The first in a series of public consultation events on Wirral’s Local Plan for housing took place today.
The ‘Local Plan’ is the policy which guides how an area can be developed; it determines what can be built where and what land should be protected from development. It will determine what brownfield sites should be made available for housing, it determines where new employment and mixed use sites should be released for development and it will conduct a full review of Green Belt in the borough.
Cllr George Davies, cabinet member for housing, said: "Protecting the quality of life we enjoy in Wirral is high on the list of responsibilities the Council faces. As part of that, we will start the complex and challenging process of consulting with residents on our Local Plan for Government review in 2019.
"The Local Plan is a document all Councils must produce to steer and shape the housing, employment and economic development of the borough. As has been widely reported in the media, we are contesting the Government’s formula for the house building element - they currently require Wirral to identify enough land to build 12,000 homes by 2035 - believing local indicators and real market data are more accurate tools to determine Wirral’s actual housing needs than a top down target from the men in the ministry.
"Our efforts to identify a more accurate and meaningful house building target for Wirral will continue. The government has recently announced it wants to revisit its calculations around demographic change, and we hope that this will help reduce the pressure on green space the current targets are creating.
"While the campaign to reduce the Government’s mandated house building target goes on, we also want to hear what local residents and businesses have to say, and how you suggest we provide the homes Wirral residents need today and tomorrow, but also maintain the character and charm of the borough."
Over the next sixweeks, council planning officers are holding information and consultation meetings with residents. The first events took place today at Wallasey Town Hall, with follow up sessions across the borough in Pensby, Port Sunlight, New Brighton and West Kirby.
Cllr Davies wants as many residents as possible to attend and give their views. He continued:
"Following the formula the Government requires and explaining the process we must follow - they will ask two critical questions; I hope local residents will speak up and share their views on.
"What kinds of homes do Wirral residents require? We know our borough has an ageing demographic who are looking for suitable ‘down-sizing’ accommodation, we also know young people and families are struggling to get on the property ladder and more affordable housing is needed, and we know people want to stay in their local community but good quality private rental options are in short supply.
"I hope to see innovative ideas come forward which will update and upgrade existing housing stock, will see new homes which meet our needs and contribute greater vibrancy and economic growth to our communities and neighbourhoods, encouraging and providing support for local businesses and workers. I have asked officers to explore the possibility of perhaps encouraging new garden villages or suburbs – which the government seems willing to support and help fund – as a possible solution. After all, in Port Sunlight we have perhaps the UK’s greatest example of a modern planned community which residents cherish and love today, a century after it was first built. But we encourage residents to share their ideas too.
"If there are new houses to be built, I want to make sure they are the homes we need. This also means using the latest energy efficient materials, developing communities which integrate public transport, cycle-ways, walking routes and access to amenities. And I also want to make sure builders use local supply chains and employ local residents so we create jobs and business in building our own local communities, giving our residents a sense of belonging and pride.
"The second question is exploring where we should look to build these new homes? Overwhelmingly, we hear residents want to remain in the communities where they have put down roots and their friends and family are nearby. This means looking at brownfield sites and ‘in-fills’ around our existing communities and urging the landowners with planning permissions to get on with the job of building the homes they applied for.
"The Council owns hardly any land in Wirral, in fact nearly 50% of the borough is Green Belt and in the ownership of a small number of landowners. In addition, our largest brownfield site, Wirral Waters, is owned by Peel, and you will have seen local councillors, MPs and residents backing our campaign to get them to invest their millions in building on their land as promised. These efforts will also continue.
"In the consultations, officers will present to residents a long list of possible sites to help us meet the Government’s house building target. Residents will see the existing developments we have already granted permissions for like those around Rock Ferry and Birkenhead North, they will see the brownfield and former industrial sites such as the vacant Burtons biscuit factory in Moreton and the former Acre Lane education site in Bromborough.
"But even after these sites are developed we are still a long way off the Government’s target – about 7,000 homes short, officers’ estimate. This means we have to explore open spaces and the Green Belt – in fact, a Green Belt Review is a necessary part of the development of a Local Plan.
"There are more than a hundred sites identified as Green Belt and a strict list of criteria and controls are in place which mean only around half of those qualify even to be considered. The officers have a responsibility to bring forward all those sites which must be consulted on, and as part of their calculations they must indicate how many homes each site could contribute to meeting the Government target.
"Like me, residents will initially be shocked at the scale of development which has to be consulted on. While the formula suggests up to 1800 homes could be squeezed on land between Pensby and Irby, and 1500 new homes could fit onto land at Lever’s Causeway – councillors and cabinet members have already expressed their opposition and residents are urged to share their views too. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that nothing – absolutely nothing – can be built without it first being approved by planning committee here in Wirral.
"While we have serious misgivings about the formula and targets, we have no option but to complete a Local Plan. And because the Government has to approve our submission, and we will provide all the evidence and responses made, it is vitally important local residents get involved in the consultation. Only by showing we are listening to local residents can we support our efforts to minimise the impact on our borough these house building targets are creating."
Residents still have time to book their places on the consultation events. The full schedule, alongside detailed information on the Local Plan proposals, is available online. Later this week detailed information packs will be delivered to every Library and One Stop Shop in the borough, to help those residents without access to the internet.
The formal consultation for Wirral’s local plan begins on 3rd September and runs till 15th October. Detailed maps and technical information will be available in libraries and one stop shops.
Residents can submit their views online or in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or Local Plan Consultation, Forward Planning Section, Wirral Council Economic and Housing Growth, PO Box 290, Brighton Street, Wallasey, CH27 9FQ no later than 5pm on Friday 26th October 2018.