Threatened Wirral Council urges MHCLG to allow it to use lower household projections

A council undergoing Whitehall scrutiny of its local plan process has said it is lobbying the government to allow it to use September's lower household growth figures that would see the district's housing need drop by two-fifths.

Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral Council's headquarters. Pic: Rept0n1x, Wikipedia
Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral Council's headquarters. Pic: Rept0n1x, Wikipedia

Wirral Council in Merseyside was among 15 local authorities warned by Sajid Javid in November last year that it faced central government intervention over its failure to adopt a local plan.

In March this year, it was one of three authorities to receive a further rebuke from Javid over its lack of plan-making progress as he said he was preparing to take over its local plan production. The three councils' plan preparation would be scrutinised by a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) team, he said. 

Wirral Council published its draft local plan for consultation in September. Using the government’s new standard housing need method, the plan proposed delivering 12,000 homes by 2035, or 800 homes a year, and allocated 50 development sites on green belt land. 

Just after the plan was published, however, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released new 2016-based household growth projections, which indicated that Wirral's requirement would drop by almost two-fifths to 488 homes a year.

But in October, the MHCLG launched a consultation proposing that planners ignore those 2016-based household projections when assessing their housing need and instead use the 2014-based figures published two years ago.

This week, the council announced that it would continue to use the 800 homes a year target in its emerging local plan.

But a report to be considered by the council's cabinet on Monday morning recommends that "the council continues to lobby government, to enable it to use the ONS household projections ... for the purposes of preparing its local plan, which would give an annual target of 488 new residential dwellings per annum".

George Davies, the cabinet member for housing and community safety, said: "We have consistently lobbied government to allow us to use the recent, more accurate household projection figures published by the Office of National Statistics in September this year. 

"Using these figures would mean there would be no need to release hardly any green belt land for development. 

"But at the moment, the government are telling us to aim for the higher target. 

"They’re refusing to allow us – or any other local authority in the same situation – to lower the projections. This means we must continue to plan for 12,000 new homes over the next 15 years."

Davies said the council had responded to the MHCLG consultation that proposed "to ignore the latest ONS figures" to say the lower figures were "right for Wirral". 

"I am calling on every elected member on Wirral Council, of every party, to lobby government in the same way," he added. 

As part of the plan's preparation, the council said that "more detailed technical assessments on every piece of land included in the consultation will take place over the first half of 2019 and will confirm the council’s commitment to preserving as much of the borough’s green belt as possible". 

The report also said the council should seek to revise its local plan timetable to account for the "completion of the necessary statutory environmental appraisals", adding that the MHCLG has been advised of the review.

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