Merseyside’s chief fire officer is aiming to appeal to the government over Wirral council’s shock decision to refuse a new community fire station to serve West Kirby and Hoylake.
In a two-pronged challenge, fire chief Dan Stephens also wants to revise and resubmit to the council the fire authority’s plans for the fire station at Saughall Massie.
West Kirby fire station has been phased out because of government budget cuts, and the fire authority wants to close Upton fire station too and create the new site on Saughall Massie Road, a location which would provide the fairest degree of emergency cover to the whole area.
If the new fire station is not built, West Kirby and in particular Hoylake will face some of the worst emergency response times on Merseyside – costing vital minutes in situations where seconds can make the difference between life and death.
Local protesters have been fighting the plan for the site, which sits on wasteland on the edge of the Green Belt, alongside a housing estate.
Council planning officers recommended that the plan should be approved – but at a stormy meeting last month attended by a large number of angry Saughall Massie residents opposed to the fire station, the plan was thrown out after an address by ward councillor Chris Blakeley.
Mr Stephens says Cllr Blakeley’s speech contained “numerous factual inaccuracies”. Thanks to a procedural ploy by Cllr Blakeley, Mr Stephens was denied the opportunity to speak to the committee to respond before the critical vote was taken.
In a report to go before next week’s meeting of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, Mr Stephens sets out his case for appealing to the Secretary of State and resubmitting the planning application.
He also addresses the alleged inaccuracies Cllr Blakeley made at the planning meeting. These included “spurious” claims about a “perceived detrimental impact” on Arrowe Park Hospital and a claim that response times from Upton to West Kirby would be within national guidelines which no longer existed.
He said Cllr Blakeley’s claim that the Saughall Massie site would be two minutes further from Upton was wrong, as the new site was within the Upton catchment area. The average response time across Upton’s existing area would be one minute longer – but that would still be one minute faster than the overall Merseyside average.
“In simple terms this is the equivalent of moving from extremely fast response times to very fast response times,” says Mr Stephens.
Mr Stephens adds that Cllr Blakeley made several references to a negative impact on Thingwall, Irby and Pensby – areas which are in fact served by Heswall fire station and not affected by the plan.
He says while Merseyside fire authority had adopted a ten minute response standard in 2013 as a direct result of budget cuts, it aspired to a five minute emergency response time where possible, with all available research showing the relationship between response times and survivability.
“The faster the fire crew can arrive and intervene at an incident the greater the likelihood that persons involved will survive. This can be measured in seconds rather than minutes, so a delay of 120 seconds could easily make the difference between someone surviving a life risk incident, or not.
“Survivability decreases significantly beyond ten minutes. There are parts of the West Kirby station area, including within Hoylake and Meols, that cannot be reached from Upton fire station in ten minutes.
“The average response time to the West Kirby station area from Upton is in excess of eight minutes, which is three minutes longer than the Merseyside average and much closer to ten minutes than almost everywhere else on Merseyside.”
Mr Stephens says that by lodging the appeal and resubmitting the planning application the fire authority will have done all in its power to provide the best response times possible to save lives in an emergency.
He concludes: “In pursuing the options outlined in this report the Authority will be able to demonstrate to a Coroner and much more importantly the family of the deceased, that they will have done all they could to prevent the death of their loved ones.”