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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).
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.
Does Labour’s plan to “rescue the NHS” involve further privatisation?
Does Labour’s plan to “rescue the NHS” involve further privatisation?
Earlier this week Councillor Phil Davies was quoted in the Wirral Globe as saying “Voters have a straight choice between the Tories’ cuts and failed austerity measures, and Labour’s plan to rescue Arrowe Park Hospital and introduce policies to raise living standards for hard-working families.”
So what is Labour’s plan to “rescue Arrowe Park Hospital”?
A report to the Health and Wellbeing Board (chaired by Councillor Phil Davies), which meets on the 15th April shows a bid to be a “vanguard site” was recently agreed. £200 million of public money will be shared across the 29 vanguard sites across England.
The vanguard site bid was jointly submitted by Wirral Council, various NHS bodies including the part that runs Arrowe Park Hospital, Cerner Ltd, Advocate Physician Partners ACO Inc and the Kings’ Fund.
So let’s just look at the history of one of these organisations involved in the joint bid.
Cerner Ltd is a subsidiary of an American corporation called the Cerner Corporation. Both Cerner Ltd and its parent company Cerner Corporation provide software for electronic health records to hospitals.
In 2005 Cerner Corporation paid the RAND corporation to write a report which stated the US healthcare system could save $81 billion by switching to electronic healthcare record systems.
However, after the American government had changed funding rules to give hospitals an incentive to switch to electronic health care records, the RAND corporation in 2013 decided that their earlier figure of $81 billion savings was “overstated”.
The vanguard site bid has phrases in it which echo the overly optimistic tone of the 2005 RAND report:
“This will have the dual focus of reducing health inequalities while achieving costs savings through and reduced inefficiency and duplication.”
“Our proposals will further catalyse these developments aimed at delivering a de-hospitalised model of care, reducing health inequalities and reducing costs.”
“During this time, Cerner UK has delivered Cerner Millennium® across 22 Trusts including WUTH, supporting NHS providers in the delivery of high quality care to patients, safely and cost effectively.”
“This results in more efficiency, improved health outcomes and significant cost savings for patients.”
So is this Labour’s plan to “rescue Arrowe Park Hospital”? To hear more about why Monitor (the regulator) are investigating Arrowe Park Hospital you can hear the detail at a recent meeting of the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee below:
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Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Childrens Services) talks at the meeting of Wirral Council’s Cabinet which decided to consult on closing Lyndale School (16th January 2014)
If Lyndale School closed: what might happen next?
Usually I write about other people. However today because personal experience and stories shape who you are I felt the need to share some of my history as a child to make a number of points about the Lyndale School Closure consultation.
From ages four to ten, I went to a primary school in Upton that I really liked and enjoyed called St. Josephs Upton. At age ten, I was transferred to St. Josephs Birkenhead in the September of 1991. Both were great schools and this is in no way meant at all as any criticism of how either school was run.
I found myself taken away from the people I’d known and grown up with in Upton and put in an unfamiliar school I didn’t know my way round. To make things worse I no longer had my best friend to talk to and with it being the last year of primary school, the other kids had known each other for the last six years. I was the outsider.
Trying to make the best of a difficult situation I tried to fit in, but I found coping with the change very stressful, in fact extremely stressful would be a better way of describing it. To give one illustration, I remember collapsing and blacking out waiting in a dinner queue that week. The other kids and teachers did their level best to be welcoming, I can’t fault them on that but I just had a very hard time coping. It all took its toll on my health and after a week I ended up being admitted to Arrowe Park Hospital for days because the impact it had on my asthma.
In Arrowe Park Hospital, hospital school was only in the morning. I remember being puzzled that the school there finished at lunchtime and being told to go back to the ward! The staffing ratio (very different to the mainstream schools I was used to) was such that things were tailored on a very personal level and what the children could cope with because of their poor health. The small numbers of children there helped dispel the feelings I’d had of being lost (both in the feeling sense and literally as I didn’t know my way round) in a large school. In fact the small size of the hospital school (something that’s been given as a reason for closing Lyndale School down) was a positive for many reasons.
Five months later (still unhappy) I was transferred back to my previous primary school.
So why do I bring this up? Taking a young child out of a school and away from a school they’re used to, away from their friends, teachers they know and places they’re familiar with is something that very difficult to fully understand unless it has happened to you.
One of the points brought up by an officer during the consultation was that children have to change schools when they go to secondary school! This is not a fair comparison. The move to secondary school is very different as such a change is known and planned for years in advance. The change to secondary school everyone experiences together at the same time.
My health as a child is nowhere near the level of ill-health experienced by the children at Lyndale School. I’m sure (from an educational perspective) they have a somewhat comparable experience to that that I had at the hospital school, with a very tailored educational experience catering for their individual needs. Yet if one of them was put through what I describe above, whatever well-meaning “measures” are put in place by the “professionals” it would have far more damaging long-term effects than it did on me.
It wouldn’t be the same as what happened to me, it would be an experience far, far worse than a bad time from my childhood I still remember twenty-four years later. Julia Hassall has stated many times that the welfare of the children is important. Based on my personal experience (as outlined above), it was not in my interests for my primary school to be changed at age ten. The reasons given by the person who made the decision were to do with other people’s interests, not my interests and I had been against the change (but when does the world ever listen to a ten-year old?)
This is what will happen though if Lyndale School is closed and the children are transferred elsewhere. The children (the ones affected by this) won’t understand why it’s happening. There won’t be the option to go back as the Lyndale School will have been been closed. It will cause tremendous stress and upheaval that whatever the professionals may say about it being managed and measures being put in place to help with the transition, will have an effect on the children’s health.
Coping with the change will make the ones who have seizures more likely to have seizures. Those with breathing difficulties will have their condition made worse by the stress and as I did will black out (with all the problems that can cause). A certain proportion will react as I did and have such a rapid deterioration in their health that they end up in hospital. It may even shorten the life of some. These are extremely serious considerations.
Perhaps it is difficult for politicians that don’t have a professional background in education or health to fully understand these arguments. I’m sure there are some sceptics that feel that these effect are exaggerated by people keen to prevent the school being closed. They’re not!
History is littered with warnings and those who don’t heed its warnings are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I’m still around decades later, despite what happened to me to try and warn of what might happen.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol there is a ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. In this analogy Wirral Council is seen as Ebenezer Scrooge. The warnings of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come have been given loud and clear to any councillors listening. It is getting to the stage where Scrooge has to change his ways. In the book Scrooge became a kinder, generous and more compassionate person, will Wirral Council follow the same path on Lyndale School or end up making an unpopular wrong choice for the wrong reasons that could have very serious consequences?
Wirral Council has a legal duty to ensure that all its decisions are compatible with people’s human