Wirral councillors clash over who's to blame for town hall's 'Downton Abbey' staircase (From Wirral Globe)
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Wirral councillors clash over who's to blame for town hall's 'Downton Abbey' staircase
PLANS for a new staircase for Wallasey Town Hall costing £850,000 – blasted by a Tory councillor as “Downton Abbey” extravagance – were actually drawn up when Conservatives ran the council.
Council leader Phil Davies has produced a minute from a budget-setting meeting in February of 2011 – a time when the authority was under control of a Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition – showing £1.6m was to be set aside for safety improvements.
The discovery could be embarrassing for the Conservatives, who this week attacked the expenditure at a time when multi-million pound service cuts are being considered.
However, they still blame Labour and maintain the cost is "excessive."
Work on the staircase is well underway and includes encasing the new fire escape in double-glazing and banisters sporting cast-iron balustrades.
Councillor Ian Lewis had poured scorn on the scheme: "At a time when the town hall is turning off streetlights to save cash, how on earth can spending so much money on an 'executive fire escape' be justified?
"This fire escape looks as though it would not be out of place in Downton Abbey.
"Fire safety must, of course, be a priority - but how many fire escapes are double-glazed and kitted out to this extent?”
Councillor Davies, leader of the Labour group, said: “Given that Ian Lewis was a member of the cabinet which put £1.6m into the capital programme at budget cabinet in February 2011, it is blatant hypocrisy for him to now criticise the council for undertaking the work.
“The scheme was required to improve the town hall’s fire safety standards and ensure it was fully accessible for people with disabilities.
“We also have a legal requirement to do this to a standard that will comply with regulations, as the building has Grade II listed status.
“When the scheme and estimate came to the Labour cabinet in January, the cost had been reduced to £834,723 excluding fees.
“I am surprised that Ian seems to have forgotten the role he personally played in authorising this expenditure.”
Councillor Lewis denied he'd scored an own goal: "It’s a bit rich for the Labour Party to now seek to blame me for a decision they took in January 2012.
"Nowhere in the council’s capital programme prior to this had there been any reference to a double glazed, stainless steel and cast iron staircase.
"I’m afraid the Labour Party is once again seeking to blame others instead of taking responsibility for its own decisions at a time when it is telling Wirral there is no money for street lights."
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