rapid response unit - nantwich fire station on beam street, pic by Jaggery under creative commons licence

Fire chiefs have been given the green light to continue a £8.5 million station upgrade scheme – although the final cost could be closer to £12 million, writes Stephen Topping.

Cheshire Fire Authority agreed to renovate 21 of the county’s ageing fire stations back in September 2018.

The first two upgrades have already been completed in Bollington and Tarporley.

And work at Birchwood, Middlewich, Runcorn and Sandbach stations is set to be completed by June.

Barry Rose, Cheshire Fire Authority officer, told the authority’s estates and property committee on Friday: “It lifts the environment that the firefighters are working in completely.

“They are made up with it. They have been involved every step along the journey.

“The knock-on effect is that the next stations we are doing, the message is starting to get out.

“People are starting to see the finished articles now and it is generating more interest – we’re being asked ‘when is our station next?’ – so it is getting a good reception out there.”

The refurbished stations benefit from brighter workspaces, dedicated gym facilities and modern toilet and shower cubicles.

They are also being redecorated and provided with new furniture to provide workspaces that are fit-for-purpose, while accessible community rooms are also being provided.

But all that work has come at a cost, with the authority expecting to have spent more than £3.3 million on the first six stations.

Fire authority members have previously allowed up to £8.5 million to be spent on the project, but Andrew Leadbetter, director of governance and commissioning, expects that figure to rise.

He said: “My guess is it will probably between £11.5 million and £12 million – but it is a guess, so let’s not pretend that is the suggestion at the moment.

“The fire stations need this investment – they definitely need this investment. Some of them a lot more than others.”

Members of the estates and property committee gave permission for the project to continue up to the maximum value of £8.5 million at Friday’s meeting.

A further review on expected costs will follow at a later stage, when the full Cheshire Fire Authority board will consider whether to allow more cash to go towards the scheme.

Following the first six stations, work is expected to be complete at Audlem, Holmes Chapel, Northwich and Widnes stations by the end of March 2021.

Congleton, Knutsford, Ellesmere Port and Malpas stations are expected to be upgraded in 2021-22, before Macclesfield, Poynton, Frodsham and Winsford stations in 2022-23.

The programme is expected to be complete in 2023-24 with the renovation of Nantwich, Wilmslow and Stockton Heath fire stations.

Work is also taking place to consider whether one of the ageing stations could be refurbished to a zero-carbon standard.

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