Our Chairman, Rod Tann, writes about the issues we have been active with in recent months.
Wirral Borough’s Green Belt and the Wirral Society
The main purpose of the planning device we know as the ‘Green Belt’ is to define and separate the open land we still enjoy from the urban/sub-urban land and prevent further coalescence of townships. The planned boundary for Wirral Borough was drawn up following a local Public Inquiry in 1983. The case was successfully made for it to be very tightly-drawn, recognising the especial pressures and sensitivities of unconstrained building on an area surrounded on three sides by water. Exemptions for certain uses are allowed for where the argument for ‘Very Special Circumstances’ can be demonstrated.
It is worth noting that nearly all the open land that remains in the peninsula as a whole is now covered by Green Belt. However, there is a continuing and constant pressure by developers, large and small, to find ways of circumventing these rules – be it the ‘volume’ builders who will, no doubt, be employing QCs shortly, to contest the Council’s Draft Local Plan; organisations wishing to build e.g. retirement ‘villages’; individuals wanting to over-extend their properties, or public authorities – which, incidentally, have been most successful at claiming exemptions in re-locating e.g. fire stations and health facilities.
As a nominated consultee under Wirral Council’s ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ our Society, amongst others, is listed to receive details of Planning Applications that involve the Wirral Green Belt.
In the majority of cases, we find ourselves just adding support to the stance that will be taken by the Council – however, we still value these opportunities to contribute.
West Kirby Girls’ Grammar School
Amongst the constant flow of such Green Belt-related applications we receive for comment, we have recently been advised of a proposal by the school to build a sports hall. It would be located on the other side of the railway line from the main school buildings.
The Wirral Society tries where it can, not to oppose the appropriate use of the Green Belt, especially where education is involved. However, it would be located on open land which has been used for outdoor sporting activity and which the Agents for the school have, for some reason, not actually acknowledged as being within the Wirral Green Belt. As one of the special exemptions is that of recreational activity, we wondered whether this would be acceptable. Consulting the new National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPF), it advises –
149. A local planning authority should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the Green Belt. Exceptions to this are:NPPF
a) buildings for agriculture and forestry; b) the provision of appropriate facilities (in connection with the existing use of land or a change of use) for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation, cemeteries and burial grounds and allotments; as long as the facilities preserve the openness of the Green Belt and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it;
So, this proposal appears to us to be unacceptable and we have lodged an objection, as the NPPF does not make allowances for the provision of indoor sports facilities. We note it is also proposed to use the hall for exams (not usually an outdoor sport!) and even the possibility of renting it out for functions. We see that Sport England’s interim response indicates it would not support the loss of existing natural turf playing field “even by another sports facility unless the strategic need and sporting benefits can be clearly demonstrated”
Proposed Flood ‘Alleviation’ Scheme, West Kirby
It seems this scheme, similar to that of the Hoylake Golf Resort, has been running for so long that the viability and need for such an expensive scheme is open to question. We learn from the Council’s own recent findings on Predicted Tide Heights, that recorded tide levels have actually been dropping for some time now, so may continue to do so.
In view of this, we suggested the scheme should be re-assessed by the Council’s Decision Review Committee, but it appears this is not an acceptable route.
However, as we go to press, we find that despite Wirral Council having received just 19 favourable comments from the public on the Scheme – but with over 200 comments voicing opposition, plus over 1,000 people signing the Change.org petition, its Planning Department has recommended the scheme be approved. The Report to its Strategic Applications Sub-Committee on 2nd November commendably referred to many of the concerns raised including our own. However, we considered it did not adequately address these failings, so we asked the Councillors involved that when they discuss the Report, they should at least seek a deferment, pending a more detailed analysis of the many issues involved. It is perhaps no surprise that this did not happen and the Scheme was approved.
Reading Planning Applications Comments ‘On-line’
The Society considers it can take a share of the credit for the fact that it is now becoming possible to read ‘on-line’ comments made by individuals and organisations who respond to Planning Applications. This enables elected members, applicants and interested parties to see in more detail the reasons for people’s concerns.
This facility has been operational by Cheshire West Council for some time now – so we are very pleased Wirral Council has now begun to follow suit by including organisations such as ours We have written to the Council offering our thanks for making this improvement.
Thanks to Rod for putting this piece together.