Councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority discuss the Greasby fire station consultation and one states “there is no reason the vocal minority should get their way”
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting 29th January 2014 Part 1 of 2 starting at agenda item 4 (Wirral Fire Cover Consultation Options)
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting 29th January 2014 Part 2 of 2
There was a lot said at the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting, I thought it might be better to have a verbatim transcript of what was said starting with agenda item 4 (Wirral Fire Cover Consultation Outcomes), which was about the recent consultation on closure of Upton and West Kirby fire stations with a new fire station at Greasby. For this item on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s website there is a report, copy of the consultation newsletter (appendix A), copy of the 2nd consultation document (appendix B), questionnaire results report (appendix C), Focus groups and forum report (appendix D), Questions from meetings (appendix E) and Wirral Fire Service Consultation Outcomes (appendix F).
CLLR DAVE HANRATTY (Chair, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority representing Liverpool City Council): Item number 4 is the consultation outcomes of the proposed merger in Wirral of Upton and West Kirby. Thank you.
DAN STEPHENS (Chief Fire Officer, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service): Thanks Chair. The purpose of this report is to inform Members of the outcomes of the twelve-week public consultation process over the proposal to merger the existing fire stations at Upton and West Kirby at a new station in err, what was the library and children’s centre site on Frankby Road in Greasby. That would be as an alternative to the outright closure of West Kirby Fire Station.
Members will recall approving the proposal subject to the outcomes of the public consultation at the Authority meeting on the 2nd of October last year. At the same meeting, the Members approved a detailed consultation process that mirrored that which we had undertaken in Knowsley over the last summer which related to the proposal to close Huyton and Whiston and build a new station at Prescot and that proposal was subsequently approved by Members at the meeting on the 2nd of October.
A total of four public meetings, three focus groups, one stakeholder meeting, one panel (a Wirral deliberative forum) and numerous meetings with individual interested parties were handled over the twelve week period. Those details, details of those meetings are listed in paragraphs eighteen to twenty-four on pages thirty-one and thirty-two.
A summary of the outcomes is listed at paragraphs six to twelve on page thirty, a detailed breakdown on an event by event basis in paragraphs twenty-five to fifty-one which runs from pages thirty-two to thirty-eight which is supplemented by reports on the questionnaire and focus group which are at appendices C and D which run from pages fifty-nine through to ninety-nine.
Just to draw out specifically paragraphs forty-seven through forty-nine detailing the extensive correspondence which resulted from the process and also the details of the Freedom of Information requests that were received. Appendix E on pages a hundred and one to a hundred and twenty-two contains a summary of the questions that were asked during the public meetings and the stakeholder engagement err meeting along with my responses to those questions.
I am conscious that there is a significant amount of information you need to consider so I’ll focus specifically on the summary which is on page thirty within paragraphs six to twelve. The deliberative focus groups and the forum all agreed that the principle of the merger was reasonable given the financial challenges faced by the Authority.
The stakeholder meeting which consisted of representatives from the public and the private sector were broadly supportive again of the merger proposal and recognised its reasonableness in the context of the financial challenges that we face.
There was considerable opposition to the merger at the public meetings particularly in relation to the use of the Frankby Road site. Two public meetings in Greasby were the, were the, were the by far and away had the, had the highest level of attendance, with local people from Greasby and it’s fair to say that they were almost unanimously opposed to the merger proposal.
The majority of the people that were objecting were of the view that we should close West Kirby outright in order to avoid then having to build a new station on the site of the library and the children’s centre at Frankby Road. It would be fair to say there were some and certainly the people who attended the meetings and responded to the survey who did recognise the rationale and the operational logic to err closing two stations and building a new station in a central location.
It’s the view of officers, certainly my view, that the majority of respondents to the questionnaire in particular the residents of Greasby, they were very focussed on the errm on the site itself and my view is that they to a greater or lesser extent disregarded the question they were being asked around the reasonableness of the merger from an operational response perspective and instead focussed solely on the fact that they just didn’t want a fire station in what was viewed as a, as a village.
Once the library site had been withdrawn, the, we received some err, some further responses to our questionnaire, all of which supported the merger principle which I would suggest it is err, is supports the view that I’ve previously articulated in relation to the view taken by certainly the Greasby residents.
One point I would make is that the population of Greasby is around nine thousand and there were just under round about a thousand responses to the survey, the majority of which were opposed and probably around maybe eight hundred attendees at the meetings in the two public meetings in err Greasby which of course represents less than 15% of the overall population of Greasby opposed to the merger.
So you can take the view there that the majority of people either were not opposed or were supportive or at worst were ambivalent. So I think there is, when you consider the context there that’s much as anything this probably vindicates in my view why we use the focus groups and deliberative forums which is what you get then is a more objective view and a more representative of the perspective if you like than you do necessarily by a meeting in a specific location that there is every likelihood that that will be attended by people who if they’re well organised can mount a fairly significant opposition which whilst being very vocal and having high numbers of people doesn’t necessarily represent the majority.
What I would say is there was no significant opposition to the merger and therefore if you like the principle of closure in West Kirby or Upton and in truth the majority of the people that attended those meetings were actually from Greasby and were there to make their point about mostly the Greasby location. That of course was withdrawn, which in one sense renders that particular question academic because that’s no longer an option available to the Fire and Rescue Authority.
One point or two points rather though I would make is first of all the cost of the consultation process is contained within paragraphs fifty-six to fifty-eight which is on page thirty-nine. The overall cost was £18,744.50. What I would say is, I’d say the second point to make, that does not reflect in any way the amount of officer time that was expended during the consultation process.
To be clear Members, it is a significant drain on officer time in undertaking these processes. I just thought it’s worth making that point about the reason that. There is a, there is a fair amount of work that arises from the managing austerity and there are a number of measures, which you’re well aware of, that we need to undertake in order to deliver structural changes and we’ll consider one on the next agenda item. These things take time and I just need to make that point now because I will be revisiting that point at the next agenda item.
The recommendation of the report is that Members note the content, mindful of the outcomes of this process because of course that does have a bearing when considering the next agenda item. I’ll pause at that point Chair and I’ll take any questions on that.
CLLR DAVE HANRATTY (Chair, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority representing Liverpool City Council): OK thanks for that, do Members have any questions or comments or observations on that item? Go on.
CLLR LESLEY RENNIE (Lead Member for Operational Preparedness representing Wirral Council): Thank you Chair. First of all, can I just start off and thank the Chief and other officers who attended the consultation meetings. I went along to two of them.
The first one was Greasby which I couldn’t get into because of the number of people there, but I did speak to a number of people outside and I did attend the one at Woodchurch and it is exactly as is written here. People really had quite a considerable difficulty in separating what we as a Fire Authority were consulting on and what would be the next stage which clearly is not within our remit, it’s within the remit of Wirral Borough Council’s planning issues and they did have some difficulty with that.
I was appalled at some of the comments which were being made outside by members of the public which was quite disparaging to say the least towards the people of West Kirby and what their future safety may or may not be if in fact a merger didn’t go ahead but having said that the Chief also mentioned a number of people who attended the West Kirby, err the Greasby meetings and also the ratio of those to the population of Greasby.
I parked right opposite where the meeting was being held and it’s fair to say it was early evening and people living in those bungalows right opposite were sitting in their front rooms watching television. Now I obviously don’t know how many people lived in that household, perhaps some of them went over to the meeting, but clearly those people right opposite, a very crude observation you would say, but they weren’t particularly concerned about it.
Those that went to the meeting seemed particularly vocal and quite clearly there’s nothing the matter with that, but I’m not quite sure it was a true representation of the people of that area, errm I think now obviously when we move onto the next item, that’s where we have to make decisions but I as a Member for Wirral and of this Fire Authority, I’m extremely comfortable that we carried out a most comprehensive consultation exercise I think in every aspect in this and I think everybody in Wirral had the opportunity to join in the consultation and comment if need be.
There was a clear willingness from officers of the Fire Authority to meet with errm members of the public, set up separate meetings with obviously the stakeholder groups and people from the community there. There was also never any opposition to requests that I made for them to meet with ward councillors for the Greasby ward who were clearly concerned and clearly there was meetings which were held with the local MP so I think at the end of this I don’t think anybody could come forward and say that the Fire Authority and indeed the Fire Service in Merseyside didn’t give people a full opportunity to engage in the process and I’m pleased about that particularly as we move into the decisions which we’re going to have to take in item five so that’s just my observations and comment on that.
CLLR ROY GLADDEN (Lead Member for Prevention & Protection representing Liverpool City Council): Thank you Chair, I think it’s important that we remind ourselves that the reason we’re in this position is because of the millions of pounds that have been taken away from the budget of this Authority and that you know the numbers of engines that have now been lost and of course we know about the hundreds of staff and it is important sometimes to remind people of this that we’re not going to the people of Wirral or Liverpool about closing stations because it’s something we want to do, or take great pleasure in doing.
It is because we’re trying to maintain a excellent service and continue as an excellent service within the remit of a budget that has been given to us and every time we go through this kind of exercise, which is a very important exercise and I think everybody knows, thank you, as you said before about some of the remarks that people say about we really don’t care about those down the road or at the other side is absolutely disgusting.
We are looking at and we hope that whatever decisions we come to that we look at everybody. Never mind where they live, never mind what their political persuasion is, never mind how much they’ve got or what kind of house they live in but that they’re safe and secure and it is something that you know we know we’re taking on board on every occasion.
Now we have to now go on to the next stage, because as the Chief said and others have said, there is a sizeable minority who are opposed to it and so therefore you know we have to but we have to keep coming back to this because my fear is that if we don’t deal with this matter now and then we’ll all know what a budget crisis means, that if it goes over deadlines it has an impact.
So if you’re going to make a cut within the first three months of a budget and it then takes you twelve months, then the cut is more severe. You know, it doesn’t take to be Einstein to understand that and so we’re really pushed now to ensure that whatever changes we make are done in a relative manner and instead of giving the time and effort that the Chief has put in and his colleagues on this one, well we’re yet again constrained and err you know I think it would behoves on all of us that we make sure that it’s done and we take on board some things that are said and there is no reason the vocal minority should get their way. Thanks.
CLLR LESLIE T BYROM (Vice Chair, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority representing Sefton Council): Thank you Chairman. This agenda item, we’ve dealt with. Wirral have taken it off the table which has moved us on but just to remind us where we are and why we are here, politically and as an Authority, in the first rounds of the austerity measures we agreed that we’d reduce the number of appliances without changing the numbers of fire stations and that was our first plan.
So the next plan was to assume low hanging fruit, low hanging fruit, those amalgamations that could be achieved and actually what we did in our budget a couple of years ago was assume we’ve already made these savings in effect. We are funding from capital the additional staff that will have to be found by these changes and it’s changes in Knowsley and St Helens and the Wirral and Liverpool and then we move on.
So these are, we can’t stand still on this, these are the consequences and we can’t just sort of say ‘Look OK, well never mind, we’ll just move on to somebody else’. We’ve already made these plans, we’re sticking with our plan, now we take advice from officers as to where alternative locations may be, things always change a little bit, but we can’t stand still on this, it just has to move on and as we know there may well, as we had in our briefing day, there may well be more consequences if there’s a continued drive to move the budget down further and further and further in future years. Thank you.
CLLR DAVE HANRATTY (Chair, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority representing Liverpool City Council): Thanks for that, any comments? No? I’ll just draw your attention because in the report it does suggest about the correspondence that we received. If any member wishes to look at the correspondence it’s here in the green folder, so all the letters and everything that we received they are there for any member to see and the report from the research there’s just some printing errors, there’s no errors in terms of the content of the report itself but everybody has received another copy and just to say we always knew that it would be difficult to identify a suitable location anywhere through availability of land and whatever but I think this one has been a testing time for the Authority and we never really expected the responses that we received and the tone you know and the contents of that which is obviously inappropriate to consider that.
It’s our role as the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority to obviously consider what the professional advice that we’re given for the operational response in those particular areas and that’s our remit.
You know some of the comments that was made were uncalled for and shouldn’t have been made and people you know should reflect on those some of the comments that were made especially for those people that live in West Kirby that would be directly affected if we didn’t go ahead with the proposed merger at a suitable location but you know we’ve done it, we’ve done extensive consultation, probably more than any other organisation has done in the past and our thanks go to all the officers and all our staff involved in preparing this and conducting the and attending the public meetings but as has been said we need to make a decision on this because it is because of the cuts that are being imposed on us and we do need to move on item five obviously takes us to that next stage but if we can approve the, well the recommendation in the report is to note the report and I want to go on to item five, so Members is that agreed?
If you click on any of these buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people. Thanks: