Decision on controversial planning application APP/16/00985 (Saughall Massie Fire Station) delayed as councillors call for change of venue, site visit, special meeting & more transparency

Decision on controversial planning application APP/16/00985 (Saughall Massie Fire Station) delayed as councillors call for change of venue, site visit, special meeting & more transparency

Decision on controversial planning application APP/16/00985 (Saughall Massie Fire Station) delayed as councillors call for change of venue, site visit, special meeting & more transparency

                                             

Wirral Council’s Planning Committee meeting held on the 10th November 2016 was standing room only because of the planning application about a fire station at Saughall Massie (APP/16/00985)

Wirral Council’s Planning Committee meeting held on the 10th November 2016 was standing room only because of the planning application about a fire station at Saughall Massie (APP/16/00985)

Updated on 30th November 2016 and the 11th December 2016 by JB: The site visit is scheduled for 11 am on the 13th December 2016. Contrary to what was said at the Planning Committee meeting reported below, the Planning Committee will then meet in the Civic Hall (1st floor) at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED on the 15th December 2016 starting at 6.00 p.m. in order to decide on this planning application.

Last night’s Planning Committee at Wirral Council was another event in the long running political saga that is the attempts to start a new fire station at Saughall Massie and close Upton Fire Station and West Kirby Fire Station.

Committee Rooms 1 and 2 which were the venue for the Planning Committee at Wallasey Town Hall were both full (standing room only as you can see from the picture above) and Committee Room 3 in another part of the building was being used as an overflow.

Dan Stephens QFSM (Chief Fire Officer for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service/Chief Executive for the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) was looking very smartly dressed in what I will describe as his ceremonial uniform. He was there with what I will describe as an entourage of people from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service including Ria Groves (Trainee Solicitor) and Colin Schofield (PFI Project Manager (part of his job is to manage the Saughall Massie Fire Station project)). Dan Stephens QFSM and his entourage stood near the door.

Also present were the three local councillors for Moreton West and Saughall Massie ward (Cllr Chris Blakeley, Cllr Steve Williams and Cllr Bruce Berry). They have opposed this planning application along with groups such as the Saughall Massie Village Conservation Area Society and the Wirral Society.

The vocal and public disagreements about this political issue between Cllr Chris Blakeley and Dan Stephens QFSM are mainly already on the public record, well documented and have been reported on by myself before and others, so I’m not going to rehash in detail the rather long history of the matter here.

I will briefly state however that Wirral Council withdrew its offer of land for this at Greasby which is what led to Saughall Massie being proposed. The effect of that is it has given some people hope that people power can overturn the previous cross-party political consensus behind it.

Also I had better point out that there was a rather long running First-tier Tribunal case in which I was the Appellant about the financial breakdown of expenditure for the new fire station first at Greasby, then Saughall Massie.

Present at the Planning Committee was Alan Rundle who had exchanged letters with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about a proposed judicial review before the Greasby plans were abandoned for very similar issues to those that the First-tier Tribunal (in case EA/162016/160054) covered.

However in summary, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority have estimated £300,000* to pay Wirral Council for the land and an estimated £550,000 from the sale of the fire stations at Upton and West Kirby. To build a new fire station will cost an estimated £3.7 million (I’m not including the figure for the land in that), with £1.5 million offset by a government grant. The complete capital cost breakdown was not made public prior to the two twelve-week consultations (first on Greasby, then on Saughall Massie) that Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service ran on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s behalf.

* estimates were made for sale and purchase prices in 2015

For those who were turned away from the Planning Committee meeting (which was also what happened at some of the consultation meetings) video I took of last night’s Planning Committee meeting is below. However as the Saughall Massie Fire Station planning application has attracted a certain degree of public interest I include a transcript of what was said at the meeting on the matter below too.

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Planning Committee (Wirral Council) 10th November 2016 Part 1 of 4 (the discussion on the Saughall Massie Fire Station planning application APP/16/00985 starts at 4:26)

The discussion starts at agenda item 3 (site visits) which starts at the 4m:26s point in the video above.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):        OK, are there any requests for site visits? Steve?

CLLR STEVE FOULKES:        Errm Chair, sorry with your indulgence and err errm with some trepidation, errm I’d like to move site visits on two sites errm.

The least err controversial one I think might be item 13 which is err Pipistrelle Rise which is well-known to Planning Committee and has one with a varied planning history, it’s a very unusual site given it’s site levels. So I’d therefore request that we have a site visit before we make any decision on that matter.

[5:00]

The next one is errm item 9, which is the err fire station, as you referred to Chair. I think it’s fairly obvious to any elected Member the level of concern and the public interest in this debate and I think it would be better for all elected Members who are making that decision to be forewarned, forearmed with an actual site visit and the layout of the area.

Secondly I think it will be plenty of time for us to get arrange as they said in Jaws, “I think we need a bigger boat!” Err, I think we need a bigger room, if we can arrange that in time for the next err meeting it would make it better for the public to engage with us.

I don’t expect people to be in a standing position for any length of time, I find it errm, it is of a matter of great public interest that we do have a site visit. I’m hoping errm, if we have brought you out on a winter’s night for to no avail, but it’s not unusual that applications of this type to have a site visit, so I will move a site visit on that matter.

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Chair?

[6:00]

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         OK, can I take you first?

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Chair, I endorse what Councillor Foulkes has said, but particularly in terms of where we have the meeting next time to discuss the fire application, can I suggest that we try and find a venue in Moreton/Saughall Massie to allow as many people as possible in that area to attend?

*LOUD CHEERING AND APPLAUSE*

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Can I explain why Chair just for a moment? Clearly the number of people here tonight would be you know they’ve come along to take part in the democratic process to see how they make a decision.

There will be other people in that area, who haven’t been able to get here.

To drag everybody, these people again late December, can I propose we try and find a venue nearer to the site to consider this application, as an exceptional application?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         I think you know the only thing that I would say you know and I totally agree with what you’re saying there and if we can do that we should but in terms of we need to have the right systems in place, wherever it’s going to be.

We need to have the visual and the sound system, if we could find a venue

[7:00]

that will support that, then I’m happy for it to be there.

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         OK, thank you very much.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         We may actually need to consider whether it’s a one item agenda,

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         Yes, ok.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         as well so we will look into that. So we’ll see if we can find a venue, that is suitable and if we can then we will move it to that area.

CLLR IAN LEWIS:         OK, thanks Chair.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         David?

CLLR DAVID ELDERTON:         Yeah thanks Chair, just to endorse I totally support it, the move to

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         We can’t hear you!

CLLR DAVID ELDERTON:         controversial development, which will give a full opportunity for people to see

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         David, David, sorry David could you start again?

CLLR DAVID ELDERTON:         Apologies for that, errm I totally endorse the move by Councillor Foulkes to have the site visit for number nine. It is essential that we get the widest possible publicity and transparency ‌in making sure we end up with the right decision. So I do endorse that.

My quick reason for speaking at this time of course is to ask for a site visit on item twelve, which is Stone Hive, Darmonds Green, West Kirby. That is it looks a simple site in

[8:00]

terms of the application agenda we’ve got but it’s far more complex than it would appear on paper. So no doubt we will benefit from having a site visit for that particular development before we make a decision to approve or refuse it. Thank you Chair.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):        OK, are there any others? OK, if I could just read those three out that have been requested and get Committee’s approval?

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         Excuse me, can I ask a question?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Sorry no you can’t ask.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         It’s just about site visits.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         If I don’t cover it, then I’m sure we’ll get someone to cover the answer for you, but I may very well cover it in a moment for you.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         Can I just mention the site visit, …

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         I’m sorry, I’m sorry, if, I’m sorry can I, can you just listen to what I’m about to say and then if it’s not covered then we’ll get somebody to cover it for you.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         OK.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Agenda item 9 which is land adjacent to Saughall Massie Road, errm agenda item 12, which is Stone Hive, Darmonds Green, West Kirby and agenda item

[9:00]

13 Pipistrelle Rise, Noctorum. Are the Committee happy to have all those as site visits?

COUNCILLORS:         Absolutely.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):        can I suggest that we have a site visit on Tuesday 13th of December? And we’ll meet at the Town Hall at 10 am?

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         What time?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         There’s, we will be meeting at 10am and then going to the various sites, so there will be a different time allocated for each of these sites. It’s normally twenty minutes to half an hour for each site, depending on how long we’ve got to travel, but it will be publicised and the agents will be advised of exactly what time that will be.

And the ward councillors will be also be advised.

CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY:         Chair, can I just raise a point to raise what’s been raised by Councillor Lewis, if you’re going to use a one item agenda for the fire station at a err location nearer to the site, in Saughall Massie, will the site visit

[10:00]

still be on the 13th? And will the meeting then, when will the meeting be?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Err, well we don’t know all of that detail at the moment so, Councillor Blakeley because we don’t know whether we’ll be moving the venue, whether it will be a one item agenda, so as soon as we are aware of that we will make it known.

CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY:         Thank you Chair.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         OK, thank you. As the lady was asking the question, has your question been covered?

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         Can I, I think if we do have a meeting whether here or Saughall Massie, we’ll be doing comparisons with the Upton fire station and I don’t know about West Kirby, but certainly it refers to Upton so maybe we should consider visiting both of those, if you’re able to ..?

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         We can only consider the one application, which is before us I’m afraid.

MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC:         OK.

CLLR ANITA LEECH (CHAIR):         Thank you for your comment. Anybody who would like to leave now, please feel free to do so because we will not be discussing those items this evening and thank you for your attendance.

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All Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority councillors voted to close Upton and West Kirby fire stations and apply for planning permission for a new fire station in Saughall Massie

All Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority councillors voted to close Upton and West Kirby fire stations and apply for planning permission for a new fire station in Saughall Massie

All Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority councillors voted to close Upton and West Kirby fire stations and apply for planning permission for a new fire station in Saughall Massie

                                                           

Les Spencer of the Saughall Massie Conservation Area Society addresses the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority on why they are opposed to a new fire station in Saughall Massie
Les Spencer of the Saughall Massie Conservation Area Society addresses the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority on why they are opposed to a new fire station in Saughall Massie

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Above is video footage of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting of the 30th June 2015.

The agenda and reports for this meeting can be found on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s website.

Les Spencer, Chairman of the Saughall Massie Conservation Area Society spoke for five minutes at the meeting detailing why they disagreed with the plan to build a new fire station in Saughall Massie.

He said, “My name’s Les Spencer and I’m the chairman of the Saughall Massie Village Conservation Area Society and I’m communicating the majority view of the householders and members who are opposing the plan you can see here today, namely to build a new fire station on green belt land adjacent to our Conservation Area and directly opposite a listed grade II historic stone bridge.

Time does not permit me to present the full extent of our opposition, but we hope you will appreciate the argument is not as black and white as the Chief Fire Officer has been suggesting. At this moment I am unable to fully illustrate the impact of loss of amenity, use, breach of green belt policy, habitat loss, public nuisance to adjacent sheltered housing and a projected drop in nearby property values estimated at ten percent, I have prioritised other concerns.

The Chief Fire Officer has repeatedly stressed that there is no alternative operational response, no plan B. The intention to build in this location has been presented as a matter of dire public safety for residents impacted by the closure of the West Kirby station.

I hesitate to describe his tone as scaremongering but that’s how it seemed at times. As the Committee should be aware the West Kirby/Hoylake/Meols area has had no cover from the West Kirby station for half of the last two years as it has been operationally closed for half of every week with call-outs covered from Upton. Presumably a risk assessment was conducted by the Fire Authority and it was felt that closure for approximately 180 days a year didn’t unacceptably compromise residential safety in the West Kirby area. Indeed we believe that call-out response times of ten minutes from Upton to the area concerned is broadly comparable to national averages and to many other parts of Merseyside.

Why is it currently acceptable to provide fire and emergency cover from Upton, but apparently of such critical importance to do it from a proposed Saughall Massie green belt site in the future?

If it is felt that response times from Upton to West Kirby need shortening, then why doesn’t the Fire Authority use one smaller targeted response vehicle to complement the larger appliances on a consolidated improved site at Upton? This would cost a lot less than the £4.2 million anticipated for the Saughall Massie station.

Like the ambulance services these vehicles can be on standby, on the road awaiting call outs and updates from Upton. Why is it that Merseyside, which is one of the largest UK fire authorities still sends out fully manned larger appliances to minor call outs? Is there internal union resistance to more flexible operational responses? Is this reliant upon large appliances dictating operational restructure in this case.

It is clear that Merseyside Fire Authority have set a precedent that cover from West Kirby can be safely provided from Upton, so there is despite what the Chief Fire Officer says an option B and that’s closing West Kirby and redeveloping Upton.

There’s also a plan C and that’s to employ a smaller targeted response vehicle to supplement cover from Upton. This development completely hinges upon getting permission to build on green belt land. Emergency services can seek planning permission on green belt land if they can prove very special circumstances and only where there are no alternatives. We contend that there is a workable alternative and that is based on the redevelopment of Upton but for whatever reason this hasn’t been fully publically debated.

There are also financial aspects of this development that seem to compromise public perceptions of transparency and suggest conflicts of interest in the planning process. There is clearly a conflict of interest that the sellers of the Saughall Massie land are Wirral Council whose officers will adjudicate approval of any planning application and also whether very special circumstances are actually present.

The land is currently worthless but with planning will be much more valuable. What price and terms have been agreed for the Fire Authority to acquire this land? Who will actually pay for it Merseyside Fire Authority or via grant from central government? How much capital inflow does the Authority expect from the sales of West Kirby and Upton?

Forgive us for being cynical but would the drivers for this development be mostly financial and the perceived safety needs of West Kirby residents a convenience to justify the development? The Fire Authority stands to gain the resale revenue of Upton and West Kirby and Wirral Council might be receiving a commercial price for an otherwise worthless piece of land.

From a cashflow position that seems like a win for everyone other than the local residents. Furthermore we gather this scheme in principle has been approved by central government through a £1.49 million DCLG grant, but might that be predicated upon an exaggeration of the dangers of longer response times to West Kirby? Do the grant providers know that an adequate service is already being provided from Upton for 50% of each week and that redevelopment of Upton would cost the public purse a fraction of the £4.2 million total cost of a new Saughall Massie station.

Our feeling is that very special circumstances might be being inflated to circumvent green belt protection and to achieve financial restructuring benefits and access to central government grants. It looks as though special circumstances are further being boosted by attempts to involve Merseyside Police and the North West Ambulance Service as subsidiary tenants. However neither party has shown any expression of interest so I hope they will be excluded from the planning consideration.

Much is said about the health and safety benefits to West Kirby by moving to Saughall Massie but what of the lengthening response times from Upton, the primary dangers are to Arrowe Park Hospital.”

At this point Councillor Leslie T Byrom (who is Vice-Chair and was chairing the meeting as the Chair was absent) pointed out that Les Spencer had used up his five minutes. Councillor Lesley Rennie asked for more time but Councillor Byrom refused to any extra time for Les Spencer.

The Vice-Chair then asked if there was anyone with a contrary view to what had been said?

Tommy Hughes, Vice-Chair Merseyside Fire Brigades Union speaking at the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting on the 30th June 2015
Tommy Hughes, Vice-Chair Merseyside Fire Brigades Union speaking at the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting on the 30th June 2015

Tommy Hughes, Vice Chair of Merseyside Fire Brigades Union indicated he wished to speak. He apologised for Mark Rowe as Mark Rowe couldn’t make it as he was in a committee meeting but said that the comments he was about to make reflected the viewpoint of Merseyside Fire Brigades Union.

Mr Hughes said, “The Fire Brigades Union I’d first of all like to state always supports local communities when we come together to fit unnecessary and damaging cuts to essential services. Yet we do in this instance agree with the Chief Fire Officer and with the Fire Authority that fire stations staffed with firefighters twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week is the most effective way to immediately deploy firefighters into their communities to save and preserve life.

We also agree that fire engines staffed with five firefighters is the safest and most efficient way to deal with the multitude of different rescue scenarios that firefighters can face every day of their working lives. Therefore the FBU are committed to defend whole time fire cover in Merseyside and also to fight to protect safe and effective crewing levels.

On a purely professional level and as firefighters, we are fundamentally opposed to the use of small fire units or target response vehicles. Their very name gives an insight to the limitations of these vehicles. They can only safely and effectively deal with small fires. What they do is they divert valuable funding away from maintaining fully staffed and crucially fully equipped fire appliances.

Firefighters clearly need the correct tools for the job to carry out effective rescues, wherever and whenever that may need to be the case. Sending firefighters to emergency incidents in transit vans or in cars severely limits what we’re able to do when we arrive at those incidents. I’m sure that you want to debate that it is no cliché that in these situations every second really does count. Every firefighter on every station in the country would echo those views.

I’d also like to say it’s not your firefighters, it’s not the Chief Fire Officer and it’s not the Authority who have caused this situation to arise. It’s the government who have forced this situation, it’s the government who have forced this situation on the fire service and on the communities of Greasby and Saughall Massie.

In light of recent events in Europe and North Africa and the potential for terrorist attacks in the UK, these cuts I’m sure you’d agree look even more dangerous. That’s why the Fire Brigades Union are committed to fighting these cuts both locally and nationally although we do fear there is yet worse to come. Thanks Chair. ”

In a later part of the meeting councillors (see picture below) voted to close Upton and West Kirby fire stations. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service will now apply to Wirral Council for planning permission for a new fire station on the Saughall Massie site.

Councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (30th June 2015) voting in favour of closure of Upton and West Kirby fire stations and asking Wirral Council for the land and planning permission for a new fire station in Saughall Massie
Councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (30th June 2015) voting in favour of closure of Upton and West Kirby fire stations and asking Wirral Council for the land and planning permission for a new fire station in Saughall Massie

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