A landowner’s request for an appeal over plans for nearly 800 greenbelt homes has been criticised by the High Court as “inarguable.”
Wirral’s largest landowner Leverhulme Estates had been asking for the High Court to review a decision by the Planning Inspectorate to uphold Wirral Council’s rejection of plans that would have provided 788 new homes on Wirral’s green belt.
Leverhulme argues their plans would help address a housing shortage but were criticised for “an overly simplistic approach” on how this would affect regeneration plans.
A lengthy inquiry took place over the summer of 2023 which said the council decision to reject the homes was correct as the plans would harm the green belt and undermine the council’s draft Local Plan that focuses on brownfield development. This local plan is currently being inspected by the Planning Inspectorate.
Leverhulme then took this appeal to the High Court seeking to “challenge various points of law” arguing the Planning Inspectorate failed to assess the five-year housing land supply in Wirral and the status of the Local Plan. This was considered by a judge.
However an order issued by the Honourable Mrs Justice Lang DBE said each ground of Leverhulme’s case was “inarguable” and Leverhulme will now have to pay for the government and Wirral Council’s costs.
Justice Lang defended Planning Inspector Katie McDonald’s decision saying she “correctly considered” the importance of the Local Plan, adding: “She correctly directed herself that an emerging plan which has been submitted for inspection “can” be considered as at “an advanced stage”, not that it “must” be so considered.”
In conclusion, she said the planning inspector did not need to make a finding on housing supply issues, adding: “In my view, her approach in these paragraphs does not disclose any arguable error of law.”
The plans have been incredibly controversial with huge protests and petitions signed by thousands. They were also opposed by every political party in Wirral Council.
Nigel McGurk, Head of Planning and Development for Leverhulme, said, “The bigger picture is the ongoing acute need for new family and affordable homes in Wirral.
“Leverhulme remains, through all the processes taking place, best placed to help unlock Wirral’s housing shortage now and for future generations and to do so in an appropriate, viable and sustainable manner.
“Wirral Council’s current trajectory will simply fail to deliver the mix of affordable and family housing that the borough urgently requires.
“Leverhulme will continue to highlight this and awaits with interest the response of the planning inspectors regarding the next steps in Wirral’s Local Plan process.”
The Wirral Green Space Alliance was one of the defendants listed in the planning review at the High Court and defended Wirral Council’s decision in the inquiry. John Heath, a representative, said he was pleased with the decision, adding, “Leverhulme have been given every chance to say what they wanted.”
He argued the council’s approach would help improve lives in east Wirral, adding, “It is an absolute disgrace there is such disparity across five miles on the Wirral. I have worked on both sides and I think it is totally wrong that the situation has been allowed to go on.”
Mr Heath said, “It is by having a Local Plan that develops Wirral as a whole and focuses on regeneration. Regeneration is hard to get going but once it gets going, it becomes really successful,” adding: “The by-product of that is we do not need to go on green belt. It’s a by-product of doing the right thing.”
Wirral Council is currently waiting for feedback from the Planning Inspectorate on its draft Local Plan which outlines plans for a minimum of 14,000 homes over the next two decades. Even if approved, the council’s focus on building entirely on already developed land may need to be reviewed in several years time to assess whether the promised housing has actually been delivered.
Image: The Leverhulme planning applications have prompted large protests. Credit: Edward Barnes. Commissioned for use by LDR partners