The council has informed the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that it needs extra time to submit its long-awaited local plan, despite pledging to meet the June deadline earlier this summer.
A consultation on the Wirral Local Plan ran from 13 January to 23 March this year, and Wirral Council has spent the lockdown period reviewing feedback from members of the public, required to formally move to the next stage of the preparation process.
It said in a statement in May it intended to publish comments from interested parties on the council’s website “in the coming weeks” and submit the draft plan to the Government in June. Since the close of the consultation council officers have been collating and analysing the public’s responses to the Issues and Options paper in preparation for moving on to the next stage (formally known as Regulation 19).
However, the council gave people more time to comment on the proposals contained in the plan on account of the lockdown period and needs more time now to review them.
“Extending the timescales for preparing and adopting the final local plan will ensure we have developed a robust ‘sound’ local plan that not only protects our green belt but shapes the regeneration needed in our borough, improves the health and lifestyles of our residents and boosts employment opportunities,” said Wirral Council’s cabinet member for the local plan, Cllr Anita Leech.
“We have had an impressive response to the consultation we ran at the start of the year, and despite the obvious difficulties resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic we have been working hard to collate and analyse the responses.
“We have also been undertaking several evidence base studies and on-site assessment work, but this has been unable to happen at the pace we initially anticipated due to the restrictions in place,” she added.
The council did not provide a revised timetable for the delivery of its local plan, saying only that will “publish details of the extended programme as soon as practicable following an expected announcement by Government on national planning reforms expected over the summer.”
The council has been grilled on its position on Green Belt release since 2018, when it published an earlier version of the Wirral Local Plan that recommended 50 Green Belt sites should be released for residential development.
The latest iteration of the document prioritises building in urban areas or on brownfield land elsewhere, with a focus on sites within Birkenhead town centre, Wallasey, and Peel’s Wirral Waters, which already has consent for 13,000 homes.
Wirral’s statutory housing requirement is set at 12,000 new homes over the period to 2035.
However, most brownfield land is privately owned and although the council is working with landowners and developers to ensure sites are made available and delivered it may not be possible to meet all the housing need using only brownfield sites so other potential options are being considered, the council said.
Cllr Leech added: “Protection of Wirral’s Green Belt is one of our key priorities in developing the local plan.
“Not only are we determined to lay the foundations for Wirral’s economy to be buoyant and ensure we have sufficient homes for the people who live here, but we want to protect our beautiful green spaces – which are the reason many choose to live in the borough.”