People power leads to Wirral Council U-turn on sale of Rock Ferry High School woodlands
Wirral Council’s Cabinet meeting of the 10th September 2015. The item on Rock Ferry High School starts at 17 minutes and 16 seconds
The issue of what happens to the former Rock Ferry High School site was on Wirral Council’s Cabinet agenda for a decision at last Thursday’s meeting.
Included with the reports for the meeting were details of the public meetings held. In case anyone has forgotten, one of the public meetings sparked a series of bizarre stories in the Liverpool Echo about what happened in the lead up to the 2015 General Election. The story continues with a Wirral Globe article and a Green Party investigation clearing its members of what Frank Field accused them of doing (which is that exceptional case of a party sticking by and believing its own members and not throwing them to the wolves when an influential member of another political party complains).
Maybe the Green Party aren’t like other political parties who take a "guilty until proven innocent (and we the party will decide upon what prove innocent means)" approach and grill the party member when a complaint happens. No I’m not referring to the recent suspensions of councillors in the Wirral Labour Group… but my own personal experience of the Lib Dems taking seriously a party political complaint about me from former Labour Cllr Harry Smith (sent to both me and the party with a Wirral Council "With compliments slip").
In essence his complaint was that when he was Vice-Chair of the Pensions Committee (the Pensions Committee manages the Merseyside Pension Fund worth £billions which has over a hundred thousand people either pensioners or employees part of it) I put in a leaflet to people in the Bidston & St James ward that he didn’t go to a meeting that reported the Merseyside Pension Fund had dropped by hundreds of millions of pounds.
His complaint was that he decided to go on holiday instead (he didn’t send a deputy to the meeting) and that my leaflet wasn’t unfair personally to him because it led to people going to his surgery and asking him questions (because and I mean this with a lot of dripping sarcasm of course, obviously the last thing a local councillor is paid a generous allowance of thousands of pounds a year for is to actually have to deal with the public and see what I write below for why the Labour Group of 2015 takes a different view on representing the public to Harry Smith). Therefore former Cllr Harry Smith (around the time of a one week suspension as a councillor for not apologising properly for bullying) wanted disciplinary action taken against me by the Lib Dem Party for telling the Bidston & St James residents the truth.
Ultimately the Lib Dem Party (who then were always very keen to curry favour with other political parties) gave him and his fellow Labour party members their way in 2011 but the Lib Dems (under a lot of pressure to get rid of me) did it so badly, the Birkenhead County Court ruled one of the Lib Dem councillors, the local Birkenhead party and indeed the whole Lib Dem Party had broken the law in doing so.
Thus proving that politicians are terrible at realising that there are legal limits on what they should or shouldn’t do. As many will know, the political class have an arrogant view at times that rules and laws apply to everyone but them! The MP expenses scandal showed that.
However to be fair (and hopefully as balanced as I can be) to the Lib Dem Party, their view is that an unlawful decision still stands and court orders should be flouted (and then the Lib Dem Party wonders why it lost 49 MPs at the recent General Election?)
As former Cllr Harry Smith didn’t get his way over that complaint he tried to stop filming of a public meeting of Pensions Committee meeting stopped, telling others on the Pensions Committee it I was because I was a member of a political party (at the time a lie as I wasn’t a member of the Lib Dems then, due no doubt in part to his complaints and moaning about me "blotting my copybook" as one party member put it). A rather young fellow Labour councillor had the gall to tell him such a point was irrelevant which really got him going, however I am digressing into stories from yesteryear. It was suggested to me recently that I should be more positive (however remembering how former Cllr Harry Smith used to be is enough to spoil anyone’s good mood)!
Returning to the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Adrian Jones explained that Rock Ferry High School had closed in 2011. He outlined the process that had to be followed if the Rock Ferry High School and the playing fields were to be used for a different purpose and that this required government approval from the Minister. He summarised the efforts so far on finding an alternative educational use for the buildings which unfortunately had not panned out.
The costs (business rates and security) of managing the vacant site were costing Wirral Council money. The original intention had been for Wirral Council to sell the buildings and playing fields. However following public consultation and "opposition" to disposal of the site, a compromise position had been found or as Cllr Adrian Jones put it, “However, we are a listening Council and following extensive public consultation it was evidenced that there was a very significant amount of opposition to that proposal.”
He went on to say that this option would produce a reduced capital receipt to Wirral Council, but this would allow the Residents’ Association to bring forward proposals for the playing fields and woodland.
Cllr Adrian Jones proposed the following recommendation.
"It is recommended that:
17.2 Approve the mixed use option for the site as outlined in 6.4
17.2 Approve officers to progress development proposals to site (area A) for residential development in accordance with local planning requirements
17.3 Work with the newly formed Rock Ferry Residents Association to bring forward proposals for the management of the site (areas B and C)"
For the purposes of information 6.4 (which recommendation 17.2) of the report refers to states:
(i) area (A) i.e. the main school site, development for housing
(ii) areas (B) and (C) the former playing field site could be considered for community asset transfer for continued sport use and open space. This is of particular interest to the residents in the area and plans for the management and development of the area are being considered. Football clubs in the area have expressed an interest and there are opportunities for obtaining grant funding. This area was previously designated as school playing fields and the only community use was through lettings agreed with the school, general community access was not endorsed.
Areas B and C are detailed in the report. Areas B and C are playing fields and area A covers the buildings and part of the playing fields.
Councillor Chris Meaden pointed out that it was in her ward and referred to "slightly heated meetings" that she had attended and that they’d listened to the residents, changed the recommendations so that the woodland was kept and the sports field. She thanks the residents of Rock Ferry and that "we hope we’ve proved ourselves to you"
Cllr Meaden went on to thank Jeannette Royle (Senior Manager, Asset Management), David Armstrong (Assistant Chief Executive) and David Ball (Head of Regeneration) for attending the meetings and she wanted to thank them for their support and their efforts in listening to residents.
The recommendation were agreed by Cabinet.
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