A decision over whether Leverhulme can build 788 homes on Wirral’s countryside is expected at the end of September.
This is what Planning Inspector Katie McDonald said as she concluded a lengthy inquiry on 4 July over whether developer Leverhulme Estates will be able to build the homes on sites within Wirral’s greenbelt.
The 788 homes are made up of seven planning applications and are the first stage of proposals by Leverhulme to build thousands of homes on countryside across Wirral.
The applications were rejected by councillors and council officers in 2022, but this was later appealed by Leverhulme who asked for an inquiry to consider them all together.
Leverhulme’s inquiry follows months of campaigning by members of the public, MPs, and councillors against the plans that saw hundreds turn out in protest and thousands signing petitions.
The campaign has even gone to the steps of Number 10 Downing Street where Wirral Council’s leader and deputy leader Paul Stuart and Jean Robinson along with Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood delivered a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
They called on him to tell Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove to intervene and make the final decision, something the government is currently considering.
Those against the plans argue it would destroy Wirral’s greenbelt but Leverhulme said any harm would be heavily outweighed by social and economic benefits, new housing, and argue the plans would complement projects to regenerate Birkenhead, Seacombe, and other areas.
Following the inquiry, Leverhulme said it “highlighted the failure to deliver the required housing in Wirral” and “a light has been shone on the very real and deep-seated issues facing Wirral regarding its supply of housing.”
While Leverhulme said regeneration is important, Nigel McGurk, the company’s head of planning, added, “Today’s economic realities mean that regeneration dependent on public subsidies, the primary plank of Wirral’s strategy, will continue to struggle to come forward in a meaningful manner.
“By contrast, Leverhulme’s proposals are fully deliverable and will contribute to a wide range of housing needs across the borough.”
However, Wirral Council has argued the Leverhulme plans will undermine its regeneration plans and draft Local Plan. John Barrett, Wirral Council’s legal representative, said Leverhulme were being “fanciful” and “somewhat inconsistent with their case.”
He said Leverhulme were arguing the planning applications supported the council’s strategy to build on previously developed land while “on the other hand it considers [it] to be “fundamentally flawed.””
In summary, Wirral Council said the proposals “represent inappropriate development in the green belt,” undermine the council’s proposed spatial strategy outlining where land is used for development on the Wirral, and that the new homes failed to outweigh the harms of building on the greenbelt.
Mr Barrett said, “Development of significant tracts of green field and green belt land is not a regeneration programme and can only be countenanced in these appeals on the basis of a clear finding in these appeals that the spatial strategy is “fundamentally flawed” and would thereby clearly indicate that such grant of permission would prejudice the outcome of the plan-making process.”
He added, “If the appeals succeed on this basis then self-evidently a key component of the spatial strategy of maintaining the existing Green Belt to assist in urban regeneration would be hit below the water line.”
Main image: Vicky Shephard (right) with two of her children as well as other people protesting against one of the planning applications. Credit: Ed Barnes. Commissioned for use by LDR partners