Why did Councillor Blakeley ask councillors to block a fire station in Saughall Massie?
Wirral Council’s Regeneration and Environment Committee meeting of the 15th September 2015 (Part 1 of 4) who discussed a notice of motion about a proposed new fire station in Saughall Massie
Yesterday evening’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Regeneration and Environment Committee was well attended by members of the public.
There were also many councillors from the ruling Labour administration to see what was happening first hand.
Many members of the public were there to see what happened on a vote on whether the land at Saughall Massie (owned by Wirral Council) would be blocked from being gifted, leased or sold to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service for a new fire station.
However let’s start at the beginning.
The sole Lib Dem councillor at the meeting was running late so the Committee started the meeting with just the Labour and Conservative councillors. The first item was declarations of interest.
Councillor Steve Nilbock (a Labour councillor) had to declare a prejudicial interest in the Saughall Massie fire station item as he’s a member of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. This meant he had to leave the room during that item and not take part in the vote.
Councillor Anita Leech (a Labour councillor and Chair of the Planning Committee) also declared an interest in the Saughall Massie fire station item as although no planning application has yet been made she may have to make a decision on it in the future.
Councillor Jean Stapleton (a Labour councillor) had to declare a prejudicial interest in the Saughall Massie fire station item as she’s a member of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. This meant she had to leave the room during that item and not take part in the vote.
So that was three Labour councillors that couldn’t vote (as they wouldn’t be in the room).
The Chair then announced he would be dealing with item 4 (proposal for a fire station on green belt land in Saughall Massie) first due to the large numbers of members of the public present.
Although he was reminded he had to first approve the minutes, he pointed out he hadn’t been at the last meeting so someone else would have to propose approval of the minutes.
At this point three Labour councillors (Councillors Niblock, Leech and Stapleton) had to leave the room (having each declared a prejudicial interest) and took no further part in the discussion or vote on the Saughall Massie fire station issue.
At this point the Lib Dem councillor on the Committee, Cllr Dave Mitchell arrived and apologised for being late.
The Conservative councillor for Moreton West and Saughall Massie, Cllr Chris Blakeley (in the foreground of the photo above) was then invited to introduce his notice of motion (which had been referred by the Mayor to this Committee at the Council meeting on the 6th July 2015).
At this point (and I’m trying not to take sides on what is now a party political issue) and as this issue has had many decisions and press coverage over the years, I will feel it would be better to just quote his speech (and declare an interest as he mentions me twice in it). The Chair told Cllr Chris Blakeley he would have ten minutes (although the procedural rules on notices of motion agreed by the Coordinating Committee earlier in the year (see rule 17) don’t give any time limits at all).
Councillor Chris Blakeley (a Conservative councillor for Moreton West and Saughall Massie) said,
“Thank you Chairman, Members, I’ll try not to take up ten minutes, but I have to say it’s an improvement on Council which comes to only seven minutes! So if I do use the ten please forgive me but I will try and keep it as brief as I can.
Thank you Chairman and Members, first of all can I put on record my admiration for the work Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service do and make it clear that this Notice of Motion is not an attack on them. This is simply saying that while the Chief Fire Officer may believe the closure of Upton and West Kirby and building a new fire station on green belt land in Saughall Massie is his only option, the residents of Saughall Massie have made it very clear that they do not want their green belt developed with this or any other development.
As you will see on the Notice of Motion it states that there has been massive public opposition to this proposal which now has risen to over twelve hundred signatures and is growing daily. Also there’s opposition from Saughall Massie Village Area Conservation Society and the Wirral Society and the Chairman of the Saughall Massie Village Area Conservation Society is here tonight.
Sadly however, the proposal for a fire station at this location on our precious green belt appears to have the support of the Labour Party on the Wirral or at least its candidate in this year’s local election who made it very clear in his paperwork and his election address when he said in a leaflet, "I’ll be calling on the Fire Service to guarantee any design for the new fire station is sympathetic to the neighbourhood and will minimise disturbance to the residents of Saughall Massie."
Sadly this begs the question, has Wirral made up or already made up its mind and that’s very difficult to see?
Chairman and Members, the Chief Fire Officer says he has to have a site that is near to the midpoint of West Kirby and Upton as possible in order to give him the best response times.
On response times there’s a little bit of confusion there because at all the public meetings I went to the Chief Fire Officer said about response times and at other public meetings he said let’s not get hung up on response times. So I’m very concerned that the message that’s going from the Chief Fire Officer were to say the least mixed and confused and I don’t think anybody at any public meeting got the same words other than we need this fire station.
So it’s to give him what he says the best response times for West Wirral residents, the protection he believes is necessary.
Yet Chairman, for the last two years, West Kirby he says because these are his words has only been operational for 50% of the time and so he’s covering West Wirral from Upton without any problems and has been for the last two years!
In fact firefighters I talk to on the doorstep told me for all intents and purposes West Kirby Fire Station is not operational at all and of course what about the most at risk site if he moves from Upton which is Arrowe Park Hospital?
The response times to that vulnerable site will be extended, so why the need to move a mile at a cost of over £4 million?
Assuming the Chief Fire Officer is right and they need a new fire station for whatever reason, why does it have to be on our precious green belt? A green belt that has, kept by this Council, has historically defended to the hilt, green belt that according to the very eminent Doctor Hilary Ash, Honorary Conservation Officer for Wirral Wildlife and the Wirral ??? and Cheshire Trust who says the proposed site is used as foraging for barn owls who are nesting on the north side of Saughall Massie Road, who says that bats are feeding here, who says that kingfishers were reported here, who says that if some of the green belt is lost here it would affect these species of protected wildlife along the corridor along there.
Surely this Committee and Council do not want to be responsible for neglecting its biodiversity duties?
Moving on, it’s come to light there’s been an ongoing string of emails. I’d like to thank Mr. Brace for this, because he got all these emails and I will say a long string of emails as you can see. These are them here so thank you Mr. Brace for your tenacity in getting those emails.
The emails are between senior fire officers and senior council officers, including senior planning officers. Therefore it’s no wonder that local people perceive that this is a done deal!
Look Chairman, Members for the avoidance of doubt I’m not saying that there has been any deal at all, I’m simply expressing views said to me by many residents who I represent and given the evidence who can blame them?
One of those emails was from Kieran Timmins. He was Deputy Chief Executive, I hear he’s retiring, I don’t know whether he’s quite gone so I’ll refer to him as the current Deputy Chief Executive of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and Council.
Officers talked about sites that had been discounted and sites considered in more detail. According to Mr. Timmins’ email, six sites were considered in more detail, however according to him there were only two runners left. Saughall Massie bypass, which is not the green belt site currently proposed and the library community hub site in Greasby.
Now having had the Greasby site withdrawn by the Leader of the Council, one has to ask why the other frontrunner, their second choice of Saughall Massie bypass described by Mr. Timmins as owned by Wirral Council and looks quite positive based on recent correspondence, was not then turned to. Instead a brand new green belt site, that has never been in the mix previously.
This site which we’re talking about tonight, has never been in the mix until Greasby was withdrawn. Where and how did Council officers suddenly identify a brand new site?
And this isn’t a case of NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard]ism, the site in Saughall Massie Road at the bypass is still in the north-west of Saughall Massie ward. The site at Saughall Massie Road/Upton bypass, like the Greasby site is not in greenbelt and while it’s wooded I checked with Council officers, there are no tree preservation orders on any of the trees. In fact one senior Council officer said the site would already have its own perimeter buffer with the trees that are already in situ.
So Chairman and Members here is a Council owned site that is not in green belt, that is described by Mr Timmins as looking positive. So the Chief Fire Officer’s assertions that there are no alternative sites is clearly is incorrect.
Now I know that the Committee raised earlier this is something that Wirral Planning Committee should a planning application be submitted, however this Committee can act before that in sending a message to Council and the Fire and Rescue Service that this Committee recommends to Council that this Committee asks Council to retain the protection of its green belt, as set by the Authority to stop inappropriate development, ask Council not to give, sell or lease the land concerned at Saughall Massie because of the value it has to the community and ask Council to continue work to work cooperatively with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service in identifying and facilitating a more suitable site, for operational purposes and to maintain the amenity of local people.
And in closing Chair I will just say that site is available. It’s six hundred metres from this site we’re discussing tonight, it will add nothing or very little to the response times the Chief Fire Officer has been quoting, maybe fifteen or twenty seconds either way. Fifteen or twenty seconds closer to Upton, fifteen or twenty seconds further away from West Kirby and Hoylake.
And one final thing Chairman, that wasn’t in my initial thing but, given the floods we had last week and the horrendous scenes we had in Moreton, with over a hundred families displaced, that field, that green belt, was also underwater from the brook.
By building on that field, you’re taking away natural drainage, you are assisting the freak weather conditions that are becoming more and more frequent to flood that area.
So Chairman I would ask that this Committee fully supports the Notice of Motion that was put forward to Council but moved to this Committee and sends those messages back to the Council.
Thank you for your time Chairman and Members.”
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