Merseyside’s fire and rescue authority chairman today accused Wirral councillors of “playing politics with people’s lives” by blocking plans for a new fire station to serve West Wirral.
The fire authority unanimously agreed to resubmit their plans for a fire station at Saughall Massie to Wirral council, and to appeal to the Secretary of State over the rejected planning application.
Fire authority chairman Cllr Dave Hanratty, who had attended the December Wirral planning meeting at which the fire station plan was rejected, today delivered a stinging rebuke about the “despicable” way it had been politically manipulated.
Saughall Massie ward councillor Chris Blakeley spoke against the fire station for more than 20 minutes at the Wirral meeting – but because petitioners fighting the plan chose not to speak, Merseyside Fire Chief Dan Stephens was denied the right to address the meeting in response and challenge a series of inaccuracies in Cllr Blakeley’s comments.
Today Mr Stephens put the record straight on those inaccuracies – as Councillor Blakeley watched from the public gallery – and pointed out that the appeal and new application will cost council taxpayers just over £100,000.
West Kirby fire station is being closed because of government spending cuts, and the plan is to close Upton fire station and provide the new station on Saughall Massie Road – saving a potentially life-saving two minutes on average response times to West Kirby and Hoylake.
The site is on the edge of the Green Belt, and has been the subject of a vociferous local campaign by Saughall Massie residents culminating in the planning meeting last month with around 200 protesters in the public gallery.
Fire authority chairman Dave Hanratty said it “beggared belief” that Wirral planning committee had rejected the application, against the advice of its own planning officers as well as the chief fire officer.
“Some of the comments made that night by certain councillors were misleading, were totally wrong, and may have influenced – did influence – the outcome of that decision,” he said.
“As an emergency service, all the information that has been presented to date has been correct, factual and evidence based. That can’t be said for quite a number of comments that were made at the planning committee by certain members of the council.
“For the chief fire officer to be denied the opportunity to present an argument as an emergency service, considering the nature of what we do, was absolutely despicable.”
Cllr Hanratty said the elation displayed by some of those present when the plan was rejected was “an absolute disgrace”. “I’ve been a member and a vice chairman of a planning committee for many years and I have never known councillors deliberately manipulate the constitution of their local authority.”
“What happened that night was despicable, what happened that night was politically motivated, and what happened that night was playing politics with people’s lives.
“Those people who were responsible for it should hang their heads in shame. The reason why the fire and rescue authority have had to make this decision is a direct consequence of the cuts.”
He added: “If we were to close West Kirby outright and just continue to work from Upton certain residents of West Kirby are going to be left where, in the event of a fire, having to wait that extra two or two and a half minutes could put them at a greater risk of having a fatal fire in their property.
“It’s suggested that over 3,000 people signed a petition against this application, and there may have been somewhere in the region of 200 people present. You can’t tell me that not one of those individuals wished to make any comment against this application.
“It was politically manoeuvred, it was politically manipulated, it was abuse of the council’s constitution and it was totally wrong.
“This fire station was a decision of the authority in 2015, and it should have been built and in service by now. We will resubmit the application, and I hope that next time it will be successful and that next time there won’t be any political manoeuvrings or shenanigans and that next time the chief fire officer will be able to present the case and be questioned by elected members on that committee.”