Inquiry begins into plans for 39 homes in West Kirby

A developer has made a final pitch to allow 39 homes to be built on West Kirby’s last remaining farmland as a four-day inquiry begins.

Greenfield Estates Trustees and Emery Planning had their application to build houses on a field off Grange Road rejected by Wirral Council in February after objections from local residents over the plans. It then appealed, leading to a Planning Inspectorate inquiry that began on 8 August.

On the first day, around 60 protestors from Natural Wirral and other community groups turned up at Birkenhead Town Hall to show their opposition to the plans on what is known as the “sheep field.”

Emery had 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.

The field near the town centre is currently designated as green space under the local authority’s draft Local Plan, a major housing policy that will outline planning policy on the Wirral building at least 13,000 homes.

The council rejected the application on several grounds arguing it would affect the development of the council’s local plan, result in the loss of a designated green space, impact the character of the area, and that the council has a housing supply it can deliver without the site.

Critics of the application at the inquiry said the field supported a “wealth of wildlife” in West Kirby, called it “bonkers planning,” and it would “set a precedent for further assault” to the local plan, which is currently being inspected by the government.

The local plan is being challenged by a number of other developers particularly over its brownfield first policy. Wirral Council at one stage had included the West Kirby site as a place for possible development as it developed the local plan.

Emery Planning argued “the proposed development is sustainability located,” won’t undermine the local plan, said there is sufficient evidence of no unacceptable harm to protected species, and it provides “much-needed affordable housing.”

Thea Osmund-Smith, representing Emery, said the site was private land with no public access within a short distance of amenities including public transport and West Kirby town centre. She said the development would also provide new public walking and cycling routes.

Ms Osmund-Smith said Wirral Council had failed in recent years to provide housing and that there were “deficiencies” in the evidence supporting its Local Plan criticisng the lack of affordable homes provided in West Kirby under it.

At the inquiry, Wirral Council said the application and appeal is premature given the plan is in a late stage but Emery argued it would not undermine the plan making process calling the council’s argument “perplexing.”

She said, “There is an overwhelming housing crisis in the Wirral,” adding: “A significant boost in developments is essential to prevent the situation worsening even further.”

Objectors to the Sheep field application. Credit: Edward Barnes

Peter Fitzgerald from local campaign group Save the Sheep Fields said, “The proposal will have a minimal impact on Wirral’s housing plans compared to the irreversible change to the visual amenity of West Kirby.”

He said objections were because the space was so valued, adding: “There is no nimbyism. Just a concern about a loss of space that is demonstrably special to the community.”

Cllr Gail Jenkinson speaking on behalf of the Wirral West Labour Party said the council had changed its mind after public feedback. She pointed to her election in Greasby, Frankby and Irby on greenbelt issues as well as cross party support for protecting greenspaces as “a mandate by thousands and thousands of people.”

As the examination of the local plan isn’t due to finish until this autumn, she added, “If the local plan was that poor, I don’t know why the applicants aren’t waiting until it’s rejected.”

Emery Planning was asked if they would like to respond to Cllr Jenkinson’s criticism but they declined saying it was a personal opinion. However, Cllr Jenkinson hit back adding, “This isn’t a personal opinion, this is the opinion of about 40,000 people.”

West Kirby councillor Jeff Green also spoke in opposition saying the site had “historical significance” as it was “the last area of original agricultural land in West Kirby.”

He added, “I am sure most people will agree this attempt is an absolute nonsense,” and urged the inspector to “please listen to the local people. Please listen to those who represent them and please listen to the local planning officers and dismiss this appeal.”

Main image: Objectors to the Sheep field application outside Birkenhead Town Hall. Credit: Edward Barnes

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How the sheep field could look in the future. Credit: Emery Planning

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