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Wirral seeks extra time to complete Local Plan

Protecting the green belt in Wirral is a key priority council bosses have said as the authority moves to the next stage of developing its Local Plan.

Thousands of comments were made by more than 1,700 individuals and organisations to the Issues and Options consultation document released at the start of 2020 during extensive and wide-ranging consultation.

This consultation document showed how Wirral could meet the requirement for new homes and employment space – and the regeneration of key areas across the borough, as well as protecting green belt land.

The consultation document on the options for the Local Plan had set out in detail the council’s proposals for land use over 15 years and sought the public’s views.

The authority has now informed MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) that it expects to need additional time to complete the work required to take the development of the Local Plan to the next stage.

It follows the extended time for people to comment on the options proposed after the Coronavirus lockdown announced by the Government in March and provides time to complete essential  new  evidence studies required to address issues raised  in the  consultation.   

Cabinet member for the Local Plan, Cllr Anita Leech, said: “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.

“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.

“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. “

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).

Under the proposals key regeneration locations in Birkenhead and Wallasey 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 to provide sites to meet the housing need, and opening up the chance for major regeneration of large parts of the eastern side of Wirral. The housing requirement for Wirral is determined using Government guidelines and data and is calculated to be 12,000 new homes up 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 to deliver the housing were required to be part of the consultation. However, release of Green Belt is not 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.

Cllr Leech added: “The recent lockdown has evidenced the importance of quality green spaces for residents in our urban areas. We want a plan that not only protects existing green areas but ensures that urban greening and good quality design are integral and included at the start of the development process.”

The council will be consulting on ambitious and exciting proposals for the regeneration of Birkenhead which will be at the heart of the new Local Plan in Autumn 2020.  Details of the extended Local Plan programme will be published as soon as practicable following an expected announcement by Government on national planning reforms which is expected over the summer.