Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service are considering appealing to the government after councillors refused to grant them planning permission for a new station in Saughall Massie.
West Kirby fire station is being phased out because of government spending cuts, and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service wanted to close Upton Fire Station too and build a replacement for both in Saughall Massie Road.
The fire service argued that a new fire station in Saughall Massie would give West Kirby and Hoylake better response times than relying on Upton – saving minutes which the fire service said could save lives in an emergency.
But the site is on the edge of the Green Belt, and Saughall Massie residents campaigned to block the proposal.
Chair of Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority, Councillor Dave Hanratty, said: “The Authority is very disappointed with the Planning Committee’s decision.
“We are extremely concerned that this decision results in an avoidable increase in response times in the Hoylake and West Kirby areas and we believe that lives will be put at risk as a result.
“In an emergency situation, literally every second counts and the selection of Saughall Massie was based on achieving the best possible response times under the circumstances. Ongoing budget cuts have impacted the Service significantly and it is becoming ever harder for us to provide the service the public quite rightly expect from their fire and rescue service.
“We will do all in our power to maintain some of the fastest response times in the country however there are no options available to us that do not adversely affect our speed and weight of attack. Our intention has only ever been to ensure the safety of residents in West Wirral and across Merseyside.”
Around a hundred campaigners, who cheered as the decision was made, crowded into Wallasey Town Hall last night for a rowdy planning committee meeting at which the fire station plan was up for discussion, with planning officers recommending that it should be given the green light.
The committee’s chair, Councillor Anita Leech, had to repeatedly remind members of the planning committee that the debate should be non-political after a series of rows broke out between councillors from opposing political parties (see how your local councillors voted below).
She also had to stop the meeting on several occasions as members of the public interrupted the debate with booing and heckling.
The committee heard that Merseyside Fire Service was concerned about emergency response times of up to 10 minutes 2 seconds to parts of West Kirby and Hoylake from Upton Fire Station.
While guidelines suggest response times must be within 10 minutes, the Merseyside average is only 5 minutes.
Saughall Massie councillor Chris Blakeley, argued that the longer emergency response times did not constitute special circumstances to build on greenbelt land, which is adjacent to sheltered accommodation for elderly and vulnerable people.
He also raised concerns that the country roads between Saughall Massie and West Kirby, Hoylake and Meols were unsuitable for emergency vehicles.
Due to planning committee rules, Merseyside’s fire chief was not allowed a right of reply to any of the points made by Councillor Blakeley at the meeting.
A slim majority of planning committee members, including the local councillors for West Kirby and Thurstaston and Hoylake and Meols, voted to refuse the decision after hearing Councillor Blakeley’s submissions.
The Authority will now consider an appeal to the Secretary of State as it feels this decision has significant implications for the safety of people across West Wirral and more broadly Merseyside.
This is not the first time, councillors have blocked the fire authority’s plans for a new station to cover West Kirby and Hoylake. In 2014, the council also withdrew permission for a new station in Greasby after complaints from local residents.
How did your local councillor vote?
Voting to REFUSE the fire Station:
David Elderton, Conservative, West Kirby and Thurstaston
Eddie Boult, Conservative, Hoylake and Meols
Kathy Hodson, Conservative, Heswall
Ian Lewis, Conservative, Wallasey
Stuart Kelly, Liberal Democrat, Oxton
Pat Cleary, Green, Birkenhead and Tranmere
Anita Leech, Labour (Chair) Leasowe and Moreton East.
Voting to ALLOW the fire station:
Steve Foulkes, Labour, Claughton
Treena Johnson, Labour, Leasowe and Moreton East
Joe Walsh, Labour, Bromborough
Irene Williams, Labour, Bromborough
Denise Realey, Labour, Prenton
Angela Davies, Labour, Prenton
The decision for the refusal in full
“Having regards to location of the development proposed and the proximity to residential properties and the nature of the activities proposed, particularly with regards to the sudden and/or emergency nature of activities, together with the character of the local highway network, the Council considers that the proposal would result in harm to the visual amenities of the Green Belt, the character of the area and the amenities of neighbouring residents and the wider locality. Therefore, the development would be contrary to Policy GB2 of the Wirral Unitary Development Plan and the principles of the National Planning Policy Framework.”