Hundreds turn out against Leverhulme plans

Wirral Council struggled to find room as people turned out in their hundreds to oppose plans to build on green belt land.

Ahead of a public session held on Thursday evening, nearly 500 people turned up at a public hearing over plans by Leverhulme Estates to build on Wirral’s greenbelt. The hearing was held in Wallasey Town Hall’s Civic Hall due to huge numbers in attendance, with a spill-out room and balcony seating made available last minute.

As a 17-day inquiry continues, the Planning Inspectorate, a government agency that deals with planning appeals, is considering evidence from Wirral Council, Leverhulme Estates, members of the public and councillors.

Leverhulme wants to build more than 1,000 homes across the countryside in the first stage of its plans to build nearly 8,000 homes on the Wirral. However all its planning applications have so far been rejected by Wirral Council after fierce public opposition.

The company has now appealed the rejection of seven applications for 788 homes. The decision to reject an eighth planning application for 240 homes near Greasby has not been appealed yet, with Leverhulme focusing on the first seven.

The public at the hearing described Wirral’s greenbelt as “picturesque farmland” that was “a resource for all Wirral residents” and accused Leverhulme of a “cash grab.” Thousands have signed petitions against the plans.

All local political parties on the council also oppose the plans, arguing they would undermine regeneration projects in Birkenhead and harm Wirral’s environment and countryside. Leverhulme have argued this would not happen.

Leverhulme have also said their homes would provide deliverable and sustainable homes as well as “the creation of new cycleways and footpaths and the significant enhancement of biodiversity and habitats”, and would provide many economic and social benefits for the Wirral.

Public evidence heard by the Planning Inspectorate on June 8 against the plans included reports of archaeological findings, drone footage of the Wirral countryside, and comments from Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood.

Speakers even said there was evidence of humans being on the Wirral as far back as 10,000 years ago and of a Roman road running through one of the sites.

The prices of the proposed homes were brought up several times, with people arguing they would be “well out of reach of most of the peoiple in this room” and that the Wirral does not need “a London-style development.”

Councillors also argued the greenbelt development was not needed, pointing to Wirral’s population only growing by 417 people in the last census and council proposals to build nearly 14,000 homes on brownfield land.

Wirral Council leader Paul Stuart said, “We are not building on greenbelt when we have a very viable alternative of building on brownfield land,” adding: “Building on the greenbelt is not needed nor wanted in Wirral.”

Cllr Helen Cameron also spoke against an application in her ward, saying the countryside lanes around Raby Mere could not support more development, with one bend described locally as “chicken corner” that she said “takes on a whole new meaning if you attempt to go right here.”

She added, “It should become clear this area cannot sustain any more development,” adding the greenbelt “should be cherished not exploited. We should leave the greenbelt intact for the many varied benefits for future generations.”

Credit: Ed Barnes

Council leader and Labour Councillor for Seacombe, Cllr Paul Stuart’s statement in full:

Thank you and I want to thank everyone who has attended this evening.

There is enormous opposition to building on the green belt in Wirral. This has been made clear through public demonstrations and numerous petitions, which have gathered tens of thousands of signatures.

The Council has been working for a long time on the Local Plan and had unanimous political support to submit it for Examination. The development on the green belt that Leverhulme Estates is proposing seriously risks undermining the position taken by Wirral Council in its draft local plan, demonstrating the Borough’s housing needs can be met with a brownfield-first Local Plan.

The Local Plan examination has been delayed to accommodate the Leverhulme Inquiry. This unprecedented move has been part of a deliberate tactic by Leverhulme and the Consortium of House Builders, who seek to develop our Green Belt.

The applicant’s proposals as a first phase are for nearly 800 homes on seven sites in the green belt, making a mockery of the planning system. Leverhulme Estates is trying to impose an alternative spatial strategy on the local authority and is trying to predetermine the housing location through the appeal process.

The planning system should listen to local people. Our Local residents don’t want this, local elected representatives don’t want this, but people who don’t live here, who don’t have our best interests at heart, are trying to tell us what we should build and where we should build it with profit being the driving factor.

We are not anti-development, but we are anti-building on Green Belt when we have a verifiable alternative on building on brownfield land in some of our most deprived areas of the Borough as evidenced in the Local Plan.

Leverhulme developments, if approved, will result in settlements merging into one another so as well as losing valuable countryside, we will lose the identity of Irby, Thingwall, Pensby and Barnston. These four local settlements again make Wirral the special place it is. Leverhulme admits this is part of a bigger plan to concrete over our green belt.

The overall vision is not just for the nearly 800 houses shown here but up to 8,000 houses that will have a massive impact on Wirral’s unique character. This is just the first phase of unwanted and unwarranted green belt development.

We can meet our housing needs, including provision for affordable homes in existing urban areas, nearly with nearly 14,000 homes proposed in the Local Plan. Demonstrating there is no need to build on green belt land and take away the beautiful countryside that makes Wirral so unique.

We are focused on regenerating the deprived parts of the East of the Borough along the left bank of the Mersey and increasing our residents’ life chances in these areas. This afternoon | had the privilege to celebrate the “topping out” of the Millers Quay Development in Wirral Waters. This 500- home development, which includes 100 affordable properties(20% of the total), demonstrates that the Council is working with partners to unlock brownfield first regeneration. We are already delivering on our brownfield first promise.

Building on our greenbelt is not needed nor wanted in Wirral.

Wirral West MP, Margaret Greenwood’s statement in full:

As the Member of Parliament for Wirral West, I wish to make a statement about the appeals by Leverhulme Estates against Wirral Council’s decision to refuse the series of planning applications for housing on green belt land in Wirral that are the subject of this inquiry.  

I do this in support of my constituents, many of whom have made very clear to me that they are strongly opposed to these plans. 

People have expressed their opposition to Leverhulme Estates’ proposals through the hundreds of emails that I have received in which constituents have set out their concerns, the numerous conversations that I have had with local residents, the very well attended public meetings, and the tens of thousands of signatories to local petitions to protect the green belt. There has also been widespread opposition to these plans in the local press and on social media. 

I have spoken out in the House of Commons on several occasions against Leverhulme Estates’ proposals. 

Four of Leverhulme Estates’ appeals concern applications for development on green belt land in my constituency of Wirral West. The areas affected are:  

  • Land West Of Barnston Road, North of Gills Lane 
  • Land East Of Thorncroft Drive, North Of Gills Lane  
  • Land East Of Dale View Close, North Of Gills Lane 
  • Land East Of Glenwood Drive               

In addition, the land at Milner Road impacts my constituents, many of whom live in the vicinity of the site. 

Wirral West has a semi-rural character, with 62% of the land being green belt. It is a very beautiful part of the world.  

My constituents value the green belt very highly for the quality of life that it affords, the benefits to health and well-being that it brings and for the opportunities that it provides for access to nature. People value it too for the part that it can play in mitigating the impacts of climate change and supporting wildlife habitats to flourish. 

These factors are of particular importance given the global climate and ecological emergency that we face. The UK Parliament declared an environment and climate emergency in 2019; Wirral Council also declared such an emergency in July of 2019.    

My constituents speak not only of their own desire to protect the green belt, but also of the responsibility to do so for future generations. 

As the National Planning Policy Framework sets out, ‘The fundamental aim of green belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of green belts are their openness and their permanence.’  

Of the five purposes of the green belt that are set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, all of the green belt land under threat of development by Leverhulme Estates’ seven proposals currently serve purpose (c) ‘to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment’.  

It may also be argued that the three sites off Gills Lane between Pensby and Barnston and the site at Milner Road also serve purpose (a) ‘to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas’.  

It is clear too that all seven sites to which these appeals apply serve purpose (e) ‘to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land’.  

Wirral Council’s draft Local Plan sets out how the borough’s housing needs can be met on brownfield sites and land in urban areas. It therefore follows that the development of the seven sites would not only encroach on the countryside that is so important to local people, but that it would run contrary to Wirral Council’s regeneration plans for the urban areas of Wirral. The exceptional circumstances required to justify amending the boundaries of the green belt do not exist. 

The scale of Leverhulme Estates’ proposals would substantially and permanently alter the semi-rural character of west Wirral. Once the green belt is gone, it is gone forever.  

I ask the Planning Inspectorate to reject these appeals. 

Images: Barnes

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