Hearings to assess Wirral’s proposed Local Plan have now ended and, last week, Councillors met with the Council's Chief Executive, Interim Head of Planning, Director of Regeneration and the Council's barrister, Christopher Katkowski KC
The Local Plan will show where various types of development, such as homes and businesses, will be located to meet future needs. The independent Inspectors listened to evidence for 19 days spread over eight weeks and heard from a wide range of participants.
The inspectors use the hearings to help them assess whether the Plan is ‘sound’. National planning policy issued by the Government states that local plans must meet four tests of soundness – that the Plan is positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national planning policy.
We attended the hearings and, following questions from the Inspectors, contacted the Council's Interim Head of Planning to reinforce the need to:
- Ensure the policy on Conservation Areas also enables these special areas to be enhanced
- Remove The Dips from the regeneration area, and maintain its designation as a Local Green Space
The council must now wait for the Inspectors interim report which will indicate their findings.The Examination remains open until such time as the Inspectors letter is received.
There are three possible outcomes to the examination in this report from the inspectors:
- The Inspectors find that the Plan is sound and legally compliant and the report recommends the Plan is adopted;
- The Inspectors find that it is possible to make it sound and legally compliant by making main modifications to it. The Inspector will recommend the necessary main modifications, if requested to do so by the council;
- The Inspectors find the Plan unsound and/or legally non-compliant as submitted and recommends non-adoption of the Plan. In practice, the LPA would be asked to consider withdrawing the Plan before any such recommendation was made as the council cannot adopt an unsound plan.
Assuming a sound Local Plan is provided, once this process is complete members of Wirral Council will be asked to approve and adopt the final version of the Local Plan which the authority will then use to determine individual planning applications.
Conservative Councillors are pushing for redevelopment of existing run-down sites (known as 'brownfield') and not Green Belt. Not surprisingly, many developers and speculators are challenging this.
To help the Council's case, Wirral has received more than £100m to support regeneration, most recently Liscard's town centre. At the same time, the Government has made changes to national planning policy that make it easier for council's to retain Green Belt.
While councils such as Wirral can change the boundaries of green belt land in their area as part of the local plan review process, government guidance is they should only change green belt boundaries in “exceptional circumstances”.
The latest data shows that 22% of the Wallasey Constituency is Green Belt - 530 hectares - much of it around Saughall Massie.
Labour goes wobbly on the Green Belt
The Local Plan was due in 2004 - but nothing was done during the entire time Labour led the Council, leading to this intervention by the Secretary of State.
It was only after Labour lost their majority in the Town Hall that work started to produce a Local Plan.
In May 2023, just a week AFTER the council elections, Sir Keir Starmer announced that Labour would relax controls to enable more building on the Green Belt - putting areas of Wirral, including Saughall Massie, at risk.
In January 2024, this led to Green Belt campaigner Councillor Gail Jenkinson leaving the Party.
In the meantime, local Conservative Councillors have pledged to continue to resist loss of further Green Belt and green spaces.