Wirral Matters

WIRRAL MATTERS – Spring 2024

News and views from the Wirral Society – an environmental watchdog since 1928 (Also The Wirral District Committee of CPRE)

The Green Belt

The Society is concerned that too many MPs and civil servants seem not to understand this plank of English Planning Policy. 

It is perhaps one of the best known Planning Policies – but the least understood.  The confusion starts with the name: it doesn’t have to be all ‘green’ and it definitely isn’t a ‘belt’.

It  is therefore worrying that ideas are being put around that  a future Government might wish to review the status of land, which it considers to be ‘weaker performing’ parts of the Green Belt – describing such land as ‘Grey Belt’ .   

We are sympathetic with the idea that the Policy ought to re-named – eg  “Urban Containment Zones”,  or something similarly ‘un-poetic’, which might help everyone understand what the policy is designed to achieve  – and what it is not! Should Government policy then be openly sympathetic to releasing such areas, this would clearly be ‘music to the ears’ of the ‘volume’ builders, who would like nothing more than to add such land to their portfolios (without necessarily building anything) – witness the major struggle we have been engaged in recent times with the Leverhulme Estates’ Building Consortium.

It is our view that it is time for these massive companies to come to terms with the fact that in most cases, they are working to an out-dated business model. We suggest there should be an end to their staple activity of tacking huge numbers of houses  – usually of the ‘executive’ type –  onto the edge of towns & villages, normally  leaving residents without adequate public transport , & other essential public services – and them having to rely on their cars.

Instead, Companies could operate in smaller units, to make up for the loss of so many ‘Small & Medium’ sized building companies of late.  In doing so, they should learn to adapt to building on often small ‘Brown-Field’ sites within existing urban areas. This would then assist e.g. Wirral Council, in its current ‘Regeneration’ Policy.

Wirral  Council’s Local Plan

We are hopeful that by the time this Wirral Matters reaches you, we will know whether following their ‘Examination’ of the Plan,  the Inspectors appointed by the Government  to consider it for ‘soundness’, will have made their decision.  From those closely involved professionally, the expectation is that it could well have their approval – but likely that they would seek ‘Modifications’ in a few year’s time.  If this proves to be the case, then the Council will need to show in this intervening time, that it has made sufficient progress in its Urban Regeneration programme to convince the Inspectors that the Council can achieve its ambitions.   We are just hopeful that the case put forward by Wirral Green Space Alliance to the Examination with the help of planning & legal professionals, have aided the Council’s case, highlighting amongst other things that there is plenty of housing in the Borough

The National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF)

The Government has recently published the latest revision of its ‘rulebook’ on the ‘framework’ upon which day-to-day planning decisions can be made.  Whilst the rule changes are generally favourable, they have not been as radical as we’d hoped.  They have not been timely enough to affect the decision on Wirral Borough’s Local Plan.  The general view is that there should have been more of a  focus on the delivery performance of developers on using ‘brownfield’ land and their building of ‘Affordable’ housing. However, it is good that should the Plan be approved, the Council will only have to show a 4-year housing supply , rather than the current 5 years.  It’s also good that there is an increased emphasis on the need for ‘beautiful’ buildings

Leverhulme  Estates’ Building Consortium

Late last year, we learned to our dismay that the Company was seeking a Judicial Review in the High Court, to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision to dismiss its Appeal for its proposed housing developments in the Wirral Borough Green Belt.  From what we understand, the permission for that challenge has also been dismissed.

Proposed Crematorium off Hooton Road, Hooton

In Cheshire West and Chester (CW&C), in the south of the peninsula, the Society continues to provide advice and financial support to the Hooton & District Residents’ Association (HADRA), which remains a very active residents group.

They are seeking to prevent both of two crematoria being built in the Cheshire Green Belt.  It was successful in helping persuade CW&C Council, that the need for these facilities was not proven and so the Applications were Refused at Committee.
Following the Council’s rejection of both Applications, the inevitable Appeals to the Secretary of State were lodged – and they are being held jointly at Winsford over some 10 days. 

Our support for action regarding the Wirral Borough Green Belt has posed a  heavy financial strain on volunteer WGSA member groups, including ourselves, planning experts and barristers.  We and other groups have already made significant donations from their funds, but if you would also care to make any personal donation to the WGSA fund set up through this Society, to help pay for that help, please go to the Just Giving donation page.

Proposed site for one of the  Crematoria at Hooton
Proposed site for one of the  Crematoria at Hooton

Birkenhead Town Centre

Whilst historically, it has been necessary over the years for the Society to concentrate its campaigning efforts on maintaining the open spaces of the peninsula, we also recognise importance that if house-building has to continue, then we must accept greater intensification in the urban areas – hence our support for Wirral Council’s wish to make ‘Urban Regeneration’ it’s main objective in it Local Plan.

In the matter of new building, we continue to make constructive suggestions to the Council in its various ‘Masterplan’ initiatives to help regenerate Birkenhead and Wallasey areas, through a series of outline proposals.

We anticipated that as part of the regeneration effort, that central Birkenhead could be made an attractive focus to support these new developments. Sadly, to date however, new building in central Birkenhead has been a massive disappointment.  As readers of earlier editions may recall, we have been critical of the two monolithic structures that have been constructed adjacent to Grange Pavement.  We cannot understand what was in Wirral Council’s mind to have promoted such buildings – and in that location. Their  designs seems little better than the sort of boring buildings reminiscent of the bad old days of 1960’s town centre re-development inspired by Le Corbusier & the Modernist Movement.   We had expected that 60 years on, all new Town Centre  developments would have been ‘visionary’ and represented the best of the latest architectural practice.  We also question the need for such office space.

Birkenhead Market

Birkenhead Market in 2024
The current Market building

We have recognised that the need for a new Market is central to the success of the Birkenhead 2040 Framework plans.  

 As such, it needs to be designed to modern standards, as demonstrated by the very successful new Markets in Chester and Altrincham.  

 Now we understand the present market site has become available, it would seem to us the logical location upon which a refurbishment  could be carried out to the existing premises as part of its ‘Place-making’ strategy.   We have noted that the Councillors on the Policy & Resources Committee now appear to recognise a bold & exciting solution is needed.  We are hopeful that the latest examination by consultants will recognise this exciting, cost-effective opportunity to create a well-designed, multi-purpose centre-piece to the re-development of the surrounding area, that we hope will soon follow.

Light Pollution

Electronic advertising screen outside the Royal Court theatre, Liverpool

It seems that we are drifting into new ways of creating visual clutter on our streets.  Mercifully, to date, the peninsula seems to have been relatively free from the latest innovations, with it now technically possible to  create illuminated displays of any shape or size.  A visit to Liverpool City Centre gives us a taste of how this technical advance being exploited in all sorts of guises.   Bus shelters have for long been an early target all over the City Region but these displays in Liverpool at the Royal Court Theatre and elsewhere shows how such advances are abused – and seemingly not falling foul of Planning Regulations.  We hope this trend will not be allowed here.

Land at ‘Sainsbury’s Roundabout’, Upton

The Society’s attention was drawn again to the latest  request by Lidl Supermarket, to purchase land from Wirral Council located by what most people now describe as the ‘Sainsbury’s roundabout’ at Upton.

Land wanted for a new Lidl supermarket at Upton
The land being sought

This was the Company’s 2nd request – now with an increased financial offer of £850,000.  Given that this substantial sum would have been welcomed by the Council – in addition to the annual income it would have also derived from Business Rates, it seemed most likely it  would succumb to such temptation. However, at its recent Policy & Resources Committee, the Members were, most commendably, unanimous in their rejection of the offer – largely recognising that this very busy junction would be changed for the worse, and were unwilling to comply with the Company’s stipulation that its subsequent planning application to build its supermarket would be approved without any Council Conditions being required.

We now wonder whether the Company will sell their land on, to recoup some of the money it has spent on acquiring the 2 houses they previously demolished, together with the old fire station

Land cleared at the old site of Upton fire station, 2024
Another part of the land already cleared: the old Fire Station

Verges & Traffic Islands

Junction of Dunstan’s Lane, A540 – Sept 2023
Junction of Dunstan’s Lane / A540 – (Sept 2023)

Whilst there is rightly national concern about potholes in roads, there is less comment about the lack of roadside maintenance.  Perhaps this is understandable given there is no threat to life or vehicle damage involved.   Despite financial constraints, there is much good work done by both our local Councils on roadside maintenance – but there is still a lot to be desired.  Here is an example of what must be a build-up of soil over quite some years, which has enabled this grass to flourish.  We are asking Cheshire West Council’s ‘Streetscene’ section why this is happening and whether such routine maintenance couldn’t be tackled as part of a rolling programme to minimize costs?

Updates on Outstanding Casework

Vineyard Farm Barn, Poulton

The Society has been calling attention to the increasingly dilapidated state of this historic cruck-framed barn; perhaps the oldest building of its kind now surviving in the Peninsula and Listed Grade II.  Given it, along with surrounding land, is owned by a national major volume –builder, perhaps we have been naive in hoping the Company would have the best interests of the building at heart.   In addition to writing again to the owners, we have also written to the Council asking that serious consideration be given to putting pressure on the owner to at least undertake emergency repairs to secure the building’s future.    It is pleasing to note that as a result this contact,  we understand a meeting is to take place on site shortly with the owners & Council representatives to hopefully decide on future action.

Jellicoe Water Feature

The Jellicoe water feature at the new housing estate on the site of the old Cadbury factory, Moreton

We have also been keeping an eye on how the builders who now own this former Burton / Cadbury site have been progressing with the restoration of this similarly Listed Water-Feature.

We have recently contacted them, thanking them for the obvious improvements that they have made to date – noting especially the new planting work that has been undertaken on its banks.

There are two aspects that we are keen to find out from the Company.  Firstly, as litter and grass –cutting  are going to be  continuing issues,  we have asked if the Company has any plans for ongoing maintenance  to keep it in as good a condition as it is at the moment. 

Secondly, we asked whether being a key feature of its design, whether there is any prospect that the mechanism of the Cascade could be brought back in working order. If so we wondered if any  assessment  has been made as to how much this might cost.   If they have, we have said we would be interested to know more as this might well be a project that would lend itself to a ‘crowd- funding’ model, which this  Society could be involved in its organisation.

Pedestrian Guard-Rail at Two Mills

Pedestrian guard rail on A540 at ‘Two Mills’ garage
Pedestrian guard rail on A540 at ‘Two Mills’

The damage to the pedestrian guard-rail in this prominent  position by the ‘Tudor Rose’ has been an issue for some time now. Together with the illegal advertising opportunity taken by a local business, its condition it is an unfortunate sight, especially for those arriving onto the Peninsula from North Wales. Cheshire West’s Engineer’s Department has now promised to deal with the damage as soon as possible.  We have suggested they be removed altogether, rather than being replaced.

Wirral  Waters Development

Wirral Waters building work in progress at Birkenhead
Miller’s Quay at ‘Wirral Waters’

We are pleased to note that Miller’s Quay at Wirral Waters has just won the Development of the Year at the Insider Property Industry Awards 2023. This was a site that just a few years ago was seen as “…low quality” – it just needs the will and the vision, which is what the Council’s LP is trying to do.

Help Required  Vacancy for a Secretary

For the last  21 years the Society has been very fortunate to have had the services of David Casement as Secretary to our committee. David is now retiring and we are looking for a volunteer to take his place. We are lucky to already have the assistance of a Minutes’ Secretary, a Membership Secretary and a Treasurer as well as some other helpers but we are looking to replace David.

David’s work mainly involves booking the venue for speaker meetings and managing the arrangements of the day, dealing with some of the society’s correspondence (both by email and letter) and keeping in touch with both our members and other bodies and reporting back, as and when required. If you or anyone you know might be interested in taking on this role we would be very pleased to hear from them.  Please contact David via our online web-form (we do not publish private details online).

Editor:  Rod Tann (Hard copies of this issue are sent to the Archives of Wirral & Chester, The British Library & Scottish Deposits.)

Back to Wirral Matters Archives menu…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.