Government overrules council’s West Kirby planning refusal

Homes will be built on a town’s last remaining farmland in a major blow to campaigners.

Plans had been submitted to Wirral Council for 39 homes on a field off Grange Road in West Kirby but this was rejected by the council in February 2023 after objections from local residents about the plans.

The space was also designated an urban green space as part of the local authority’s draft Local Plan but the decision over the land, known locally as the Sheep Field, was then appealed by developers to the Planning Inspectorate, a government body, who approved it.

Unlike the major decision to reject all seven applications by Leverhulme Estates, the appeal decision over the field did not believe it would undermine the council’s draft Local Plan. This is also the second blow to the council in West Kirby after it lost an appeal over flats on the town’s old fire station and had to pay costs.

The Local Plan is currently under government inspection and proposes building more than 14,000 homes on the Wirral. Crucially it doesn’t involve any green belt developments and designated 48 areas in towns as protected green space.

As a result, it is being challenged by a number of developers and Wirral Council faces a difficult task in explaining why its more expensive brownfield developments are deliverable.

Objectors to the Sheep field application. Credit: Edward Barnes

In his decision, government Planning Inspector Patrick Hanna said, “The proposal would not have a significant adverse effect on the character and appearance of the surrounding area, with particular regard to effects on the streetscene, the setting of West Kirby, and green space.”

He argued the benefits of the proposal outweighed the harms, and even though the land was designated a green space, “the Council’s assertion that the LGS designations are sound and unlikely to change cannot be said with any great certainty at this stage.”

He also disagreed with claims that the site was beautiful and historical significance but it “does indeed have some pleasing visual qualities.” On whether the site was tranquil, he argued the site’s location next to a busy main road with no public access contradicted this.

As for prematurity, Mr Hanna said because the proposal was for only 39 houses and would only remove one out of 48 green spaces from the Local Plan, “there is insufficient justification to refuse this appeal on grounds of prematurity.”

He added, “The Leverhulme appeals can be clearly distinguished from the current appeal. Unlike this appeal for 39 units within the settlement, the Leverhulme appeals relate to a much larger scale of development of some 788 units on a number of green belt sites outside settlements, where the existing and proposed policy framework is different.”

Emery Planning pitched the plans as “a sympathetic and high-quality residential development set into the existing setting of a retained spacious meadow buffer from Grange Road, trees, orchards, hedgerows, and driveways.”

The developer argued it would be “a strong addition to the town and complementing the surrounding neighbourhoods” but more than 800 people and local councillors petitioned against saying it would damage “the much loved, iconic route into the town” overlooking the Dee Estuary.

Some objectors to the Sheep field application outside Birkenhead Town Hall. Credit: Edward Barnes

Cllr Jeff Green, leader of the council’s Conservatives, said, “I am incredibly disappointed. I believe the case I made and the case that the local residents made at the public inquiry were very strong cases indeed.

“We had agreed for the inclusion of the sheep field in the draft Local Plan who identified that as a green space so it is really disappointing that the inspector didn’t accept that it was premature to make a decision on that. If the Local Plan is adopted, that would have resulted in that site being a green space.”

“It raises a number of issues regarding other elements that are identified as green space. There are questions about whether that leaves them open.”

The local Labour Party supports no green belt development, but Cllr Green said that if previous Labour administrations had adopted a Local Plan earlier, the sheep field wouldn’t have been open to development.


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