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Rectory Road Field, West Kirby – Public Meeting Report

The Fight to Save Green Space in Old West Kirby Begins

View of the Glebe land from the stables.

Readers of our Chairman’s latest report will have noted his mention the threat to the Glebe land owned by the Diocese of Chester on Rectory Road, West Kirby.

On 3 October 2019, a public meeting was held at St Bridget’s Church to discuss the potential planning application to build a retirement complex on the land, which is currently occupied by horses. Concerned resident Sue Darwent, attended the meeting and put together the following report.

Rectory Road Field Public Meeting, 3/10/2019

What a fantastic meeting! Over 250 people came to St. Bridget’s Church for the public meeting about saving West Kirby Old Village Conservation Area and particularly Rectory Road field from development. With an interesting series of photographs, past and present, of the area in the background, six speakers gave interesting and informative presentations on different aspects of the issue.

Local resident Andy Waller described how local residents found out about the potential sale, after investigating a rumour. The field and stables are within West Kirby Old Village Conservation Area, though quite a few of us may not have known that. 

He noted the special characteristics of the area, including open aspect of the fields, wooded sections and tithe barn and how this area would be changed forever by Liberty’s plans for a large care home.

Liberty properties state in their brochure that they have been established for 30 years, however Liberty Properties Group Ltd were incorporated 8/7/2019 and Liberty Care Developments Ltd, incorporated 8/7/2019 (although they have existed under a variety of names previously).

Liberty approached the Diocese of Chester about the land; the Diocese were obliged to consider it, but went ahead despite objections from the local church.

Mission Statement

Our vision is to preserve West Kirby Old Village Conservation Area

  • Retain the area for future generations
  • Maintain the semi-rural nature of West Kirby old village
  • Set a strong precedent that Wirral Conservations Areas are not available for development. 

Pre-Planning Application Status

Geoffrey Watt is a deputy on Wirral Borough Council Planning Committee, and noted that all members of the committee are expected to approach applications with an open mind, although do need to declare any interests. He read out the response following his enquiry as to whether anyone had requested pre-planning advice on the Glebe field:-

We have not had a formal pre-app on this site and I am not aware that a planning application has been submitted.  We did however have an informal conversation with a prospective developer who had expressed some interest in this piece of land and we advised that we would be unlikely to support the development that was being outlined due to the impact on the openness of this part of the Conservation Area.  The Policies in the UDP and the Conservation Area Management Plan and Character Appraisal still are material planning considerations and carry weight when determining applications.

Councillor Watt noted that Liberty’s brochure stated that they have had “positive pre-app discussions with LPA“, which suggests that they have been economical with the truth.

St Bridget’s Stance

Rev John Bleazard confirmed that St. Bridget’s is opposed to the Diocese’s plans. He noted that the Diocese will impose a legal covenant to limit the development to a care home, if the sale goes through.  This means that houses could not be built there (in the immediate future).

He then compared the diocese’s utilitarian ethical approach (make as much money as possible for as many people as possible) with a virtuous ethical approach which would include: honouring conservation status, not challenging the Council’s objectives to maintain a semi-rural setting for the listed church building, responsible stewardship of land that had been in the Church’s possession for hundreds of years, focussing building on brownfield sites, selling to a community organisation, having synergy with local environmental groups in conjunction with being an eco-church and supporting environmental concerns and projects with St. Bridget’s School. These arguments had been put to the Diocese, but they have continued with their utilitarian approach.

Support From Other Local Groups & Individuals

Rod Tann described the Wirral Society as a voluntary, non-political body whose aim is to act as a ‘watchdog’ for the Wirral environment, with the aim of protecting Wirral’s natural beauty, architecture, flora and fauna and is a branch of the national organisation, the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Conservation area designation puts extra planning controls in place to protect things that make an area special.  He noted that legislation presumes in favour of building. However, delegated decisions (where a planning officer determines the outcome rather than the planning committee) can be removed by a petition from at least 25 people, and councillors on the planning committee can approve or reject the planning officer’s report.

Council policy for West Kirby Old Village Conservation Area is enshrined in the Appraisal and Management Policy (CH16) and these directives should be upheld.  There are no priority directives which give weight to extra housing or care homes.  Rod said that we need the support of our elected representatives to ensure that the council upholds its own policies.

Elizabeth Davey is Acting Chair of west Kirby Museum Committee, but was speaking from a personal viewpoint. Elizabeth noted that West Kirby Old Village was one of the first of 26 conservation areas in Wirral and designated in 1973.

There is evidence that it was occupied since the Bronze Age. The hogback stone, a rare example of a grave marker, and found when St. Bridget’s Church was being renovated, is tangible proof of Norse occupation.  The Glebe field was part of the Church site and there are strong archaeological links between them. The tithe barn is noted in the Terrier of 1712. Elizabeth commented that a recent study of why people visit Wirral, by Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership, found that the main driver was heritage, parks and open spaces – and tourism to the area is therefore something to be encouraged by retaining this semi-rural open space.

Martin Harrison, in discussing traffic, noted that there are three main types of road users: through traffic from the main road into the village centre, residential trips and in/out visits e.g. to the park, school drop off and collection, attendance at events.  All have implications for pedestrians.  Problems include: congestion, pollution, safety, poor access for emergency vehicles.  Martin applauded the school for encouraging parents to drive and park safely and responsibly but noted that deliveries to a care home, visitors, staff and emergency vehicles will aggravate problems in an already congested area.

Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West MP at time of writing) gave her wholehearted support to our campaign, noting that the area was an asset which was important to protect and agreed with Andy that ‘Your conservation area needs you’.  Margaret is willing to write to or meet with the planning department, diocese and/or Liberty on our behalf.

Sue Darwent

This issue is sure to become another high-profile campaign on the Societies agenda and we will do all we can to support campaigners. Our thanks go to Sue for a comprehensive and well written summary.