Evidence from Call-In Witnesses
- Meeting of Call-In Meeting, Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday, 8th December 2010 6.15 p.m. (Item 98.)
Mr J Parr – Proponent of Hoylake Lifeboat Museum
Mr Parr circulated various documents in support of his proposals for the establishment of a Lifeboat Museum in the former Hoylake Lifeboat building. He commented that, as a lifeboat enthusiast, he had for some considerable time envisaged the establishment of such a museum in Hoylake, given the historic association with the lifeboat service in the area. He had already amassed various unique artefacts, which would form the basis of the proposed museum. These included two lifeboats of national significance that were on the Register of Historic Vessels – the last Hilbre Island lifeboat ‘Chapman’ and Hoylake’s last Liverpool-type lifeboat ‘Thomas Corbett’.
Mr Parr claimed widespread local support for the museum project both from individuals and a number of groups, including the RNLI, Friends of Hilbre, Hoylake Civic Society and Kings Gap Conservation Area Residents. He stated that a museum of this type would be unique on the North West coast and, in order to highlight the level of public support, he referred to the huge support for the Hoylake Lifeboat Open Day, which was the best supported in the UK. He suggested also that other commercial uses that were being considered were not acceptable to the local community and would result in significant opposition. The former Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, which previously owned the building, had agreed to look favourably on the proposal for a museum. However, since assuming ownership, Peel Ports had demonstrated that they wished to secure a financial return for the property. He claimed that the agents acting for Peel only had authority to work towards a commercial sale and that it had been a breakdown in communications in relation to further negotiations that had resulted in the Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources agreeing to dispose of the Council owned land.
In the period since the last call-in, Mr Parr had identified a number of people with expertise in key areas, who had agreed to give their time, in order to ensure the success of the project. He had also secured financial backing for the scheme and he submitted for Members consideration a Letter of Intent from Hylgar Properties Limited, which indicated their willingness to fund in full the purchase of the lifeboat station buildings and to lease them long term at cost, not for profit, to a Museum Trust. In response to questions from Members, he confirmed that the project was not dependent upon heritage lottery funding. With regard to the Council owned land, he hoped that the Council would let it to the museum trust at a peppercorn rent, as it had previously to the RNLI, so as to allow the Lifeboat Museum to be self financing. He envisaged that revenue would be raised by way of gift and souvenir sales, a tea bar or small cafeteria, sponsorship arrangements and charitable donations, once charitable status had been obtained.
Members commented that it now appeared that, by inviting expressions of interest, Peel Ports had indicated their intention to sell the lifeboat buildings regardless of what the Council proposed to do in relation to its land. As a result, the buildings could be sold and the Council could lose an opportunity to sell its surplus land. Mr Parr accepted that that was the reality of the situation and he hoped that Peel would choose to accept his offer. He indicated that if the decision of the Council was that it intended to pursue the sale of its land, he was confident that his financial backer would also support its purchase to enable the museum project to succeed.
Councillor Geoffrey Watt
Councillor Watt informed the Committee that he was a resident of West Kirby and had strong family ties with Hoylake. His main leisure activity, for many years, was sailing off the Hoylake coast and he was an officer of the Hoylake Sailing Club. He supported the proposals for a Lifeboat Museum at the site and did not agree with the decision to declare the Council owned land adjacent to the lifeboat building as surplus to requirements. Its long term value to the local community was greater than a one off income from a sale of the site and he commented that consultancy reports, which had considered how best to upgrade and improve the promenade had indicated that the land should be retained for public use. In response to earlier comments, he indicated that the yellow lines close to the buildings were only there to allow for the safe operation of the lifeboat. Accordingly, he suggested that they could now be removed.
Mr C Moore – Chair, Kings Gap Conservation Area Advisory Committee
Mr Moore advised the Committee that the buildings and land were located within the Kings Gap Conservation Area. Although the buildings were not listed, the original building, dating to 1899, was notable and included a crenellated brick tower. The local community had always had an allegiance to its lifeboats and their crews and he commented that the building maintained a tangible link to Hoylake’s maritime heritage. Mr Moore gave his unequivocal support for the project. He was aware of the other uses that were being considered and indicated that the proposed Lifeboat Museum was by far the best use for the premises and it had the full support of local residents.
In response to comments from Members in relation to the appropriate use of the buildings and land, the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management indicated that these were planning matters and outside the jurisdiction of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He emphasised that the powers of the committee were either to endorse the decision of the Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources to dispose of the Council owned land, or to refer the matter back to the Cabinet for further consideration.