Monday, 23 November 2020

Old fire station could go to retirement homes trust

Old fire station could go to retirement homes trust

THE former fire station in Wargave could be taken over by a retirement homes complex.

The building in Victoria Road has been offered for use by the village surgery and Elizabeth Court, which are both in the same street.

The surgery has said it is not suitable for its needs but the trustees responsible for the sheltered housing complex say they are “extremely serious” about exploring potential uses.

The station was decommissioned by the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority after being closed in July.

The authority said it was keen for the building to remain in community use, so asked Wargrave Parish Council if it would be interested in taking over responsibility for it.

The council passed on the offer to both the surgery and the Wargrave Housing Association trustees.

The authority would require payment for the building but it is not clear how much.

Speaking at a parish council meeting, chairman Dick Bush said: “If we don’t want it ourselves, I think we should say that we will be there to support others that may want it to provide something for the community. We can offer our assistance should they need it.”

Stan Thompson, chairman of the housing association, said: “We have registered our interest in the purchase of this building with the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority. This is purely speculative at this stage as the trustees have not met to discuss the viability of the purchase, or options on how the site may be developed. Once we have some indication from the authority on the disposal price, the trustees will meet to discuss their options.

“Any future plans would be structured around our existing core values for Elizabeth Court, which is to support the Wargrave community in helping those family members who are of retirement age to live independently within close proximity of their families.

“Covid-19 has heaped enormous pressure on family dynamics and it has been fantastic to witness how the existing residents of Elizabeth Court and their family members and friends have come together to support each other through these challenging times.

“The fire station is such an integrated building within the overall Elizabeth Court complex and it makes good sense to keep a close interest in its disposal and we are extremely serious about our involvement.”

Stephen Collier, who is practice manager at Wargrave Surgery, declined to comment. But a spokesman for the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The team at Wargrave Surgery have looked at the fire station building but have come to the conclusion that it isn’t really suitable to meet their long-term clinical or admin needs.”

Angus Ross, lead member for strategic assets on the fire authority, said the building was no longer needed by the fire service.

He continued: “The authority wishes to expedite future plans for the property in order to reduce the financial burden and maximise the site utility. Members were keen to ensure any remaining community uses were discounted prior to further progression towards the disposal of the site.”

He asked the parish council to identify any “viable and financially sustainable” uses and to confirm whether or not it was interested by November 17.

Councillor Ross added: “Of course, if your council was keen to consider use of the site, then we would agree to more time to prepare a more detailed case for any proposal by the end of the year.”

Graham Howe, who represents Wargrave on Wokingham Borough Council and is a member of the fire authority, said public bodies had to go through a process when disposing of unwanted buildings.

“They’re looking for money for it,” he said. “At my urging, I said that the people in charge of strategic assets should write to the parish council and see if it had an interest that could be registered and negotiated.”

The closure of the fire station was part of a cost-cutting exercise by the authority, which needed to make up for a budget shortfall of £284,000. The firefighters were offered positions at other stations.

Before it closed, the station was the oldest and smallest in Berkshire, having opened in 1903.

The fire authority first talked about closing it three years ago but the station was given several reprieves following a campaign to save it by residents and the parish council.

It was first recommended for closure in April 2017 but the decision was delayed by 12 months in order to give the fire crew time to improve their availability.

The decision was delayed for nine months in October 2018 and again in December last year for a period of six months as the general election was about to take place.

The decision to finally close the station came after the crew failed to achieve their availability target of 60 per cent.

In May, the figure was only 2.8 per cent and the majority of incidents in Wargrave were dealt with by crews from elsewhere.

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