Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?

Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?                                                           Originally this bundle was going to be published in a different way, but instead it will be published as an exclusive in serial form on this blog. I’d better start by declaring an interest as the … Continue reading “Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?”

Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?

                                                         

Originally this bundle was going to be published in a different way, but instead it will be published as an exclusive in serial form on this blog.

I’d better start by declaring an interest as the Appellant in First-tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054, which is about an Environmental Information Regulations 2004 request for the estimates of capital costs involving a new fire station first at Greasby, then at Saughall Massie and the sale of fire stations at Upton and West Kirby.

Despite the bundle being 480 pages in total, there are hundreds of pages missing from it (such as the transcripts of the public meetings involved, communications between the 2nd Respondent (MFRA) and the 1st Respondent (ICO) etc).

Continue reading “Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?”

EXCLUSIVE: What was in 138 pages of unpublished information on the Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations?

EXCLUSIVE: What was in 138 pages of unpublished information on the proposals for a Greasby Fire Station and Saughall Massie Fire Station?

EXCLUSIVE: What was in 138 pages of unpublished information on the proposals for a Greasby Fire Station and Saughall Massie Fire Station?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On my recent birthday I resolved to publish more unpublished material that was in the public interest.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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Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

                                         

Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool

This is a report of a hearing held today of the First-tier Tribunal held in Tribunal Room 3, 3rd Floor (Tribunals Service), Liverpool Civil and Family Court, 35 Vernon Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2BX

At the hearing I was the Appellant and Janet Henshaw represented Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. ICO did not attend. The case number was EA/2016/0054.

The decision at the hearing was to end the matter by consent order.

The Tribunal consisted of First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC, First-tier Tribunal Member Mr. Michael Hake and First-tier Tribunal Member Dr. Malcolm Clarke.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that they had not provided the information covered by decision notice FER0592270, because they had changed it during the course of the EIR request to remove both “Not for publication” and the reason or reasons why under the Local Government Act 1972 it had initially been classed by them as exempt information (although this is a position they reversed during the course of the appeal).

Despite the Appellant informing them by letter in response to what they had sent him on Monday 19th September 2016 (which are the reports below), are not the version he asked for, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority saw it unreasonable to have a hearing today on the withheld information.

During the course of the hearing MFRA supplied extra information to the Appellant Mr. Brace both in written form and verbally.

MFRA asked the Tribunal to make a costs award against Mr Brace, the Appellant.

The Appellant was asked to explain his point of view. He explained that the law stated information that should’ve been in what was supplied, therefore he knew it was the wrong version and he had informed MFRA, the Tribunal and ICO of this by letter.

He had not yet received a response to this letter from MFRA.

MFRA argued that the hearing was pointless, because from their perspective even if the information supplied was two A4 pages shorter than the case management note had required them to supply, in their view, the extra pages contained no information relating to the request in it and referred them to Mr Brace’s letter describing the extra pages.

MFRA were asked during the course of the hearing to supply the version in existence at the time of request to the Appellant Mr Brace.

Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that she hadn’t brought it with her to the hearing.

Due to the explanation provided by MFRA as to the withheld pages of information, the Appellant agreed to end the matter by consent order.

Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority argued that the Appellant was being unreasonable in bringing the proceedings to a hearing.

The Appellant was given a chance to make representations.

The Tribunal did not agree to make an award of costs at the hearing, but directed Janet Henshaw of MFRA to make a formal application for costs and to serve it on the Appellant and Tribunal by a specified date.

The the Appellant would have a chance to make representations and as he is an individual, supply the Tribunal (and MFRA) with details of financial means (which would have to be considered) when the Tribunal makes a decision.

The First-Tier Tribunal Judge explained that the Tribunal’s rules on costs were different to that of the court.

One of those present also seemed upset at the trees that had been cut down to produce the bundle and the First-Tier Tribunal Judge referred to the cost to the public purse.

Any decision by the Tribunal on costs can be appealed to the County Court.

The information in the two reports relates to MFRA plans for a fire station at Greasby, then Saughall Massie.

The supplied information for Greasby is an Exempt report capital costs Greasby fire station (although this is missing the blank page) and Appendix F Capital Costs Saughall Massie.

Both reports (which were not made public during the two twelve week consultations) show indicative values for selling Upton Fire Station (£350,000) and selling West Kirby fire station (£200,000).

The land value assigned for the abandoned Greasby plans is £300,000 and the notional value assigned for the land at Saughall Massie is £300,000.

The Appellant awaits MFRA’s costs application with interest as at least one of the questions directed towards Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens (pictured below) during one of the two consultation was why this information wasn’t in the public domain.

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)

The First-tier Tribunal Judge stated during the hearing that the reasons given in ICO’s decision notice no longer applied for withholding the information.

MFRA (in line with councillors stating that people should be charged for FOI or EIR requests) despite agreeing to end this by consent order feel that is unfair to pay MFRA’s costs in providing the information, even though the First-Tier Tribunal Judge told them that the reasons for withholding the information in the decision notice didn’t apply.

Janet Henshaw was the person that also refused the information at the internal review stage as she is a senior manager employed by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

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Time of hearing for EA/2016/0033 changed from 10.00 am to 10.15 am

Time of hearing for EA/2016/0033 changed from 10.00 am to 10.15 am

                                

Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for the upcoming First-Tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0033)
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for the upcoming First-Tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0033)

First a declaration of interest, as I am the Appellant in the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) case EA/2016/0033. The two respondents are the Information Commissioner’s Office and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

I received notification from the Tribunal yesterday that the time for this hearing has been changed. It has been altered by fifteen minutes.

The original date and time was:

10.00 am 16th June 2016

The new date and time is (I have underlined the change for emphasis):

10.15 am 16th June 2016

The venue remains unchanged and is still

3rd Floor (Tribunals Service),
Liverpool Civil and Family Court
35 Vernon Street
Liverpool
Merseyside
L2 2BX

As the matter is now sub judice, unfortunately for legal reasons I will have to turn comments off on this post.

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