Wirral Planning, Green Belt, Golf & Scrapes!

News From Our Green & Pleasant ‘Asset Rich/Cash Poor’ Borough

Local Planning

Wirral Council’s Planning Department is trying to avoid being put into ‘Special Measures’.  It, along with 14 other English Councils, was named last year by the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) as not having met its ‘Local Plan’ deadline.  The Council had been given until the end of January to offer its reasons for not meeting this requirement.  The Council has now submitted its explanation.  We hope it is accepted; if not, we all, as Council Tax payers, will have to bear the extra burden of covering the cost of employing Government planners or planning consultants to complete the work.

Government Intervention on Green Belt Applications

The Society has asked Margaret Greenwood MP to enquire of the DCLG why it has all but abandoned acting as the ‘backstop’ for significant Planning Decisions in cases where Councils’ approvals have been given for building in the Green Belt.  This is especially important when Applications are made by the Council itself (or when it may also be linked in to another Public Authority eg. the Fire & Rescue Service).  Councils, as well as being the Planning Authority, could also own the land in question, and /or be its developer.  Mr Javid, the Secretary of State, has responded to recent submissions saying that the Government wants to encourage ‘locally’ made decisions.  We consider this reply unsatisfactory as it allows Councils’ unchecked freedom in such cases.

The Gilroy Scrape, West Kirby

We gather that since the last issue, there has been no progress on securing the future of this site for wading birds. Questions have been raised with Wirral Council and replies are awaited.

Possible Review of Wirral Green Belt

Wirral Council is concerned that it has many outstanding Planning Permissions for land that have been approved, but not yet built on – the greatest number being at ‘Wirral Waters’. The Society has recently met with Peel Holdings, to clarify concerns that the company was ‘Land-Banking’. We were encouraged to learn that the Company was not holding onto land in order to increase its value, and that it has 12 projects it plans to bring forward in the coming year, three of which are for housing.  We are hopeful that, with Council support, these projects can be made a reality during this year.

Proposed Hoylake Golf Resort

Hoylake Golf Resort Public Meeting, December 2017
Standing room only, people overflowing into side-rooms, such is the strength of opposition to Wirral Council’s idea of building an unwanted project on Greenbelt. (Photo by Keren O’Rourke)

This issue continues to be a major concern to the Society.  Over the last 2 months there have been three significant meetings. The first was a public meeting called by Margaret Greenwood MP, following many concerns raised with her by local people.  The meeting was well supported by Wirral residents who raised questions and heard speakers from Stop Hoylake Golf Resort Action Group, (SHGRAG), Hoylake Village Life (HVL), Cllr Davies and Mr D Ball from Wirral Council. Ms Greenwood offered to be the intermediary for written questions to put to the Council for a response.

It was disappointing that one week later, the Council’s Cabinet met to discuss its current Golf Resort Plans and approved the Funding and Phasing Strategy submitted by the Developer, including a plan for the Council to borrow £26million which it would then lend to that Developer.

At the most recent meeting, representatives from SHGRAG and HVL met with senior members of the Council’s planning /regeneration team to discuss HVL’s alternative Wildfowl and Wetland Centre proposal. Also attending were the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, the Merseyside Environmental Advisory Service and the Golf Environment Organisation. Various actions were agreed and these will be covered in more detail in the next issue.

Whilst the meeting was considered useful, the SHGRAG remain concerned that the Council will continue to press ahead with its proposals for the golf resort and associated housing:-  2 golf courses with hotel and training facility together with 160 Band H houses and a new link road. There is no certainty, either, that the council will give serious consideration to alternative proposals, or despite assurances, will give stakeholders and the community adequate opportunity to shape and influence the final design of the resort.

GE2017 – Party Environmental Policies

Staying informed on environmental policy

The Society tries wherever possible not to get directly involved in Party Politics, but the attitude of respective Parties to matters which are of direct concern to the Society have, of necessity, to be taken into account.

On Wirral, we face both the threat of losing our precious Green Belt to unnecessary building development and the potential exploration for coal using ‘Fracking’ drilling technology under the Dee Estuary. In accordance with our parent body, CPRE, we stand to try and protect the Wirral environment against the loss of our Green Belt and damage by exploring our precious estuary we share with North Wales from damage caused by UCG exploration. Therefore, we feel it is our duty to highlight each Political Party’s GE2017 manifesto statements on these issues.

Conservative

Green Belt: Maintain the existing strong protections on designated land like the Green Belt, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Shale Gas: Develop the shale industry in Britain.

Labour

Green Belt: warns that the green belt is “under threat”, and promises to “defend and extend existing environmental protections”, without specifically citing the Green Belt among those protections. Labour also pledge to prioritise brownfield sites for development.
Shale Gas: Ban Fracking.

Liberal Democrats

Green Belt: does not include a mention of the green belt, but pledges to “significantly increase the amount of accessible green space … and create a new designation of national nature parks to protect up to one million acres of accessible green space valued by local communities.”
Shale Gas: Oppose Fracking.

UKIP

Green Belt: Protect our countryside and prioritise brownfield rather than Greenfield or agricultural land for new housing.
Shale Gas: Invest in shale gas exploration.

Green Party

Green Belt: Strong protection for the Green Belt, National Parks, SSSIs and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Shale Gas: End Fracking.

These are brief summaries and it would seem there is cross-party consensus on the value of our green spaces. However, the fact that a body like CPRE can see no reason for being less proactive is a reminder that we must remain vigilant, despite what the manifestos say!

Local Issues Roundup, May 2017

Local Issues

Proposed new Fire Station at Saughall Massie

Street view visualisation of proposed 'Community Fire Station at Saughall Massie
Street-view visualisation of proposed ‘Community Fire Station at Saughall Massie (minus unhappy local community).

As expected, the Merseyside Fire Authority has lost no time in spending yet more public money in submitting another Application to Wirral Council to build in the Wirral Green Belt. They have carefully moved the car parking around the building, which they consider will meet residents’ objections and the Planning Committee. However, the Application would still require the operational fire station to be built on protected land close to sheltered housing and just a mile from its Upton station, against resident’s objections. We cannot understand why it is possible for such re-Applications to be made, which barely differ from a previously refused Application. Whilst we have objected most strongly to this new Application, we are however under no illusions that despite all objections, the Planning Committee will give its approval this time around.

At Storeton Village

There is an application for a housing development, the funds from which will be ‘Enabling development’ to facilitate the restoration of the 14th Century Storeton Hall, which is a Scheduled Historic Monument.   ‘Enabling Development’ seems to be the new phrase designed to persuade the Planning Authority to agree to ‘Very Special Circumstances’ to allow building in the Green Belt, where it would otherwise not be allowed.

At Thornton Hough Village

There are proposals by a ‘Retirement Complex’ developer to develop flats, assisted living accommodation on a former farm, located within the Wirral Green Belt, in this historic village. We have contacted the two opposing groups and hope that they work together and that we can assist in opposing the Application when it arrives.

In Hoylake

The Society has been pleased to note that local Councillors have now decided to oppose the 15-year long Council sponsored (taxpayer funded) Hoylake Golf Resort.  However, we remain concerned that they seem instead to be backing a smaller scale scheme, which had been put forward in the locality, some years ago. We trust this will not be taken forward.  The website www.hoylakegolfresort.uk has many interesting revelations.

The Gilroy ‘Scrape’, West Kirby

Gilroy Scrape
Photo by Richard Smith, www.deeestuary.co.uk

Our contact from the Dee Estuary Birding group advises that the scrape remains largely empty and the dry spring weather has meant that the mud has been rapidly drying out making it a sad sight. Nevertheless, some shallow water does remain and this has attracted small numbers of birds including Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Shelducks – demonstrating just how important site this site is for our bird life. As the group now has a good understanding of how the scrape was emptied and why it is not refilling, they are confident it can be restored relatively easily. They are hopeful this work can be carried out in time for the returning Black-tailed Godwits in late July; this being one of the most important sites in the country for this species.

We are also advised that at a meeting of the Local Wildlife Sites Partnership in January, the decision to make a large portion of the Hoylake Langfields, including Gilroy Scrape, into a Site of Biological Interest (SBI) was temporarily put on hold whilst more data on bird numbers was gathered. Now this data has been acquired it is expected that SBI status will be given the go-ahead, later this year.

Green Belt in Wirral Borough

The Conservative group on the Council has been able to call a special Council Meeting, to seek clarification from the Council Leader on his recent statement supporting the Wirral Green Belt and the apparent conflict relating to various Council support for possible developments in the Green Belt.  We await the outcome of that meeting with interest.

Proposed Development at Caldy Cross Roads, Caldy

The Society has been approached by the Caldy Society to support them over an approach from a development company which is interested in developing the triangle of land bounded by Caldy Road, Telegraph Road and Stapledon Woods, for housing. It is a large area and, if successful, would be looking to build at least a hundred and probably more houses there.  As the fields are in multiple ownership, there would need to be unanimity in wishing to sell their respective portions of land. With the land being within the Wirral Green Belt, we will be advising the Caldy Society, that the developer would have to be able to make a very good case for proving ‘Very Special Circumstances’ to build there – but we must take such possibilities seriously, in these uncertain times.

Burton’s Biscuits Site, Pasture Road, Moreton

As nothing appeared to be happening, following the recent granting of planning permission for new housing on this site, we have been in touch with the Company’s Agents to find out if any progress is being made. We are told the site has been advertised to house-builders, who have had until the end of April to bid for the option to develop the site. The successful bidder is due to be announced in a few months time, and the Agents expect that site-development work will begin early next year. It was confirmed the important Water Feature alongside Pasture Road is definitely an integral part of the redevelopment proposal. This Application has the full support of the Society, as it puts much-needed housing into the urban area, where it belongs, and hopefully will help bring more economic prosperity to Moreton itself.

At Eastham Village

Proposed new housing at Eastam Village
Proposed new housing on part of the site owned by Old Anselmians Rugby Club, Eastham Village

The local Rugby Club is applying to sell off some of its land for housing to enable the club to continue financially. We have objected as the Green Belt is not to be used as a ‘cash cow’ just because an enterprise in in difficulties.  We fear that there will be a repeat of the problem in a few years time and yet more Green Belt will have to be sacrificed. This application is ‘muddied’ by the inclusion of a replacement ‘Community Facility’ for which Wirral Council seems to have been able to pledge some £350,000….if it decides that the planning application should be approved. There are many issues that worry us about this application.

Liverpool City Region

A major change will have taken place on 4th May, when the ‘Metro Mayor’ is elected as part of the introduction of the new Liverpool City Region. The Region includes the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, along with 5 Boroughs north of the River Mersey. This new Combined Authority, under the control of the Metro Mayor, will have significant planning powers in its role of Strategic Planning Authority over the Region.

Amongst those powers will be the overall identification of land suitable for development, notably for new housing. The Mayor will thus become a key player in directing the type and location of development across the 6 Boroughs. We have been encouraged to note in election prospectuses that each of the candidates has pledged to protect the Green Belt and direct new development onto previously-used (‘Brownfield’) land. We hope that those candidates proposing ambitious house-building targets will still be able to honour their commitment to maintain the existing Green Belt, especially in Wirral Borough.

News Update, January 2017

Proposed ‘Community’ Fire Station at Saughall Massie

Proposed site of new 'community' Fire Station
Proposed site of new ‘community’ Fire Station, directly in front of single-story sheltered housing for the elderly and infirm.

Much to the surprise of many, the Planning Officer’s recommendation to approve this application, which was narrowly rejected by the Council’s Planning Committee recently. Continue reading “News Update, January 2017”