Wirral axes local plan green belt releases in favour of brownfield push

A Merseyside council whose local plan preparation progress is under Whitehall scrutiny has published a new draft strategy that scraps previous proposals to release 48 green belt sites and instead aims to focus new housing development on brownfield land.

Birkenhead: town to be focus of brownfield push (pic: Alex Liivet, Flickr)
Birkenhead: town to be focus of brownfield push (pic: Alex Liivet, Flickr)

Wirral Council in Merseyside was among 15 local authorities warned by the then housing secretary Sajid Javid in November 2017 that it faced central government intervention over its failure to adopt a local plan.

In March 2018, 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.

Wirral Council published its draft local plan for consultation in September 2018. 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 that year, 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.

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

In February 2019  the then housing secretary James Brokenshire wrote to Wirral Council’s leader Phil Davies said he would not take over the plan's preparation "at this time". But he set out a number of directions for the council to follow to avoid the government taking over production of its plan in the future.

The council subsequently published an action plan setting out what it would do to get a local plan in place.

Now, the council has agreed to carry out an issues and options consultation on the draft plan.

According to council documents, the draft plan continues to include the same 12,000-home target.

However, the council has set out a new preferred option for allocating development, scrapping the previous plan to remove 48 sites from the green belt.

A statement from the authority said its preferred option "is to focus development and regeneration on urban and brownfield locations primarily on the east side of the borough to meet its housing requirements up to 2035, focused on high quality design and energy efficient homes to help meet the council’s green agenda".

The consultation document says this would be focused mainly on Birkenhead.

It adds that an updated Birkenhead Regeneration Framework "will seek to demonstrate how the major opportunities presented by the future development of Wirral Waters, Woodside, Hamilton Park, Scott’s Quay, Hind Street and parts of Birkenhead Town Centre, providing thousands of new homes and job opportunities in new mixed use communities, can be delivered".

The document will go out for an eight-week consultation later this month. The council envisages that a final draft local plan will be brought to council for approval in July 2020, and would then be submitted for examination in November 2020.

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