Angry campaigners say councillors who gave the go-ahead for a fire station in the greenbelt “looked like a bunch of people they’d invited in off the street!”.

Friends of North Chester Greenbelt believe members of the strategic planning committee who unanimously backed a Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service plan for an operational hub at Mollington rubber-stamped cuts in fire cover at the expense of the green barrier.

The scheme must now go to government’s national planning casework unit for a final decision as a departure from green belt policy.

Friends’ spokesman Andy Scargill said afterwards: “I have got more and more angry. There was virtually no mention made of the greenbelt. The committee looked like a bunch of people they’d invited in off the street! They are supposed to be trained in planning law for goodness sake.

“They had been told by two speakers of the presence of alternative (and better) sites but totally ignored these facts.”

Campaigner Andy Scargill
Campaigner Andy Scargill
 

Ex-council planner Ray McHale, a trade unionist, told the meeting the “very special circumstances” asserted by the planning officer to justify green belt intrusion didn’t exist.

He said: “This proposal is about reducing the four full time pumps – two at Chester and two at Ellesmere Port – to three full time pumps and the other one staffed on an on call basis. It says the full time pump moved from Chester to this station could reach half of Chester within ten minutes, however, currently based in Chester it can reach all of Chester within ten minutes. So there is no service improvement.”

He said proximity to the motorway network was “a clear aim” but the M53 couldn’t be accessed directly from this site.

Visiting member Cllr Neil Sullivan said the scheme was inappropriate development in the green belt and was concerned about leaving just one fire engine at Chester Fire Station in case of “a major fire in our Rows and historic centre”.

He wondered why, if only one appliance would be located at the hub, the building featured five bays and a training tower.

Richard Ost, assistant chief fire officer, told the meeting that contrary to reports the fire authority had no plans to close Chester and Ellesmere Port fire stations after the hub had opened. “The proposed development is supported by the council and the statutory consultees and represents a chance to improve response times to life risk incidents in this part of Cheshire,” he said.

Planning committee member Cllr Angela Claydon said: “I think this is a good move to move it out, to move it away from where all the traffic is to where it is most needed. A lot of us get the fire reports and we see where the fire brigade go and there are fewer house fires but more and more road accidents to sadly have to cut people out.”

Cllr Margaret Parker said: “I don’t think there are any more special circumstances than saving lives.”