Threatened Wirral Council rows back on green belt releases in wake of new household projections

A North West council threatened with central government intervention in its local plan process is seeking to row back on proposals to release almost 50 green belt sites for homes in the wake of new household projections that it says has slashed its housing need.

Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral (pic: Ruth via Flickr)

Last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the 2016-based household projections for England. These projected the creation of 159,000 additional households each year compared with the 210,000 per year previously projected in the 2014-based figures published in July 2016 - a drop of 24 per cent.

The figures are used by councils under the government's new standard method for assessing housing need.

Wirral Council was among three councils identified by the government in March to face central government scrutiny of its local plan-making process due to their slow progress. The government threatened to take over production of their local plans if the councils fail to meet their own timetables for producing the documents.

In July, Wirral Council announced that it was considering the release of almost 50 green belt sites to help it meet an estimated housing shortfall of 5,000 homes. The proposals are currently out for public consultation.

A report by officers said the council's housing need figure, using the government's new standard method but based on the previous 2014-based household projections, was 803 homes a year, equating to 12,045 new homes over the 15-year plan period up to 2033.

Now, in the wake of last week’s ONS figures, the council has said its housing need has almost halved and it is therefore seeking to amend the proposals.

A statement from the council said: "Wirral was set a target of 12,000 homes by 2035, or approximately 800 a year, which was determined based on the government’s formula using economic and demographic data.

"However, the ONS has now released revised figures indicating the target is much lower – closer to 500."

Wirral Council leader, Cllr Phil Davies said: "The new ONS figures published indicate the number of new homes actually required is in fact less than 500 - nearly half of the number first proposed.

"We have argued that the original figures were too high and were leading to a miscalculation which threatened our green belt. Indeed, I wrote to the minister advocating that we should not have to slavishly follow the government's national formula – and we have been proved right.

"We now need to review what this means for our local plan and we will be writing to government ministers to reaffirm our commitment to developing a robust local plan but urging them to take these new calculations into account so we can protect our green belt."

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