the hobbits cross at plans to concrete over their beloved countryside with a fire station, but Men had decided (although it was now under review) to spend much of the hobbits’ money on a golf resort project too.

This story had begun some time ago.

The hobbits had decided on a representative called McVey who a group of the Men had taken a dislike to*. The Men had told the hobbits that McVey was why their fire stations must close (even though the Men had decided this). This way the Men could persuade the hobbits to ditch McVey and pick the Men’s representative instead. It was all about power!

* I’m being diplomatic.

So there were consultation meetings of the hobbits so well attended, hobbits couldn’t get in and stood outside getting cross.

At these meetings the Fire Man, who lived in the Shire, told those who actually managed to make it inside that whoever the hobbits voted for the fire stations would still close. So much for democracy!

However the Men got worried, enough of the hobbits were cross about the issue, that if the Men decided to put a new fire station in Greasby (demolishing a much-loved library and community centre in the process), McVey might win again! So the Men gave the credit for stopping the fire station plans to the Men’s candidate instead who had a very Shirey sounding name Greenwood.

Instead as a plan B, the new fire station would now be in Saughall Massie.

Around this time, a man who’d grown up in the Shire as a child and was described by some as a legend (or as the Judge described him “obstinate” and “unreasonable”*) asked the Men for the costs of this project as the Men claimed it was to save money. The arguments around this matter carried on for 1 year and 5 months (despite the law stating this information should be provided within 20 working days!)

* George Bernard Shaw: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
 

Although the information was eventually provided, it turned out that the hobbits had been lied to during the consultations so that the Men could get the answers they wanted!

Oh dear!

Not only that but the Men had repeated these lies in their planning application for the fire station in Saughall Massie.

Double oh dear!

However the Judge decreed at a hearing (the Judge later admitted that he hadn’t read all the papers about this matter before the hearing took place*) that there was no “public importance” to the hobbits knowing that they’d been lied to and later ordered the man to pay the Men £500.

* thus stating more in a nutshell about justice, fairness and decision-making than the man ever could

This was despite the Men who controlled the Fire Authority having an annual budget of £62.673 million (revenue) and £20.6 million (capital). The Fire Authority had also received £297,900 (revenue) and £4.171 million (capital) in extra funds by the government for the fire stations mergers project.

The Men on the Fire Authority also had decided to pay their in-house solicitor £102,000 a year and picked this person too.

After all the Men had been saying for ages the hobbits should give them more money and the Men really disliked requests for information! This was money that the Men on the Fire Authority could then spend on taxis to public meetings, expensive dinners and stays in hotels.

The fact that the man who had grown up in the Shire had (as a result of this) told the hobbits that ~£300,000* of their money for the land would go to the very body who decided on the planning application (if the planning application was approved) was embarrassing to the Men (who had wanted to keep this a secret).

* at 2015 prices, anybody want to leave a comment on the legal implications of this?

But the legend (that was what people called him) still believed in openness and transparency.

He had realised that the Shire was in danger of being altered permanently and corrupted by greedy Men interested in power.

Not just with the fire station, but with the golf resort too.

Greed had truly corrupted the Men’s hearts.

But what would happen next?

Would the Planning Committee refuse the planning application for the fire station?

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