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