Leader of the council Cllr Pat Hackett has promised its upcoming Local Plan will feature no Green Belt release, in a pledge that backtracks from previous proposals to allocate nearly 50 sites for development.
Speaking at Place North West’s Merseyside Update event in Liverpool, Cllr Hackett, who took the helm at Wirral Council following May’s local elections, said the Local Authority was “on target” to complete the Local Plan next year.
“There won’t be Green Belt release as far as we’re concerned: it’s a brownfield-first policy. To prove that point, the Combined Authority see Wirral Waters, for instance, as one of their priority projects and it’s the biggest brownfield site in the North West,” he said.
The pledge marks a major change from previous proposals for Wirral’s ongoing Local Plan, which saw the borough enter a dispute with central Government in 2018 over housing numbers. At the start of the year, the Department for Communities & Local Government threatened to step in because a plan was yet to be implemented; Wirral was set a target of 12,000 homes by 2035, or approximately 800 a year, determined based on the Government’s formula using economic and demographic data.
At the time of the Government’s involvement, the council hit back, arguing the Government was “dead wrong” and said the local authority “neither welcomed nor appreciated the Secretary of State’s overtly political intervention.”
Further debate then followed over the population figures released by the Office for National Statistics, which suggested fewer than 500 homes a year, rather than 800, would be required in Wirral.
While previous leader Cllr Phil Davies and the wider council were resistant to Green Belt release, the draft Local Plan released in July 2018 still cut the amount of Green Belt land in the borough from around 46% to 32%, releasing nearly 50 sites for development, in order to meet the 800 homes a year target.
The sites varied in size but included 10 areas in Bebington; seven in Clatterbridge; eight in Eastham; and three in Heswall. Following Hackett’s comments, the future of these sites is unclear.
A series of major brownfield sites have also been allocated for housing; the largest of the sites is the former Acre Lane Resource Centre, which covers 21 acres and was sold by the council in 2016.
At the time of the draft plan release, the council said it was pushing a “brownfield-first” strategy. Following Hackett’s comments, the approach appears to be the same albeit with a hardened stance against Green Belt release.
Under its original timeline, set out when publishing the draft plan, the Local Authority said a final decision on the Local Plan would be made by full council in July 2020.