Chairman’s Update

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

Phot of a disappointed outgoing Council LEader, Phil Davies
A disappointed outgoing Council Leaver, Phil Davies, after the 2019 local elections.

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.

Cover of the Development Agreement for Hoylake Golf Resort
John Brace had to justify to the ICO why this covert document should be available to the public. We are most grateful he took up the challenge.

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.  

Rock 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.

Rock Ferry High School development site
Rock Ferry High School development site.

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.

Rod Tann, Chairman, The Wirral Society

Local Issues Roundup, May 2017

Local Issues

Proposed new Fire Station at Saughall Massie

Street view visualisation of proposed 'Community Fire Station at Saughall Massie
Street-view visualisation of proposed ‘Community Fire Station at Saughall Massie (minus unhappy local community).

As expected, the Merseyside Fire Authority has lost no time in spending yet more public money in submitting another Application to Wirral Council to build in the Wirral Green Belt. They have carefully moved the car parking around the building, which they consider will meet residents’ objections and the Planning Committee. However, the Application would still require the operational fire station to be built on protected land close to sheltered housing and just a mile from its Upton station, against resident’s objections. We cannot understand why it is possible for such re-Applications to be made, which barely differ from a previously refused Application. Whilst we have objected most strongly to this new Application, we are however under no illusions that despite all objections, the Planning Committee will give its approval this time around.

At Storeton Village

There is an application for a housing development, the funds from which will be ‘Enabling development’ to facilitate the restoration of the 14th Century Storeton Hall, which is a Scheduled Historic Monument.   ‘Enabling Development’ seems to be the new phrase designed to persuade the Planning Authority to agree to ‘Very Special Circumstances’ to allow building in the Green Belt, where it would otherwise not be allowed.

At Thornton Hough Village

There are proposals by a ‘Retirement Complex’ developer to develop flats, assisted living accommodation on a former farm, located within the Wirral Green Belt, in this historic village. We have contacted the two opposing groups and hope that they work together and that we can assist in opposing the Application when it arrives.

In Hoylake

The Society has been pleased to note that local Councillors have now decided to oppose the 15-year long Council sponsored (taxpayer funded) Hoylake Golf Resort.  However, we remain concerned that they seem instead to be backing a smaller scale scheme, which had been put forward in the locality, some years ago. We trust this will not be taken forward.  The website www.hoylakegolfresort.uk has many interesting revelations.

The Gilroy ‘Scrape’, West Kirby

Gilroy Scrape
Photo by Richard Smith, www.deeestuary.co.uk

Our contact from the Dee Estuary Birding group advises that the scrape remains largely empty and the dry spring weather has meant that the mud has been rapidly drying out making it a sad sight. Nevertheless, some shallow water does remain and this has attracted small numbers of birds including Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Shelducks – demonstrating just how important site this site is for our bird life. As the group now has a good understanding of how the scrape was emptied and why it is not refilling, they are confident it can be restored relatively easily. They are hopeful this work can be carried out in time for the returning Black-tailed Godwits in late July; this being one of the most important sites in the country for this species.

We are also advised that at a meeting of the Local Wildlife Sites Partnership in January, the decision to make a large portion of the Hoylake Langfields, including Gilroy Scrape, into a Site of Biological Interest (SBI) was temporarily put on hold whilst more data on bird numbers was gathered. Now this data has been acquired it is expected that SBI status will be given the go-ahead, later this year.

Green Belt in Wirral Borough

The Conservative group on the Council has been able to call a special Council Meeting, to seek clarification from the Council Leader on his recent statement supporting the Wirral Green Belt and the apparent conflict relating to various Council support for possible developments in the Green Belt.  We await the outcome of that meeting with interest.

Proposed Development at Caldy Cross Roads, Caldy

The Society has been approached by the Caldy Society to support them over an approach from a development company which is interested in developing the triangle of land bounded by Caldy Road, Telegraph Road and Stapledon Woods, for housing. It is a large area and, if successful, would be looking to build at least a hundred and probably more houses there.  As the fields are in multiple ownership, there would need to be unanimity in wishing to sell their respective portions of land. With the land being within the Wirral Green Belt, we will be advising the Caldy Society, that the developer would have to be able to make a very good case for proving ‘Very Special Circumstances’ to build there – but we must take such possibilities seriously, in these uncertain times.

Burton’s Biscuits Site, Pasture Road, Moreton

As nothing appeared to be happening, following the recent granting of planning permission for new housing on this site, we have been in touch with the Company’s Agents to find out if any progress is being made. We are told the site has been advertised to house-builders, who have had until the end of April to bid for the option to develop the site. The successful bidder is due to be announced in a few months time, and the Agents expect that site-development work will begin early next year. It was confirmed the important Water Feature alongside Pasture Road is definitely an integral part of the redevelopment proposal. This Application has the full support of the Society, as it puts much-needed housing into the urban area, where it belongs, and hopefully will help bring more economic prosperity to Moreton itself.

At Eastham Village

Proposed new housing at Eastam Village
Proposed new housing on part of the site owned by Old Anselmians Rugby Club, Eastham Village

The local Rugby Club is applying to sell off some of its land for housing to enable the club to continue financially. We have objected as the Green Belt is not to be used as a ‘cash cow’ just because an enterprise in in difficulties.  We fear that there will be a repeat of the problem in a few years time and yet more Green Belt will have to be sacrificed. This application is ‘muddied’ by the inclusion of a replacement ‘Community Facility’ for which Wirral Council seems to have been able to pledge some £350,000….if it decides that the planning application should be approved. There are many issues that worry us about this application.

Liverpool City Region

A major change will have taken place on 4th May, when the ‘Metro Mayor’ is elected as part of the introduction of the new Liverpool City Region. The Region includes the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, along with 5 Boroughs north of the River Mersey. This new Combined Authority, under the control of the Metro Mayor, will have significant planning powers in its role of Strategic Planning Authority over the Region.

Amongst those powers will be the overall identification of land suitable for development, notably for new housing. The Mayor will thus become a key player in directing the type and location of development across the 6 Boroughs. We have been encouraged to note in election prospectuses that each of the candidates has pledged to protect the Green Belt and direct new development onto previously-used (‘Brownfield’) land. We hope that those candidates proposing ambitious house-building targets will still be able to honour their commitment to maintain the existing Green Belt, especially in Wirral Borough.