May 2019 Roundup

May 2019 has been quite eventful for us, what with local elections and the continued collective fight we are supporting to protect Wirral’s greenbelt. We also have the Summer edition of ‘Wirral Matters’ available for download in PDF form from our Wirral Matters Archives page on this website.

Out with the old boss, but what does it mean for the greenbelt?

Phil Davies, ex-Leader of Wirral Council, looking disappoinrted with the result of the local council election results in 2019
Disappointed? No more than we were with the persistence of the Hoylake ‘Golf Resort’ idea or Wirral Council’s confusing greenbelt policies. Stunned ex-Council Leader Phil Davies, election night, May 2019.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” as the song says about not being fooled again! Following the loss of overall control of Wirral Council by the ruling Labour party and the pre-election resignation announcement of the outgoing Leader, Phil Davies, we wait to find out what new Council Leader, Pat Hackett, has to say about Wirral’s greenbelt. Notably, we are concerned about the unpopular Hoylake ‘Golf Resort’ project, an idea seemingly only supported by the ex-Council Leader.

Continue reading “May 2019 Roundup”

Chairman’s Update Jan-Feb 2019

Our Chairman, Rod Tann writes

As we approach the end of the first quarter of 2019, it is disappointing for the Society that this year looks set to see Green Belt casework continuing to dominate its Agenda:

The Council’s Local Plan

Farmland-Wirral
Golf balls or food? Apparently, Wirral Council know best! (Photo: Rod Tann)

Wirral Council was one of the three Councils selected by the Minister for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) last year, for “Special Attention” due to their failure to deliver a Local Plan.  This resulted in the Council holding a ‘Development Options Review’ Consultation, last September, presumably to show it was taking action. This consultation centred on the Council’s proposal to release of some 8 sq miles of protected Green Belt land.  Whilst the Council stressed it only needed some of this land to satisfy targets, the release of any of it would automatically make it a target for the volume house-builders. The Council would then have difficulty resisting giving planning permission, should owners wish to sell any released land.  We noted the ‘Golf Resort‘ land at Hoylake was excluded from the Consultation – so we conclude the Council has already made the decision that it will approve its release, should a planning application be submitted.

We, along with some 19 other local societies (now the Wirral Green Space Alliance, (WGSA), have been very active in responding to this Consultation. However, we can’t understand why the Local Plan has continually been delayed, as we (amongst others) had responded to consultations carried out by the Council on two earlier drafts in recent years. , bto the release of any land that we know have been submitted.

Not only did the Council impose a tight timescale for the Consultation but also it was made even more confusing with the ‘official’ annual housing target figures changing from about 800 down to 450 which then later reverted back to 800.  Some 10 years ago, under the NW ‘Regional Spatial Strategy’, the annual number of buildings identified as being needed was only 250.  We are unaware that there has been any increase in the level of demand for houses and, with no new large employers setting up in the Wirral, we believe there will continue to be a net reduction in population.

The Society engaged a professional planner from CPRE to assist in our response.  She was able to refute the need to release any Wirral Green Belt land, given the amount of ‘Brownfield’ land available especially including the ‘Wirral Waters’ site.  She had also indentified that some of this ‘Brownfield’ land didn’t appear on the official Register, a deficiency we will follow up.

We are also meeting the Project Director for ‘Wirral Waters’ again shortly, to discuss progress on the various schemes they are developing.

At Saughall Massie

Saughall-Massie-fire-station-construction
The ‘Very Special Circumstances’ Green Belt thief arises! (Photo: Rod Tann)

The “essential” Fire Station at Saughall Massie has now started construction. Given that, if it becomes operational in a few months time, it will be some 5 years since the West Kirby station closed it still begs the question why it was necessary to spend some £4m of taxpayer’s money on moving operations one mile down the road from Upton, against the wishes of some 4,000 petitioners and Societies such as ours?

Proposed Leisure / Golf-related development at Hoylake

A Motion put to Wirral Council, to drop the Resort proposal was disappointingly rejected in December.  Despite a large public attendance at the Council meeting, the majority party voted to continue spending taxpayers’ money on it.

Much also continues to be happening, which isn’t being made public:  For example, it’s not clear now what the focus is for this proposed development.  Until recently, the ‘Hoylake Golf Resort’ was centred on the creation of a ‘Resort’ based upon golf breaks, with an hotel, practise facility and an ‘enabling development’ of 160 luxury houses.  Its purpose was to make Hoylake the “Capital of the North West Golf Coast”.  However, with the Council having to ‘offload’ a number of municipal courses due to the rapid downturn in golf participation, the Resort has now been re-branded as the ‘Celtic Manor’ Leisure Resort’ It appears to be more focussed on broader ‘leisure-related’ activities (whilst, of course, still retaining the plan to build 160 luxury houses in the Green Belt).

We also know the original house-builders, Story Homes, have now withdrawn from the project because of ‘a change in strategic direction’.  Interestingly, they continue to contact Wirral landowners looking for other Green Belt House-building Opportunities. The Resort house-builders will now be Redrow Homes. This Company currently faces public outrage in Liverpool, with over 50,000 people signing a petition to oppose Liverpool City Council’s plans to sell part of Calderstones Park to Redrow, to build 50 luxury houses there.

And it is understood that a number of environmental and financial reports are due to be presented by the Nicklaus Joint Venture Group to the Council early this year.  The Labour Cabinet will then decide if they wish to continue with the Resort project.  The Stop Hoylake Golf Resort Action Group (SHGRAG) question the ‘independence’ of these reports as they’ll be commissioned and paid for by the developer.

The SHGRAG hopes that the Council will look at other more sustainable options for the site. In particular, urging the Council to look seriously at the Hoylake Village Life’s proposal for a Wildfowl and Wetland / Eco Centre which is supported by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. This option wouldn’t require Green Belt housing, would bring in far more tourists and is, with the threat of climate change, a more sensible option for a Zone 3 (highest risk) flood plain site.

A spokesperson for SHGRAG says:

“we urge all residents who are against the Resort, with its plans to build houses on the flood plain and Green Belt, to contact the Councillors, particularly the Labour Group Councillors, to urge them to look at other options for the site.”

The Wirral Society supports this request. 

Tree-planting and Hedge-Laying

Tree-planting-and-hedge-laying-at-WoodchurchIn the last issue, I reported how the Society is also contributing towards a 4-year hedgerow restoration project at a farm near Woodchurch, which started in November, with a Hedge-laying event. The event turned out to be a great success, especially as many of the volunteer hedge-layers were young people from nearly Woodchurch High School.  As the laying work will continue close to the Woodchurch Estate, it is planned there will be continued contact with the youngsters.

Common Ivy

Common-Ivy-takeover
Photo: Rod Tann

A year ago, I commented on how ivy was gradually taking over so many sandstone walls and trees – especially in this part of the Peninsula.  I made the point that “whilst it apparently doesn’t normally affect its host to any great extent, its vigorous growth enables it to take over wherever it grows.” Well, here is a recent example of how ivy, along with a strong wind, can lead to the destruction of a mature tree.

Wirral’s Pond Life!

The role of ponds in Wirral’s landscape

The Society asked Hilary Ash from Wirral Wildlife Trust, for an update on how Ponds in Wirral were faring in 2018, here is her report:

'Darkies Dip' pond
The long-gone pond at Acres Road, Meols, also known as ‘Darkies Dip’. Filled in by a local developer for housing which never materialised. This was a pond frequented by local fishermen with many a tall-tale and rumours attached to it! Photo: Melanie Ralph

Under the Local Wildlife Site criteria there is one for ponds, which sets the levels of species for a pond or set of ponds to qualify for Status. The criteria, the same now over all of “old” Cheshire, were adopted by Wirral Borough Council (finally) last summer, and we are now gradually transferring the old Sites of Biological Importance into LWS, as we do the survey work – expected to take us the next 5 years. If pond(s) are declared SBI/LWS than the relevant policy in the old UDP applies (NC5) until the Local Plan is approved, when there is  new policy in that (CS33). Ponds which do not qualify have no protection, though if someone wants to fill one in with imported fill, planning permission is needed. I can recall only one planning application to do so!

Generally, our ponds were created as marl or brick pits, and are ageing (200 years old or so), and most are silting up and becoming willow carr. A few are still used for watering cattle and other stock, which keeps them open, though too much trampling is bad. Many ponds in agricultural land suffer from eutrophication. The few in public parks are variably maintained – from formal to informal, and from nothing done to good care. The ones at Dee Cliffs Thurstaston , within the SSSI and the country park, have just had a major clear-out under Natural England guidance (we did the pre-clearance surveys), which looks drastic but was badly needed after a decade and more of neglect. We do find on our surveys of SBI ponds that they can change very quickly if something goes wrong e.g. a nice pair of ponds on Bromborough Golf Course got some fertiliser run-off from a neighbouring green (no idea what they changed or did wrong) and has lost its most interesting water plants and gained some blanket weed. They are trying to put it right – but once excess nutrients get in, it takes several years’ work to get them out again. So we try to survey the SBI ponds every 3-4 years, as against every 10 years for something like an ancient wood, which is much more stable. There are large numbers of (mostly) small ponds in gardens, which occasionally have interesting wildlife, and together do make  a notable contribution to the habitat for commoner specifies. I was told today of a garden pond in Eastham with Great Crested Newts and Toads breeding!

Various fishing clubs manage their own ponds, but ponds that are artificially stocked and/or heavily fished rarely have much good wildlife. Water plants get removed, often too much bait is used and eutrophication sets in, and fish are not compatible with amphibians except Toads (even the tadpoles of Toads taste nasty!).

'Darkies Dip' Meols
Another view of ‘Darkies Dip’ looking towards the playing fields at Acres Road, Meols. Photo: Melanie Ralph.

The Pond Life programme run out of Liverpool JMU (Andrew Hull) some years ago tried to catalogue all of Cheshire’s ponds and get some management and/or new ones created, but found it hard going. When we had some money from BAP funds around 2000, we tried to dig 3 new ones in Wirral – and found getting the land to do so very difficult. In the end, two were restored from almost-dry old ponds rather than being really new. Opinions vary, but much advice says it is better to leave an old  dried-up pond alone and create  a new one alongside. Unfortunately that is rarely possible, so where there is pond management done, it is normally clearing out existing ponds, as at Dee Cliffs.

Ponds are one of nature’s temporary habitats – most would naturally last only a few decades/hundreds of years. So pond wildlife is on the whole quite good at moving to new sites and coming back when a site is cleared. When we cleared the brickpit at New Ferry Butterfly Park, plants promptly appeared which were lying  dormant in the soil, which according to locals had not been a permanent pond for around 70 years.

So generally, our ponds are ageing, losing interest,  struggling with excess nutrients from farming and rainfall, and few are well-managed! Creating new ones seems to be difficult. There is a general presumption against ponds on POS, because of perceived safety problems, so new POS in housing and other developments do not include them. The increasing move to Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) may change that to some extent, if it gets applied seriously in Wirral. As usual, some money and a lot of will-power could change this situation, but both are in short supply and there are many competing demands.

Hilary Ash

‘Gilroy Scrape’ Under Threat

‘Gilroy Scrape’, seconds out, round 1…

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

It has been brought to the Society’s attention about the recent environmental damage done to a piece of land that is home to wildlife and also lies within Wirral’s Green Belt. ‘Gilroy Scrape’ is located just to the North of Gilroy Road in West Kirby, adjacent to the Gilroy Nature Park and ‘The Langfields’ Continue reading “‘Gilroy Scrape’ Under Threat”