Wirral Council has overhauled the list of sites that could be used to meet its target of 12,000 homes over the next 15 years, describing Green Belt release as a “worst case scenario” in the ongoing creation of its Local Plan.
The council is set to sign-off an ‘issues and options’ document to go out to public consultation later this month, which outlines the sites for inclusion in its draft Local Plan.
A statement from the council described the 12,000-home target as “tough”, however in response to public outcry regarding the previously proposed release of Green Belt, “our preferred option is to do this through urban sites, but it will not be easy”.
While an earlier version of the document, released in 2018, suggested that 50 Green Belt sites be released, the latest iteration prioritises building only within urban areas or on brownfield land, with a particular focus on sites within Birkenhead town centre, Wallasey, and Peel’s Wirral Waters, which has consent for 13,000 homes.
Cllr Anita Leech, cabinet member for the Local Plan, said the council was doing “everything in [its] power” to protect the Green Belt.
Placing responsibility for delivery of new homes on the shoulders of the private sector, Cllr Leech added: “Many of these sites are privately owned and the council is working with landowners and developers to ensure all potential locations are made available and delivered.
“We are now relying on developers and key regeneration partners to deliver the new homes they have told us they can provide, because if they don’t, it will place our precious Green Belt at risk.”
While avoiding Green Belt release is a vote winner, members of the development community have suggested delivering Wirral’s housing numbers would not be possible on solely brownfield or urban sites.
Wirral Waters has consent for 13,000 homes, however these are predominantly apartments, and the home types required in the borough are mainly houses.
The options document details the types of homes required by Wirral, made up of 60% houses and 18% bungalows, alongside 21% flats. Around 60% of the total properties delivered are required to be three or four bedrooms, targeted at families.
The council itself has acknowledged that avoiding Green Belt release is a major challenge; the document highlights a potential shortfall of 2,500 homes if urban sites cannot be developed due to “potentially uncertain viability or land contamination issues”.
The council insists this is “the worst case scenario” as “release of Green Belt is not and never would be the council’s preferred choice”.
However if other options are not explored, the council risks the Local Plan being declared unsound by a planning inspector because a solid pipeline of sites deliverable in the next five years would not be in place.
The two other options to be set out for public consultation would involve Green Belt release, however the number of sites are significantly fewer than the number previously proposed, dropping from 50 to 12.
The first option suggests the release of 370 acres of Green Belt, centred around plots in Irby with capacity for 1,200 homes, alongside 470 homes in Thingwall, and 360 in Bromborough.
The second Green Belt release option would be the opening up of one large site at Barnston Road in Heswall, a 350-acre chunk which could hold 2,600 homes.
At a Place North West event in November, Cllr Pat Hackett, leader of Wirral Council, promised that there would be no Green Belt release in the Local Plan, a surprise to many developers at the time, which had been in discussions with the council regarding the release of their sites as part of the earlier draft.
The process behind Wirral’s Local Plan has already proved controversial. The council faced Government intervention at the start of 2018 due to no plan being in place. Wirral was set a target of 12,000 homes by 2035, equating to 800 a year, which caused the council to hit back, describing the Government’s involvement and calculations as “dead wrong”.
While the council remained vocally against Green Belt release, blaming the Government’s flawed housing calculations for forcing high numbers, the draft development options for the Local Plan released in July 2018 outlined the 50 Green Belt sites for development.
A meeting of Wirral Council next Monday is set to approve the options document to go out to public consultation. A draft of the Local Plan is due to be published in June 2020.
The Wirral Local Plan development options document can be viewed in full here