Wirral says ‘still progressing’ local plan despite lockdown
The council has pledged to meet the June deadline for its long-awaited Local Plan, which has been mired in controversy over whether or not it will include Green Belt land release.
“During this challenging time, while the coronavirus is all-consuming, council officers remain committed to fulfilling their responsibilities to prepare for the future of Wirral – a priority is to meet the Government’s deadlines on the delivery of the Local Plan,” Wirral Council said in a statement to media.
The draft Local Plan is due to be published in June. It aims to promote the regeneration of various areas including Birkenhead, Liscard, New Ferry and New Brighton, to provide new mixed-use neighbourhoods alongside protected environmental and heritage assets.
In January, ahead of the most recent consultation on the plan, Wirral Council overhauled the list of sites that could be used to meet its target of 12,000 homes over the next 15 years, and described Green Belt release as the “worst case scenario”.
“We are 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,” Cllr Anita Leech, deputy leader of Wirral Council and cabinet member for the Local Plan, said at the time.
The council has been forced to defend its position on Green Belt release since 2018, when it published an earlier version of the Wirral Local Plan, which suggested 50 Green Belt sites would be made available 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.
The consultation ran from 13 January to 23 March, and the council is now reviewing feedback from members of the public and intends to publish comments from interested parties on the council’s website in the coming weeks.
Cllr Leech said: “Now that consultation has closed, comments will be reviewed, and a final draft Local Plan will be prepared and published.
“This, in due course, will be subject to examination in public by a planning inspector.”
While lockdown restrictions persist to curb the spread of Covid-19, Wirral has set up an interactive online system on its planning portal, enabling members of the public to search for comments submitted by question and see an overview of the numbers and types of feedback received.
“I will ensure, through whatever means are available to us at that time, that all residents will have the opportunity to make representations to the planning inspectorate on the contents of the final draft Local Plan,” Cllr Leech added.