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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.
EDITORIAL: Jeremy Corbyn, opposition, Saughall Massie fire station and “land swaps”
EDITORIAL: Jeremy Corbyn, opposition, Saughall Massie fire station and “land swaps”
A councillor on Wirral Council once suggested to me I write an editorial. It was a good suggestion, but generally I like to steer clear about giving a party political opinion.
Over the weekend, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party and Tom Watson Deputy Leader (Wirral’s own Angela Eagle missed out on becoming Deputy Leader).
Within hours of Jeremy Corbyn‘s election as Leader, I received a press release (nothing too unusual about that) from a PR company with quotes from DeVere Group (who describe themselves as “one of the world’s largest independent advisors of specialist global financial solutions to international, local mass affluent, and high-net-worth clients").
It seems that Jeremy Corbyn becoming Leader of the Labour Party has to put it mildly rattled those who work on behalf of the rich. There were a series of hyperbolic quotes which if I included here would be taking sides on a party political matter and alienate any of my readers that lean towards the left (although some of the quotes are so full of hyperbole that they’re funny).
However, it brings me to an important point about opposition. One of the quotes describes him as “Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition” . Opposition really matters in politics.
Moving from national politics to more local matters, on Tuesday evening (I’m writing this on Sunday but it will be published on Monday) Wirral Council’s Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee will discuss Cllr Chris Blakeley’s notice of motion about whether the greenbelt land owned by Wirral Council in Saughall Massie should be blocked from being gifted, sold or leased to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority for a new fire station. The public meeting starts at 6.00 pm in Committee Room 1 at Wallasey Town Hall.
The issue was reported extensively on this blog and the local newspapers over the last few years, however it an example why opposition in politics is important because there are about a thousand people who signed a petition against it going ahead.
On Thursday afternoon, a meeting of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s Policy and Resources Committee will decide whether to transfer the land by Birkenhead Fire Station to Wirral Council for a Youth Zone. The land is worth an estimated £250,000, but is predicted to be transferred to Wirral Council “at nominal consideration” .
In other words Wirral Council will probably get it just for the costs of the legal costs involved in the sale and not at the market price. So how are the two issues connected?
Back on the 30th June 2015 when the issue was being decided by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, Cllr Lesley Rennie asked for an explanation about a series of emails from its former Deputy Chief Executive Kieran Timmins that had been released in response to a FOI request.
The Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens just answered that he didn’t know anything about it, Kieran Timmins (the author of the email stayed silent) followed by comments from at least one Labour councillor alleging that Cllr Rennie was making things up.
Below is an email from Kieran Timmins suggesting that a “land swap” happens. It suggests Wirral Council gets the land it wants next to Birkenhead Fire Station in exchange for the land in Greasby (this is before Greasby was ruled out and replaced with Saughall Massie).
I have no idea what Wirral Council’s response was to this suggestion!?
I might also point out that Colin Schofield is the PFI Project Manager at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and it’s never been made crystal clear whether the new Saughall Massie fire station will be part of the PFI fire stations or owned outright by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government) only partially answered my FOI request as to what Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority was spending the £4.4 million of grant money on.
From: Timmins, Kieran Sent: 12 December 2013 09:58 To: ‘Armstrong, David’ Cc: Royle, Jeanette E.; Schofield, Colin Subject: RE: Request for Sites
Thanks David, much appreciated. Hope you are ok?
Not sure if Tony can pick this up but it strikes me as making sense if (presuming a Wirral owned site is identified in Greasby) that a land swap for the youth zone in Birkenhead might be a sensible approach for tidying up ownership etc…….. what do you think?
Deputy Chief Executive
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority
Fire Service HQ
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:
17.1 Cabinet approves the submission of the application to the Secretary of State for Education for the disposal and change of use of the former Rock Ferry High School.
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:
6.4 Take account of local views and develop a mixed use option for the site
(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.
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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Why did Mayor Anderson claim a councillor was “behaving like a child” for highlighting a cut of £42,000 to domestic violence charities?
Why did Mayor Anderson claim a councillor was “behaving like a child” for highlighting a cut of £42,000 to domestic violence charities?
Just for a change I thought I would attend a public meeting of Liverpool City Council yesterday evening, which was their budget meeting.
Prior to the meeting starting, there were a lot of police outside Liverpool Town Hall and not just on foot, but going round on motorbikes and police vehicles. The High Street was closed off to traffic as you can see from the traffic cone to the right of the photo I took below:
Outside Liverpool Town Hall for their budget meeting where there are a lot of police officers ahead of the meeting. pic.twitter.com/f9umyevMKH
Even before getting in to the Council Chamber, the City Watch (Liverpool City Council employees) were stop searching everyone from the press and public attending, supposedly for “whistles and banners”.
Liverpool City Council (unlike Wirral Council) doesn’t have a public gallery a floor above the Council Chamber, so the public sit on chairs (or benches) around where the councillors sit. What was also interesting was that during the meeting a screen showed a live transcript of what was said.
On Wirral I know that during Council meetings there are two people providing sign language, however having what is being said during the meeting appear on a screen that everyone can see, benefits everyone with hearing difficulties in being able to follow what’s going on.
The Lord Mayor of Liverpool (who chairs meetings of Liverpool City Council) did refer to social media and filming of meetings at the start and said, "Can I remind those present that this is a meeting held in public and not a public meeting? I would also like to emphasise that this is a key public meeting, can I therefore request that everyone present, including the public treat this meeting accordingly which will enable the business to be dealt with effectively?
The use of social media and filming for reporting proceedings is permitted during Council meetings. This does not extend to filming of members of the public and anyone wishing to film the proceedings are also particularly directed to the very sensitive issue of filming children without the express permission of their parents."
Sadly although the public were well-behaved during the meeting, the Lord Mayor’s plea to councillors to behave fell on deaf ears (but more of that later). Once the items such as declarations of interest and minutes of the last meeting were dealt with, the Lord Mayor suggested that Mayor Anderson had twenty minutes to speak to Labour’s budget, the mover of an amendment or right to reply ten minutes and all other speakers allowed five minutes and with the permission of Council a two-minute extension.
Mayor Anderson started his speech at 5 minutes 36 seconds into the video clip above and finished it at 45 minutes 48 seconds (a total of forty minutes 12 seconds) which was double the twenty minutes he’d been given.
It’s hard to summarise such a massively long speech although I will try. He said, “we’ve faced an onslaught by this government in terms of financial cuts” and referred to the Green Party as “no more than militant in sandals, the phrase I coined but it is true and absolutely true”.
He went on to criticise the Green Party’s budget amendment for raising Council Tax by 6% (whilst conveniently failing to mention that his own party’s budget would also rais