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Byker Wall fire station: giving a clearer view

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Colin Dilks is obviously very unhappy with Newcastle City Council's handling of the new community fire station to be located on a site close to the Byker Wall (AJ 5/12.12.02).

What he fails to mention is that the council and the Fire Authority undertook a very thorough analysis of possible sites, including brownfield ones, within tight constraints of both location (close to a major road junction) and the Fire Authority's PFI timetable. All, bar this site, were ruled out for reasons of highway safety or site availability.

The planning permission is outline only with all detailed matters, including design, to be approved. Permission was granted following referral to the Government Office and consultation with English Heritage, which raised no objections.

Although the council did not consult the Rabygate Residents Association directly, it did send out in more than 1,200 individual letters to residents which resulted in two objections. The only other objection came from Newcastle Conservation Areas Panel.

The planning permission includes a S106 Agreement with the Fire Authority which will provide £170,000 to compensate for the loss of the open space.

This money will be spent on identified open space and community leisure facilities which are badly needed in the area.

The Fire Authority's PFI partners will be required to submit their final design to Ralph Erskine's partnership for consideration before it goes through the normal statutory planning process.

To suggest that 'the view of one of the finest examples of urban architecture from the 20th century anywhere in the world will be lost' is, in my view, both over-dramatic and inaccurate, as the fire station building will occupy a 0.6ha site at the extreme eastern end of the Wall, which at that point is several storeys high and at least 25m away.

Finally, the council is aware that there are issues with regard to the future of the Byker Wall, and planners and housing officers are working hard to address them. However, it is difficult to make any progress until the DCMS finishes its work on the potential listing (which began in early 2000).

Mick Firth, group manager, development planning, Newcastle City Council

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