With regard to the Draft Local Plan, the Wirral Society is encouraged that Wirral Borough Council has recognised the importance of regeneration in its Preferred Option, by emphasising a ‘Brownfield First’ strategy.
Much of the Society’s casework still continues to be focussed on dealing with some critical issues relating to the area administered by Wirral Borough Council, covering approximately the upper 2/3 of the peninsula.
Wirral Society Casework, August 2019
Changes at Wallasey Town Hall
Following the May Elections, there is a new situation politically at Wallasey Town Hall. Whilst the Society tries as far as possible to remain politically ‘neutral’ it nevertheless has to recognise that the political factor is an important element in the way we work. Whilst the political ‘balance’ that now exists is not ideal, we are nevertheless optimistic that it will bring more transparency into Council decision-making. All committees are now under ‘no overall control’ and key chairmanships, including Planning, Business and Environment are now held by councillors from a broader political spectrum.
Also, the abandonment of the current narrow Cabinet system of governance is being investigated for a possible change next year.
Wirral Council’s Local Plan
A key issue for this Council which is concerning us greatly, is the Council’s continuing inability to finalise and publish its Local Plan. It is one of three Councils in England, which was identified by James Brokenshire, as requiring special attention by Government, in view of its continuing delay in finalising its Local Plan. We note the Council has (quietly) published its Action Plan, as directed by the Secretary of State.
Wirral Council Housing Targets
We are convinced the Council has created the problem. By initially setting itself an unrealistically high target of economic growth in the Borough, it commensurately required an unrealistically increased and unbelievably high housing target, which Government officials concurred with and are now holding the Council to that figure.
However, the then Housing Minister, Mr Brokenshire subsequently reminded the Council that his housing figure was just a ‘starter’ and it was the Council’s duty to provide a realistic assessment of housing need.
The Council has now confirmed it is not going to produce a “properly evidenced and assessed deviation from the target” – which could have produced a lower target and the Council says it “does not believe there are exceptional circumstances which justify an alternative approach”. This is despite the Housing Minister informing the Council that the use of the standard methodology to calculate housing need is not mandatory. This supports our view that the Council was never interested in the first place in seeing a much lower, more realistic target.
To make matters worse, due to a legal requirement that a 20% ‘buffer’ be added, as the number of homes delivered in the last few years has been below target. it has now been obliged to increase the number of houses it’s required to build, in the coming years, from 12000 to 14460.
The Wirral Green Belt
A direct implication of this was the previous administration pursuing what can only be described as a crazy tactic, of instigating in September 2018, a 6-week ‘Consultation’ based upon identifying some 8 sq miles of the Wirral Green Belt and effectively inviting the public to say which parts of it could be most readily sacrificed, in order to meet those Housing Targets. The Council received so many objections to the threat posed, it has still been unable – or unwilling – to publish the outcome. So much opposition was generated, that a Wirral Green Spaces Alliance was set up to try and address the problems this has generated and continues to try to make some sense of what is going on.
With the geography we have here on the peninsula, it makes us effectively an island, so land in its Green Belt boundary, which was purposely drawn very tightly by the former Merseyside County Council, does an especially important job.
We have written to the new Housing Minister, Esther McVey, to ensure she is aware of the concerns we have over the way the Council is dealing with this matter
Liverpool City Region
The area administered by Wirral Council, is also now a part of the Liverpool City Region. The Society has been in touch with the Metro-Mayor, Steve Rotheram, congratulating him and other Metro-Mayors in the initiative they took earlier in the year, at an international conference on attracting new industry into their Regions.
Mr Rotheram has replied saying in summary, he has:
Strategic planning powers, and a Spatial Development Strategy was being developed, and would have due regard to environmental issues & the Society would be consulted on the document. We note from what he is saying, that each of the 6 Districts + W. Lancs has indicated they can meet their housing targets without support from neighbouring Councils. We know Wirral Council certainly is struggling to do so – despite the good progress being made by Peel Land and Management in developing many new homes at ‘Wirral Waters’
a ‘Brownfield First’ policy and
created a funding team aimed at facilitating the remediation of various Brownfield sites in the Region, with the aim of making them available for development – principally for housing.
Proposed Hoylake ‘Golf’ Resort
A long-running saga involving Wirral Council is now taking an interesting direction. It was heartening that a special scrutiny meeting recently recommended to the Cabinet, that the Council’s investment profile and limited resources would be better served if this business venture was funded on the open market, rather than through Council borrowing, and it should not enter into a separate agreement to fund the Celtic Manor project. This was welcome news.
We are still seeking to clarify the situation regarding a penalty clause the Council entered into earlier in the year, with the Jack Nicklaus Group, which would reputably cost the taxpayer £20m should the Council seek another developer to create a new golf-related facility in Hoylake. As long as that is all that is contained in the Agreement, we are optimistic that such a payment would not be necessary, as we don’t think there is any appetite in the Council now, to progress such a development, let alone involve another developer.
Furthermore, if, as it seems, the Council is set on increasing the distance between itself and the developers, then should a planning application be submitted, the Planning Officer would now be able to put forward a recommendation free of any constraints. If such an application were submitted and contained the current proposal which required breaching the Wirral Green Belt with a 160 + housing development, this should surely in itself be sufficient to lead to an automatic recommendation to refuse permission?
We can see no case for any exceptions to be made on such a proposal, either by the Council or, on Appeal, by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate. We hope the developers will now seek ‘Pre-Application Advice’ from the Council and save themselves a lot of money!
We have written the West Kirby Charity, which owns key pieces of land on the proposed site, seeking clarification on what its position is regarding its involvement in the scheme.
Hooton Hangars Trust
The Society is keen to support the Trust’s work wherever possible. It is very encouraging to see the progress made on the formerly derelict Hangar 16. The roof is now on, supported by newly constructed Belfast trusses. Do visit their website to see more of their work and make a visit there if you can – it’s 2 minutes off the Eastham Oil Terminal exit of the M53 Motorway.
Ferry High School Site
There has been much concern, led by a residents’ group from Rock Ferry, over an anticipated planning application which would see development on the site of the former High School.
The plan would include the conversion of the Listed school building itself and the construction of some 183 units around the school. The main concern of residents is the real possibility of the loss of many trees, to enable this size of development to be fitted in.
Our view is that as Wirral Council own the site and it has just signed up to a Climate-Change agreement, it would be appropriate for it to stipulate that all the healthy trees should now be recorded and ensure all have Tree Preservation Orders put on them. The number of units to be built should then be adjusted accordingly.