What next for demolished Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory site (Joseph Proudman Building) on Bidston Hill?

A story about the former Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (Joseph Proudman Building) site on Bidston Hill, Wirral, England

What next for demolished Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory site (Joseph Proudman Building) on Bidston Hill?


Demolished Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Bidston Hill

First, a quick history of what’s been happening about this site. Last year in June, Wirral Council’s Cabinet received a report recommending demolition. People had asked the Cabinet about the effect of the Unitary Development Plan change in 2004 on a decision to demolish it, so as nobody seemed to know whether this was still in effect, a decision on it was deferred to the meeting on the 9th July 2012.

The Cabinet meeting on the 9th July 2012 was in postponed to the 10th July 2012 and was told that the bit of the Unitary Development Plan relating to Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory had been deleted in 2007. However between June and July an application had been made to English Heritage for listed status. A decision was then deferred again to Cabinet’s meeting of the 6th September (in the hope that English Heritage would’ve decided on listed status by then).

It wasn’t on the Cabinet agenda of the 6th September or the next meeting of the 27th September. By October a decision had been reached by English Heritage not to accept the application for listed building status and on the 8th October 2012 the Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources, Cllr Adrian Jones gave consent to demolition (effective from the 16th October) for the Joseph Proudman Building. Since then it has been demolished by Hunter Demolition.

Wirral Council owns the site of the former Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, but NERC (the Natural Environment Research Council) has a 99-year lease from 1973. Wirral Council receive £1,800 a year rent from NERC. However NERC have tried to sell their lease. Local residents are concerned that now the building has been demolished that there could a residential development on this site, especially as the Lighthouse Cottage and Bidston Observatory are now being used for this purpose.

In the evidence base (see page 112) for Wirral Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment 2012 it is listed as a site (it lists it as Bidston Observatory but the coordinates are for the Joseph Proudman Building) with a capacity for thirty-eight dwellings. This document gives it an achievability score of 3 (which means development of the site could be achieved in the next five years). It states in that document “Car park and other building require demolition/conversion” (which has already happened).

Any decision on new housing on the site of the Joseph Proudman Building would be first need planning permission and being a major development would be decided by Wirral Council’s Planning Committee. A future request for planning permission would attract opposition from local residents wanting to keep Bidston Hill as it is, its impact on the existing listed buildings (the Lighthouse and the Observatory) would also need to be considered. Until that happens the future of the site is up to NERC and Wirral Council.

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 10th July 2012 Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory saved from demolition

Well due to an application made to English Heritage for listed status for the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory Wirral Council’s Cabinet decided not to demolish it. This decision had already been deferred from an earlier meeting.

Cabinet also approved an amended Corporate Plan and a consultation on corporate and business planning.

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 21st June 2012 Part 1 Oval Leisure Centre lease to Wirral Met, future of Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Bidston Hill

The agenda and reports can be found here.

Cllr Phil Davies (Chair)
Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cllr Adrian Jones
Cllr Anne McArdle
Cllr Chris Meaden
Cllr Tony Smith
Cllr Pat Hackett
Cllr George Davies
Cllr Harry Smith

The Chair, Cllr Phil Davies welcomed those present to the first Cabinet of the municipal year. He hoped in the future they would have a more focused agenda and not a shopping list. Cllr Phil Davies said that they would be looking at corporate governance and the new corporate plan at a special Cabinet on Monday 9th July. The good news of £40 million of investment in Port Sunlight by Unilever was also something he wanted to highlight. Hillbark Hotel had been awarded a five-star rating and was the only hotel awarded five stars on Merseyside. He asked for any declarations of interest.

Cllr Ann McLachlan declared a prejudicial interest in item 19 (Lease of Land at the Oval Leisure Centre) by virtue of being a governor at Wirral Metropolitan College.
Cllr Pat Hackett declared a prejudicial interest in item 22 (Portas Pilots Round 2) as he had helped the Town Teams with their bids.
Cllr George Davies declared a prejudicial interest in item 12 (Tranmere Rovers Sponsorship Agreement 2012/2013) as he was on a Tranmere Rovers board.

The minutes of the meeting held on the 12th April 2012 were agreed.

The Chair said he would bring item 19 (Lease of Land at the Oval Leisure Centre) forward as there were a number of people here for it. Cllr McLachlan having previously declared a prejudicial interest in the matter left the room.

Ian Brand, Head of Asset Management gave a verbal report summarising the report on the agenda. He said there had been an objection to the disposal of the land, but that a decision had been made to lease the land to Wirral Metropolitan College for new facilities. Section two outlined the planning permission granted on the 24th May, which had been advertised publically. The objection to the sale of the land was outlined in 2.10, there was a request that call-in be waived, so that work could start as soon as possible.

Cllr Adrian Jones said he was mindful that Cllr Stuart Kelly had made representations, but it was necessary to make a decision. He had made a delegated decision to proceed and the local councillors had been involved. The college had arranged a briefing and the decision had been published. Cllr Jones thought it was a win-win and was surprised there were suggestions for further consultation as the opportunity for consultation had been there, he believed he’d taken the right decision.

Cllr Phil Davies said he had concerns that it had taken three months to respond to the complaint and that corporate governance needed to get better so that they dealt with complaints promptly. There was a criticism that officers were not impartial and he believed the complaint should’ve been dealt with more quickly.

Cllr Adrian Jones moved the recommendation at 12.1 .
Cllr Phil Davies asked the Acting Chief Executive if it was ok to waive call-in.
Ian Coleman said he was satisfied that they did.

Cllr Ann McLachlan returned.

Cllr Phil Davies said he had been made aware there were a number of members of the public here about the item involving Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory on Bidston Hill.

Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Bidston Hill
Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Bidston Hill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ian Brand said that it was a request from their tenant NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) to demolish the modern building constructed in 1973 on which they held the ground lease. The tenant would still remain responsible for the rent and maintaining the boundaries. NERC had tried to dispose of their interest, but failed, it was costing NERC money to maintain and the intention was to demolish the building.

Cllr Harry Smith said he had had a conversation with a concerned constituent who had made reference to the Unitary Development Plan from 2003/2004, but there was nothing about the UDP in the item, did Ian have information about that decision?

Ian Brand said that section 11 dealt with planning and that demolition did not require planning consent.

Cllr Harry Smith said he had been quite specific about the Unitary Development Plan and asked for deferment until there was further investigation.

Cllr Adrian Jones said that in principle he supported delaying the decision, he had had a phone call from Graham Clark who was best known for his association with the egg run who had similar reservations.

Bill Norman said the decision could be delegated to the portfolio holder.

Cllr Harry Smith said he was not happy and had further questions, he asked for it to come back to Cabinet.

Cllr Phil Davies said there were alternatives uses suggested at 2.5 and 2.6 and that they could use the special Cabinet meeting on the 9th July to have a report back on the alternative uses and UDP.

He have notice that he wanted to take an urgent item of AOB on the Liverpool City Region City Deal.

On item 3 Cllr Phil Davies had the following proposals.

On minute 360, it was consistent with the Improvement Plan, but could be brought to the special Cabinet on the 9th July and the Improvement Board. Minute 361 reflected on how they operated in practice, but there was the danger of adding another layer of decision making and bureaucracy, he said they had the scrutiny committees and Improvement Board, but he’d like to suggest a Leader’s Board which would be a forum to meet together to discuss issues of strategic importance. It would be an advisory not executive body. This was agreed by the Cabinet. On minute 362, he needed to confirm there was the £250,000 required and asked for a further Cabinet report. Minute 365 was the suggestion of the new administration, there would be a peer challenge in July and they would appoint an interim Chief Executive, he suggested they park the idea with the exception of the performance development and appraisals process. Minute 367 referred to an independent external ombudsman to deal with employee concerns, Cllr Phil Davies was not convinced this would add value to the organisation, he said there were already a raft of procedures on whistle blowing and grievance that they had to make sure worked effectively, so he wanted no action on minute 367. He agreed with 368 which he had read again and was a good document, he confirmed that since minute 372 a new procedure on compromise contracts had been agreed by the Employment and Appointments Committee.