There was laughter from locals as an inquiry heard a developer hoping to build thousands of homes on greenbelt land in Wirral ‘cares very deeply’ about the area.
Leverhulme Estates is currently appealing the decision to reject seven planning applications for 788 homes across central and west Wirral.
An inquiry got underway today as the government considers whether to uphold the appeal and overturn Wirral Council’s decision.
The planning applications are the first stage of plans by Leverhulme Estate to build nearly 8,000 homes on greenbelt land on over 400 hectares of land with 3,500 proposed in the next stage.
The plans have faced fierce opposition from thousands of residents and local MPs with one petition receiving more than 26,000 signatures.
All local political parties have also opposed the plans, arguing they would undermine regeneration projects in Birkenhead and harm the environment and countryside.
As the 17-day inquiry continues, the Planning Inspectorate, a government agency that deals with planning appeals, will consider evidence from Wirral Council, Leverhulme Estates, as well as members of the public and councillors.
Leverhulme argue 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.” They said it would not undermine urban regeneration.
Christopher Boyle KC, who is representing Leverhulme at the inquiry, said the company “care very deeply about the Wirral, in particular central Wirral and its rural areas and local communities.” This prompted laughter from the audience.
Mr Boyle argued the plans would deliver a number of social and economic benefits and that Leverhulme had a record of providing communities with sustainable development.
He criticised Wirral Council for not previously meeting housing targets, adding, “It is a very real failure to provide for the socio-economic needs of Wirral and its community. Real people are denied real homes. Affordability worsens. Population is exported rather than catered for, workforce declines, communities age.”
He added, “With a 20-year failure to have an up-to-date development plan, Wirral is in danger of becoming a case study in the socioeconomic consequences of not delivering housing on an almost generational scale.”
However those against the applications argued it would not be first-time buyers purchasing the homes due to house prices in the area compared to places like Birkenhead and so the plans wouldn’t meet affordable housing needs.
John Barrett, a legal representative for Wirral Council, argued Leverhulme was undermining the creation of the Wirral’s Local Plan – which has a focus on brownfield-site building – by “imposing an alternative spatial strategy on the local planning authority [Wirral Council] and “predetermining the location of housing through the appeal process.”
He also said the locations of the homes were not sustainable as “the evidence indicates a lack of genuine alternatives to car travel in the appeal site locations.”
Phil Simpson, a leading campaigner against the plans, said they had asked Leverhulme to meet with the public. He said, “There they could address the concerns of our residents not just in Greasby but in all parts of the borough. They refused.
“There were two more public meetings in Greasby and they refused to attend them each time so they’re not even prepared to meet with the public.”
Pensby councillor Richie Pitt argued there was a lack of infrastructure in the area to support the developments, adding, “Whilst on the doorstep over the last six to seven weeks, I have spoken with residents on a daily basis.
He added, “They are already having problems getting GP appointments, parents having to enrol children in schools not in their local areas and public transport being a problem with existing roads in Pensby and Thingwall being far too narrow for existing traffic.”
Green councillor Harry Gorman, who sits on the council’s planning committee, said opposition was not about nimbyism, adding, “We need intensification on both sides, using our underutilised or disused brownfield sites to create dense, walkable, environmentally friendly communities while also intensifying our adjacent natural assets, including the greenbelt, to create a stronger ecosystem for Wirral’s wildlife and people.”
Conservative councillors were also present at the meeting with former Conservative councillor David Burgess-Joyce speaking against the housing plans.
Main image: The Leverhulme planning applications have prompted large protests. Credit: Edward Barnes. Commissioned for use by LDR partners