New blue light emergency hub gets planning permission - despite councillors' previous objections

MK Council has granted planning permission for a blue light hub that will involve the closure of two city fire stations.

Thursday, 12th January 2017, 10:42 am
Updated Thursday, 12th January 2017, 10:47 am

The new £4.4m centralised facility at West Ashland, once criticised as a “shallow and weak” proposal by the council leader, will house more than 200 fire, police and ambulance staff.

It has been hailed by Bucks fire service as a landmark project that will provide excellent service and value for money to the public.

But the journey to achieve permission has not been a smooth one.

When the plan was first aired in 2015, MK Council opposed it on the grounds that fire stations at Bletchley and Great Holm would have to close.

Councillors decided this could have a “significant effect” on fire cover in north, west and central Milton Keynes.

The Fire Brigades Union was also anti, predicting response times could double if the blue light hub went ahead.

A public consultation exercise showed 89 per cent of respondents were against the scrapping of the two fire stations. However, only 0.5 per cent of the MK population actually took part in the online questionnaire.

The blue light hub plan also sparked a heated debate at a fire authority meeting a year ago.

A packed public gallery at the civic offices saw the debate become political, with Labour firmly against and Tories more in favour.

MK council leader Peter Marland urged the Conservative-dominated fire authority NOT to reach a decision at the meeting.

He criticised the research into response times from the new hub as “shallow and weak”, and asked that the vote be delayed while more investigations were carried out.

Vociferous in her objections was Labour councillor Zoe Nolan, who said: “Milton Keynes has already voted clearly to say no to this. If this proposal was in the hands of Milton Keynes Council, it would have been kicked out ages ago.”

But the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire authority voted the proposal through, with only four members voting against.

They assuring protesters that response times from the new West Ashland location would not suffer

This week the council’s attitude changed completely and councillors voted to grant planning consent to the new development.

Delighted fire authority chairman Adrian Busby told the Citizen: “This is a landmark project that creates a template for the future delivery of emergency services, sharing facilities to reduce costs and provide better value for money for members of the public.

“It is a fantastic step forward and I commend the councillors in Milton Keynes Council for approving this application.”

Mr Busby added: “How very fitting that in the 50th anniversary year of the city of Milton Keynes it is leading the way in its innovative approach to the design and delivery of public services.”

A procurement exercise is underway to secure a contractor to deliver the new facility.

The contract is due to be awarded soon and the project completed in 2018. It is supported £2.8 million transformation fund grant from the government.