Wirral is moving early in the New Year into the next phase of developing its Local Plan.
The council has put forward a timetable, which aims to see the authority approve the publication of its draft Local Plan in February 2021 to be followed by six weeks of public consultation.
This is a crucial stage in the plan’s development. It will be the full draft Local Plan which the council will submit to the Secretary of State for examination, and is the version that the council will consider “sound” in terms of the Plan’s legal requirements.
If approved by the council then the policies and proposals in the Local Plan (submission draft) will start to gain greater weight in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (paragraph 48) during the future decision-taking processes.
The intention is to see the Local Plan, which will now cover the period 2020 to 2037, fully adopted by mid-2022 following its formal examination by a Government-appointed planning inspector later next year.
Consultation on the initial Wirral Local Plan 2020-2035 Issues and Options Consultation document (under Regulation 18) took place early in 2020. This included a four-week extension to the normal six-week consultation period due to the unexpected impact of the Covid-19 restrictions imposed towards the end of March 2020, although all planned public drop-in sessions were completed before that time
More than 25, 000 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, influencing the development of the Local Plan.
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 the Borough’s Green Belt.
Cabinet member for the Local Plan, Cllr Anita Leech, said: “This timetable for developing Wirral’s Local Plan will ensure we can protect the Green Belt and bring regeneration to those areas which need it. We said a while back 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 the proposals are for key regeneration locations in Birkenhead and Wallasey to 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.
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 have been required to be part of the consultation. 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.