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Posted by: John Brace | 19th October 2016

EXCLUSIVE: What was in 138 pages of unpublished information on the Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations?

EXCLUSIVE: What was in 138 pages of unpublished information on the proposals for a Greasby Fire Station and Saughall Massie Fire Station?

                                          

Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)

Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)

On my recent birthday I resolved to publish more unpublished material that was in the public interest.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I was recently an Appellant in a First-tier Tribunal case involving Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority over the Greasby (and now Saughall Massie) fire stations project (which also relates to the fire stations at Upton and West Kirby).

Whereas that planning application for a fire station had originally been down to be decided tomorrow at the Planning Committee it has been put back. There have been extra documents added to the planning application too. A 5 page bat survey has been added and 5 drawings have been revised which are linked to from here. The main difference is the green roofs that presumably are to look something like moss (presumably to reduce its impact on the openness of the greenbelt). If either of those links don’t work, just search for application APP/16/00985 here.

An eighty-two page transcript of various public meetings discussing the project produced at the request of the Tribunal can be read here.

However, a few weeks after the Tribunal hearing, ICO sent me a copy of communications between MFRA and ICO in the lead up to the decision notice under dispute at the Tribunal. These cover the period 3rd September 2015 to 16th February 2016 and am republishing it as I’m a broadcaster and it’s relevant to previously published footage of these public meetings.

Although no final decision on the planning application or land transfer has been made, it seems MFRA was very keen that the amounts it had estimated for land sales and purchases were kept out of the public domain. The first two FOI reasons (section 44, then section 43) ICO rejected.

Admittedly some of the arguments MFRA made showed indicated that they hadn’t at that point watched the videos of what happened at the public meetings in question, once a DVD and transcripts were supplied (about a month before the hearing) they changed their mind over disclosure of the information.

Just for clarity MFRA (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) is the 18 councillors (plus a few statutory officers). It’s a different public body to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (which was a point that both ICO and the First-tier Tribunal managed to get wrong).

However the communications show that they intend to purchase the land at Saughall Massie in 2016 and possibly sell the other land in late 2017.

Obviously these timescales seem to have been put back a bit from what was originally planned at that time.

I seem to remember that it was said that Upton wouldn’t be closed or sold until its replacement was operational, therefore do people think that 12 months is realistic for building a fire station?

Here is what Cllr Adrian Jones (then Cabinet Member for that area) stated at a public meeting (which is at lines 3265 to 3324 of the transcript about Wirral Council’s position and isn’t it interesting that he states “we have to give planning permission” when surely that’s up to councillors on the Planning Committee?

CLLR ADRIAN JONES: I made the point of first being present at the err Greasby public meeting. Errm, and I heard err Dan Stephens, and then I reported back to the Leader of the Council and Phil’s Notice of Motion, that I’m happy to second it, err just to be perfectly clear in my decision.

And I want to give some clearly factual background information.

It’s err quite normal Mr Mayor for Council officers in our asset management department to be asked to identify the Council owned land by other public bodies and quite rightly businesses and that’s public information anyway

[26:00]

that is requested and the fact that we as a Council as we do as a thankless task.

The Fire Service in fact Mr Mayor approached us to identify Council owned land in the Greasby area and they were obliged by the government cuts to get by with fewer stations.

The Head of Asset Management is obliged when asked to identify land in Council control, and that means not making an offer!

No request has ever been to me Mr Mayor as it’s the Cabinet responsible for, err Cabinet Member responsible for asset management to make any decision on the transfer, sale or indeed the Merseyside Fire Service, if that sort of request had come to me, I would not have made the decision under delegated powers. I would have perhaps have consulted the councillors in Greasby ward with this.

The councillor errm err in Blakeley’s case, of course he was one councillor that Councillor [indiscernible – accent] has been talking about him

[27:00]

that the likelihood is that it’ll go direct for a Cabinet decision in a public session.

The Fire Service officers Mr Mayor came down I understand very strongly indeed in favour of central Greasby, now as the judgement that it had greater merit judged against response times and the risk for 26,000 of Wirral residents who they serve.

The Service is looking to embrace a range of new facilities currently 24⁄7 and very much in accordance with Eric Pickles’ wishes!

Errm, now for the last Mr Mayor. We have listened and have withdrawn the Greasby site. Whatever land is finally identified Mr Mayor, it’s the Fire Authority that has the orders for it in any case, and we have to give planning permission.

[28:00]

Err, the planning process is quite straightforward, it’s transparent and residents can object and raise their objections with councillors of all parties on that Committee. In the end granting of a planning consent is separate entirely, it is done through a motion if that is correct Mr Mayor and that is only indeed can be when people on the Cabinet and hose who are the people I’ve answered too.

Now, having heard the depth of feeling and emotion, that’s against the Greasby site,
our professional officers have identified four other potentially available alternatives and then there will be no question Mr Mayor, of any Council land being released until all these processes have been endorsed, and I think it is quite wrong of the Conservative councillors to attempt to make political capital on this and to imply to the wider public that offers were made when they know very well, it is costly and impossible for officers to have made offers!


I would have asked Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service for their response to the issues above, however as far as I can tell their press office has been under instructions not to supply comments to myself or this publication.

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Responses

  1. I live opposite this site and strongly disagree with the plans.
    The planning officer has already stated that the fall back plan of renovating the Upton site must be pursued over building on greenbelt land you would think open and shut case but this is WBC where rules are made to be broken.
    I fully expect these plans to be approved with total silence from the Labour sheep and loads of bleeting from the ineffective opposition who still havent sussed out everything they oppose gets done.

    • Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately Wirral Council’s Planning Committee can decide to approve planning applications in the green belt, however the pre-application advice letter you refer to will be a material consideration.

      Sadly there is a history of the Planning Committee approving development in the green belt in the Wirral West constituency ranging from a GP surgery to a school. It seems other parts of the public sector seem to be able to convince them of “special circumstances”.

      During the consultation Merseyside Fire and Resvue Authority stated that their options were limited to the green belt due to a lack of compulsory purchase powers. However they have since written to me, confirming that they do have compulsory purchase powers, therefore in theory could plan a new fire station on land outside the green belt (whatever the views of the current owner of the land).

      I suspect this legal error, just strengthens the arguments that development of a new fire station on the site is not their only option.

  2. John,

    thank you for your comments.

    Are you aware that “Comments” cannot be read online only in person at the Office?

    • I presume you mean comments on the planning application rather than on this blog? If so yes, I’m aware that’s the case.

      The planning department have also massively restricted the days and times when people can inspect such matters.

  3. John,
    Well done on all your efforts to get to the facts.
    This scheme is the current equivalent of the old PFI scam. This means that the Government hand out a very large amount of money on the condition that the private sector manages the design and construction and also maintains the building and that the initial finance comes from the banksters.
    The local politicians grab at the chance of a new building for next to nothing. It does not matter to them whether the building is really needed or whether it is a sensible way to spend the money as they are not paying for it. It also does not matter too much where it is built. They are 99% certain to get permission to build at Saughall Massie even though it is a totally unsuitable location. But if that fails they will come up with another location, such as the beach at Hoylake or Arrowe Park or on top of the supermarket at Upton.

    • Well my efforts to get to the facts have resulted in Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority asking the Tribunal to make a costs award against me (although MFRA state I was justified in bringing the the case in the first place!).

      There are PFI stations on Merseyside which were discussed yesterday at the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting (video has uploaded and will be published soon).

      As to what happens at the next Planning Committee, I would guess that the changes to the design (roof, land levels etc) are to counter impressions that it would affect the openness of the green belt.

      As you point out the £1.5 million of government money they receive means they don’t have to pay for all of the new building themselves.

      The thirteen councillors on the Planning Committee are directly answerable to the people and it is possible even if planning permission is given that someone would challenge it through the courts, or if refused then MFRA would probably appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

      Alternatively, a Conservative government minister could call it in for further consideration.

      So there are lots of possibilities for a long drawn out decision making process!

  4. I wonder how many participants in the consultation exercise, whether paid or not, would have supported the proposal to build on green belt if they had not been told that MFRA do not have compulsory purchase powers?

    The reliability of the findings in support of proving ‘very special circumstances’ has to be challenged by the Planning Committee. And whoever advised Dan Stephens in error, should be held to account for the damage that has been done to the finances, reputation and trust in MFRA/S.

    What an error!

    Dan Stephens did state at at least one public meeting though, that he wished ‘we’ did have compulsory purchase powers, as he did not want to build on green belt land.
    His wish hasn’t been granted, it existed all along. So MFRA/S now need to, not only admit that this was a grave error, but prove itheir commitment to honesty , trustworthiness and openness and that they do have the skills to seek and promote accurate knowledge and information in order to reassure both the public and their employees.

    Belated birthday wishes to you John and thank you for your continued efforts and commitment.

    • In answer to your first question I don’t know.

      In answer to who gave legal advice over MFRA’s compulsory purchase powers, I have correspondence from the MFRA Monitoring Officer (a solicitor) called Janet Henshaw. She’s the Chief Legal Advisor to MFRA.

      If memory serves correct she was paid £103,765 of Merseyside council taxpayers’ money last year (15-16) to get these sorts of things right.

      She is the one who turned down this request at internal review (according to ICO and myself on legal grounds that don’t apply), who comes up in the correspondence with ICO over the decision notice and who represented them at First-tier Tribunal and put in the costs application that is yet to be decided*.

      *So as it’s sub judice that’s about as much as I can write on it.

      She acknowledges now that they do have compulsory purchase powers (which may put the planning permission for a £multi-million project in jeopardy depending on the outcome of the Planning Committee). I think I have also have earlier correspondence from her claiming that MFRA don’t have compulsory purchase powers too.

      I can fully understand why she may dislike me for pointing these things out and why her ultimate client (councillors on the MFRA) would wish to cause me extra work on their costs application. Especially after what I wrote on expensive stays at a gentleman’s club by a councillor, salmon dinners etc..

      However, such is the impact of doing my job. If politicians were singing my praises rather than doing what for example councillors on Monday were doing (trying to damage the Wirral Globe’s business) I’d probably not be doing my job right.

      The irony is that if she hadn’t turned down this EIR request, some of the above wouldn’t have come to light.

      As she is Monitoring Officer which is a statutory post she’s answerable to the councillors and ultimately they have the power (which I’m sure they are highly unlikely to exercise) to replace her or ask questions if she gets things wrong.

      I think you’ve seen how political scrutiny works on MFRA. A councillor asks a question and the Labour councillors interrupt in an attempt to prevent scrutiny which they perceive as criticism of them.

      However, you’re asking people without a legal background to be checks and balances have failed and now she’s using her position to try and penalise the press for holding her to account.

      Then again, I’m not a legal professional so what do I know? I’m not a solicitor, barrister etc… just an editor.

  5. G’day John

    Massive fire over Kev and Staella’s Stinking Stagnant Wirral Waters.

    The rubbish paper says

    Huge dock fire enters its second night as smoke cloud billows across the sky

    I haven’t smelled the smoke my boy but neither have I seen anywhere who owns what???????????

    Ooroo

    James

    Why John do I smell Peel and the clowncil?

    • I saw it when I was going past on a train yesterday.

      The press release from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service states that it’s a recycling facility at Seaforth Docks, specifically a scrap metal recycling facility. It goes on to state they are working with Sefton Council, Public Health England, Environment Agency and the Port Police.

      The press release is here if you wish to read the full details.


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