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Council apologises for Hilbre Island fire

A council official has apologised for a huge fire that forced a popular beauty spot in the mouth of the River Dee to close and was described as an ‘environmental disaster.’

Many had linked the fire at Hilbre Island at the end of August to the council contractor’s use of expanding foam in repair works at the site.

And although a formal investigation into the fire’s cause is yet to conclude, Wirral Council’s assistant cheif executive David Armstrong acknowledged blame lay at the council’s door.

At an environment scrtuiny committee, Mr Armstrong said: “We need to apologise for this. Clearly this is something that wasn’t meant to happen and we’re very sorry it did happen. We are doing our best to put it right.

“You [councillors] will need to make a decision about whether this area is repaired in the future or not, but if it is to be repaired we won’t be attempting the repair that was attempted previously. It does sound somewhat bizarre, the use of the foam.”

Mr Armstrong went on to explain that the expanding foam was used to fill a gap in one of the island’s caves.

He said: “The option was taken to try and fill the opening and then rebuild the wall. The advice was if we simply rebuilt the wall and left the opening behind, the actions of the sea would within a few years take down the wall again, and we would be back where we started.”

It has been suggested that the council could simply let nature take its cause. The leader of the Greens on Wirral Council, Cllr Pat Cleary, told the LDRS this is one option that should be considered.

However, Mr Armstrong disagreed.

He said: “We need to do the work, despite the upset we’ve caused and despite the disappointment with the outcome, I think everybody accepts that doing nothing is not an option, it certainly isn’t an option for the council in terms of risk.”

Mr Armstrong said the overhanging cliff near the cave and the danger presented by the cave opening itself meant there was a significant risk to life.

He added: “The foam was put in place, the sea washed part of it out, the piece was repaired and then it was left to harden and that’s when the fire broke out.

“It was a genuine attempt to fix a wall, that’s how it started out. In hindsight it wasn’t that, it was an issue of coastal protection and that’s how it should have been treated.”

Questions have also been raised about the contractor used by the council to carry out this work, pictures have surfaced online which appear to show them being careless with their materials.

Mr Armstrong said: “This contractor had worked on the island before, in fact they have done some really nice work on the island to do with the houses, restorations, walling on the top of the island, putting in the toilets and doing various other repairs. They are the only contractor we have who are familiar with the island and they know the challenges.”

Conservative Councillor Andrew Hodson, said: “Would you say, and i’m not looking for a scapegoat here, that this [filling the cave] was possibly thought of as a cheap option?”

Mr Armstrong said: “It wasn’t a cheap option. It was the only option we thought would work really. We weren’t trying to do it cheaply.”

Labour Councillor Jo Bird said she appreciates the apology and the acknowledgement from Mr Armstrong. She added: “Things went badly wrong and there are lessons to be learnt from that, it was an environmental disaster.”

George Morgan – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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