North West council considers scaling back green belt release in local plan

St Helens Council has been advised to backtrack on plans to remove a number of sites from the green belt in its emerging local plan, as well as to cut its housing target.

St Helens Council HQ. Image by Michael Heavey,
St Helens Council HQ. Image by Michael Heavey,

The council’s local plan preferred options document, published in 2016, proposed removing 25 sites from the green belt to meet housing needs before 2033 and to safeguard a further 26 for potential development beyond that date.

However, in a report prepared by officers ahead of a cabinet meeting next Wednesday, members are recommended to drop five of the sites allocated in the former category and 19 in the latter category.

The green belt sites still earmarked for release in the draft plan would be capable of providing 2,056 homes before 2035, around 22 per cent of the 9,234 homes planned over the plan period.

The report to the council’s cabinet says: "The issue of green belt release in particular continues to be controversial and the proposed approach, while reducing the level of green belt release compared to the proposals in the preferred options document, is likely to be met by continued opposition and lobbying against the plan."

Councillors have also been advised that the government’s standard methodology would result in an annual housing need figure of 468 new homes each year, much lower than the 570 included in the council’s preferred options document.

The officers' report says: "Whilst it is not appropriate to rely on the standard method output of 468 dwellings per annum, there is now no robust evidential basis to continue with a figure as high as 570 dwellings per annum."

As a result, the revised plan proposes a target of 515 new homes each year.

In August, the council announced a delay to the preparation of the draft plan to consider the implications of the revised National Planning Policy Framework.

The following month, the council argued that publication of updated household projections had seen its housing requirement drop by almost a quarter and made it "difficult, if not impossible" to produce a legally robust local plan.

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