The developer behind the project has pledged environmental improvements will be at the heart of its proposals as it prepares to start the planning process, with Willmott Dixon on board to deliver the site’s Celtic Manor resort.
Speaking to Place North West, Jim Anderson of developer Nicklaus Joint Venture Group, said the scheme was “fully funded” with an aim to “start work the next day” if planning permission is secured.
The project, including a Celtic Manor-branded hotel, spa, and conference facilities as well as a championship golf course and 18-hole range, was first put forward in November 2016. Since then, Wirral Council has agreed to back the scheme with prudential borrowing of £26m, along with £600,000 to support geotechnical surveys.
Anderson said the next step would be to start the Environmental Impact Assessment process, which is likely to take a year. This will inform the golf course’s design in terms of its impact on the landscape and wildlife habitats; the land is also entirely designated as green belt.
“The EIA will give us a lot of detail concerning any flooding issues, importantly, what species we’re dealing with, so the golf course can be designed to enhance their habitat,” he said.
“Quite frankly that isn’t going to be difficult, because the habitat at the moment is generally farmland and poor grade farmland at that.
“We have a great opportunity here, we think, when we fully understand the species we’re dealing with, to develop a golf course that will be almost purpose-designed to encourage those species to be successful, with up to 50% of the land to be dedicated to wildlife habitat.
“We think we can demonstrate very strongly and robustly that we are improving the habitat here, not destroying it.”
Over the next 12 months during the EIA process, the developer is also due to hold public consultation on the plans, before submitting an application around March 2020, with a start on site later in the spring or early summer, subject to planning approval.
Anderson also confirmed Story Homes was no longer involved with the housing element of the project, which covers about 4% of the site. Redrow is now on board as the site’s housebuilder, although Anderson said the partner for the apartments was yet to be agreed; PJ Livesey has been rumoured to be involved.
The change in housebuilder has led to a rejigged funding plan for the site, which will have to be resubmitted to Wirral Council for approval. However, Anderson reiterated that the project is fully funded and will not require any further public money to get under way.
The political landscape in Wirral is also set to change with leader of the council Phil Davies due to step down ahead of local elections in the summer. Davies has been one of the project’s main supporters, arguing it would “create a world-class leisure destination” in Hoylake.
Other councillors have previously criticised the Hoylake project, with a motion calling to put a halt to the scheme put forward by Cllr Allan Brame and seconded by Cllr Pat Cleary at a meeting in December. This followed a report to cabinet in November on the future provision of the borough’s golf courses, noting a downturn in golf course usage in Wirral.
The motion argued: “Given this gloomy assessment of current and future demand for golf facilities, council recognises that the proposed Celtic Manor development of Hoylake Golf Course looks increasingly unviable.
“Council now concludes that the access to prudential borrowing of £26m agreed in December 2017 poses an unacceptable risk to public funds, is no longer tenable or appropriate, and therefore requests that the leader and cabinet end all further use of council taxpayers’ money to support this scheme.”
Asked whether the elections would impact the development, Anderson said: “Hopefully we won’t be used as a political item one way or another. It’s important for us to get out to the people to understand what their concerns are; we have a year of planning where we can look at those concerns and hopefully address them, and a lot of that will be when they understand the true nature of the project.
“The doors of the golf course are very much open. You don’t have to be a member to come into the clubhouse to have a coffee or have a pint or use the restaurants; it’s there for everyone. It’s a misconception that this is a playground for the rich and only they can use it, and frankly, the business model wouldn’t work if we didn’t get engagement with the local population.”
Willmott Dixon has already been chosen as preferred contractor to build the Celtic Manor resort and the golf’s clubhouse. Other consultants working on the scheme include Hydrock and Grant Thornton. One of the site’s golf courses will be personally designed by Jack Nicklaus, with the other brought forward by Nicklaus Design Group.
The golf resort will be NJVG’s fourth development of its type.