The council has set out a revised timeframe for the preparation and adoption of its local plan, including consulting on the document from February and extending its lifespan by two years.
Wirral Council aims to approve the publication of the Wirral Local Plan in February 2021, followed by a six-week public consultation after which the plan will be submitted to the secretary of state for examination.
If approved, the local plan would then be fully adopted by mid-2022 and the policies contained in it would cover the period 2020-2037 – an extension of two years compared to the draft document that exists currently.
The revised timeframe comes after the council in July requested more time from the Government to prepare its local plan, following a string of delays and setbacks relating in part to Covid-19.
However, even before the pandemic, Wirral had struggled to agree a final version of its local plan due to controversy over its position on Green Belt release, and other issues.
The council has faced questions from members of the public and councillors 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.
Earlier this year, the council ran a consultation on the latest version of the plan – a consultation that was extended by four months to take into account the lockdown – and it intended to spend the summer months reviewing feedback before moving to the next stage of the process and submitting the draft plan to the Government in June.
However, in July, the council asked for more time to collate consultation responses and prepare the document for submission.
“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,” Wirral Council’s cabinet member for the local plan, Cllr Anita Leech, said at the time.
Leech said on Friday that the revised timeframe “will ensure we can protect the Green Belt and bring regeneration to those areas which need it”.
She added: “We said a while back that we might need more time but instead we are actually going to speed up the development of the plan. This is because changes in the planning regulations brought in this summer mean any delay could result in an obligation to build even more new homes per year and that would put Wirral’s Green Belt at risk. I will not accept that, so we will press ahead.”
Under the council’s preferred option for development policy, to be enshrined in the local plan, key regeneration locations such as in Birkenhead and Wallasey would play a crucial role in helping deliver the housing needed into the future, with many more brownfield and urban areas across the borough also being put forward meet local housing need.
The plan would also open up opportunities for “major regeneration” of large parts of the eastern side of Wirral, the council said.
Place North West revealed in August that the council is working on the biggest regeneration framework the area has seen in decades, a 20-year plan development roadmap for a stretch of land along the Wirral Peninsula described as the Left Bank.
The development zone would take in areas such as Seacombe, Liscard, New Brighton, Birkenhead, New Ferry and Bromborough.
Wirral Council said on Friday that a stumbling block towards earmarking certain sites for redevelopment is that most brownfield land is privately owned. Although the council is working with landowners and developers to ensure sites are made available, “it may not be possible to meet all the housing need using only brownfield sites so other potential options to deliver the housing have been required to be part of the consultation” it said.
Green Belt release is not, however, the council’s preferred option, and council officers “continue to undertake further intensive work to seek to increase the supply of land in the urban areas”.