Plans for Merseyrail wifi masts hit the buffers … for now

PLANS to build five WiFi masts to deliver internet connectivity for the new Merseyrail fleet have been delayed over a perceived lack of consultation with local people.

Wirral Council's planning committee last night voted to defer Merseytravel's application to build the masts on land between Bidston and New Brighton by 11 votes to 2.

The application is part of the plan to bring new trains to Merseyside which are set to replace the ageing rolling stock across the city region.

Merseytravel has contracted Panasonic to deliver internet connectivity on the new trains.

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Many councillors felt the local community had not been consulted on the building of five 8.6 metre high masts and they were being forced on them.

22 local residents registered their objection to the plans.

Labour councillor Stuart Whittingham moved a motion to defer the application based on this lack of consultation and Conservative councillor Lesley Rennie agreed.

She said: "I know the residents are [feeling] extremely aggrieved.

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"They feel as if this is getting done to them, not with them."

However, Matthew Parry-Davies, one of the council’s planning officers, said over 400 notifications were sent out to local residents and they have been able to have their say on the plans.

Several councillors said they felt Merseytravel needed to consult with local people and had not done so up to now.

Mr Parry-Davies said the council can not force Merseytravel to carry out the consultation councillors requested and could only ask them to do so.

He also said Network Rail has permitted development rights in this area and could carry out the work itself without going through the planning process.

The only reason this application was needed is because Merseytravel was the applicant, rather than Network Rail.

On this basis, Green Party councillor Steve Hayes and Lib Dem councillor Stuart Kelly voted against deferral.

They said they did not see the point in deferring the item as the council may not get the chance to debate it again.

There were also concerns about how close the masts would be to houses under the plans.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Ian Lewis, leader of the council’s Conservative group, said: "This highly unusual deferral gives Merseyrail and Merseytravel the opportunity to engage properly with residents.

"It gives them the chance to come up with a modified plan that still delivers on board WiFi but does not put masts in frankly unacceptable locations.

"We will be contacting both organisations tomorrow to get that consultation underway as soon as possible."