We hope everyone reading this is in good health during these very strange times. Despite the difficulties and fears which come with a pandemic like Corona Virus, we are still acting as a Society and trying to keep everyone in the loop about changes to Wirral’s landscape, as well as its man-made features. Therefore, we are happy to be able to bring you a summary on what we have been doing over the past few weeks.
Here is a summary of items we are currently monitoring and acting upon, where we feel it is necessary.
Wirral Council’s Draft Local Plan Consultation
At present, the Council is progressing with its “Issues and Options” Consultation for the Draft Local Plan (Reg 18). We welcome the Council’s ‘Preferred Option’ of retaining the Green Belt and developing the many acres of brown field land. However, the Council still considers it has to go along with the Government’s target of 12,0000 new houses over the plan period with one assume some 20,000 to 30,000 new residents.
Our Involvement Responding to Wirral Council’s Consultation on its Draft Local Plan
In view of the crucial importance of the public contribution to this Plan, under Regulations 18 & 19, the Society continues to be heavily involved in responding to this Consultation –
Involvement in coordination of voluntary effort – it is centrally involved in an ad-hoc group – the Wirral Green Spaces Alliance (WGSA) – set up especially to coordinate the voluntary response to the Consultation.
Professional advice – through WGSA, it is also a major financial contributor toward obtaining such advice, and organiser of the special ‘Just Giving’ bank account. Professional advice is now considered essential to meet the situation, by the engagement of –
a planner – who is employed through our affiliate body – the Campaign to Protect Rural England – to provide a written response to all the many questions posed in the Consultation document.
a barrister – specialising in planning law – now made more necessary following Wirral Council’s engagement of similar legal support.
Through direct meetings with the Council – Rod Tann, our Chairman recently attended a meeting organised by the WGSA with the senior officers and Lead Councillor from Wirral Council who are collectively responsible for the development of the Local Plan. WGSA aim was to –
place on record the difficulty experienced by many people who had sought to become involved in the Consultation. The difficulties were mainly the awkwardness of negotiating the website, the sheer size and extent of documents, together with knowing how best to answer the many specialised questions being posed.
emphasise WGSA’s main objective -to explore whether it was possible to work more closely with the Council in achieving a Local Plan for the Borough which everyone can be happy with. It was recognised by everyone that the chances of satisfying the Government Inspector would be much greater, should such mutual cooperation could be demonstrated when the Plan was examined
confirm WGSA’s wish to give its support for Option 1b of the current Draft Plan, whereby house-building figures are ‘stepped up’ from the existing base with less than pro-rata growth in the first Five Year Period, making it easier to satisfy demand from ‘brownfield’ sites alone.
make the point the Council’s main objective of confining future development to previously developed land could be achieved much more easily if it would have the courage to formally follow up Government advice to make the case for ‘Exceptional Circumstances’, aimed at reducing the grossly excessive starting figure of trying to build 12,000 houses over the 15 years of the Plan’s life, particularly as that figure would exclude most conversions, upgrades and replacements. Such an extremely high figure would relate to around 20,000 homes in total and an additional population of 20-30, 000 when Wirral’s population over many years has been rather static and no upward trend has been detected nor prompted by Council Policies.
make available to the Council, the statistical and other work that WGSA had been done to demonstrate that demand for housing would be significantly less than the current high target figure. (This was done the same day).
commend the Council on the impressive results it had achieved in the programme the Council had run over a number of years, to reduce the number of ‘Empty Homes’ in the Borough. WGSA felt there was no reason why these consistently high results should not be projected forward to be added in to the housing availability statistics at a higher level than currently proposed.
A further meeting has now been arranged with Council officers to examine statistical evidence in greater detail.
Meeting re Leverhulme Estates – we have also just met with consultants acting on behalf of the Estate. The Trustees are keen to seek the views of local voluntary organisations on their wish to improve environmental aspects of their land in the Peninsula. Many ideas were advanced by the groups attending and the meeting was thought to be a major advance, considering the lack of communication with the Estate since the land went into Trust ownership. It’s hoped the dialogue will be continued.
“Things come in threes” So the saying goes, but in this case, we have no less than four worrying Greenbelt issues to contend with at the time of writing.
1. Hoylake Golf Resort
Wirral Council’s very own ‘vanity project’ rumbles on, threatening to remove a large piece of Greenbelt land between Hoylake and West Kirby for a so-called ‘Golf Resort’. We, along with many other people in the locality believe the idea is doomed to failure and is actually part of a more elaborate plan to remove the land from the Greenbelt for future housing expansion. This would be a long, drawn out process, but removing the Greenbelt status with outline planning permission would be the first step to a very lucrative goal. Call us cynical if you like, but we’ve been watching Wirral change since the 1920s and this has many hallmarks of a different, long-term plan.
However, in an unexpected twist, we saw Wirral’s current council leader, Phil Davies publically declaring his support for Wirral’s Greenbelt against Government housing targets. Our Chairman, rightly so, wrote to Councillor Davies welcoming his statement to support the retention of our Greenbelt and recognising the difficulties in satisfying unrealistic housing targets set by central Government. Although we welcome his open commitment to protecting Wirral’s Greenbelt, we do find it at odds with the council’s current investment policy to remove a large swathe of land from Greenbelt and build a golf course, Hotel and ‘luxury’ houses in its place. We can only hope our council have a change of heart and echo the commitment of their leader’s words to retain the few green jewels left in Wirral’s crown. In the meantime, we ask supporters of Greenbelt to sign the online petition against Hoylake Golf Resort.
2. Saughall Massie ‘Community’ Fire Station
Far from being welcomed by the local community, the saga of this proposed ‘community’ Fire Station continues, despite being refused planning permission in December 2016. Although we welcomed the Wirral Council Planning Committee’s decision on the matter, we were quite alarmed that the majority of the Planning Committee did not put the retention of the Greenbelt as a major deciding factor.
They were certainly correct in identifying the negative impact it would have on adjacent residents in sheltered housing accommodation, but we find their overlooking of the Greenbelt issues quite worrying. It seems that the Planning Committee are mainly concerned with judging any resubmitted application on the content which addresses improving the negative impacts the original plans had on local residents. However, there seems to be little concern shown amongst the committee for their obligations to Wirral’s own UDP and National Planning Policy Framework regarding the building on Greenbelt.
Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority have also applied to have ‘Jenny’s Wood’ (a piece of land home to a wood of young trees on the surrounding Greenbelt) to be exempt from an Environmental Impact Assessment which is another hurdle that slows down the planning application process. Environmental Impact Assessments are the responsibility of those making planning applications on sensitive areas and we believe that having had their original plan rejected, they should not be exempt from any part of due planning process when the loss of precious Greenbelt is at stake.
The Wirral Society will continue to play their part in trying to ensure that the decision-makers on this unwanted application are made well aware of the many reasons why the move to this site is both unnecessary and unsuitable. You can register your opposition to the resubmitted plans on the council’s planning portal and we ask as many readers to do so to send a clear message supporting the retention of the Greenbelt.
3. Eastham Greenbelt Issues
We learn from the Eastham Village Preservation Association that a piece of Greenbelt lying within the ancient Eastham Village is under threat from housing development.
Old Anselmians Rugby Club wish to redevelop land they own inside Eastham Village with a view to building 21 houses, a new clubhouse and 150 space car park, plus a new access road. Eastham Village is also a Conservation Area, which makes any such application doubly contentious.
Thornton Hough Community Trust inform us that the Greenbelt within their area is under threat from Leverhulme Estates who have plans to build a ‘Continuing Care Facility’ at the heart of the village. Anyone who has visited Thornton Hough knows that it is quite like a time capsule to old Wirral, probably very much in keeping with the era of ‘Nomad’ himself, Norman Ellison.
Some things are better left untouched and Thornton Hough is certainly well worth protecting so we would ask people to support the village Community Trust and sign their online petition against any future development of the village.