Property developer accused of attempting to cynically exploit rules

A developer has been accused of “attempting to cynically exploit planning rules to its own advantage” with new car park plans.

Blueoak Estates is asking Wirral Council to allow a minor change to remove a basement car park below a 10-apartment block it is planning to build at 100 and 102 Meols Drive, Hoylake.

It is hoping to provide 20-car parking spaces at the front instead and council officers have recommended councillors move the scheme forward with the changes.

However, the scheme has been called in by local councillor Andrew Gardner and 23 objectors who argue it would be harmful to the area, with a planning committee decision due on 11 January.

Those against the changes say a car park out front “is not consistent with preserving the historic character and setting of the conservation area” and sap from trees may create a potential issue “persuading occupants to park elsewhere.”

The loss of trees linked to the development has also been criticised but the latest plans which include planting more trees means three fewer will be lost. Blueoak said the reason for the change was to avoid disturbing neighbours during construction.

Both houses on the site have now been demolished and councillors from all parties approved the development nine to two. Councillors praised the scheme for providing housing in the area and Blueoak said the flats would be built “with fine point attention to luxury and detail, offering breath-taking views and vast floor area.”

The development sits within a conservation area and overlooks the Royal Liverpool Golf Course. Published in a council report, the Hoylake Conservation Areas Association said, “The replacement of underground car parking with extensive surface level parking is the tipping point in the acceptability of the development. Extensive surface parking fundamentally changes the key relationship between the buildings, structures, trees and characteristic open spaces in the conservation area.”

They also alleged, “The developer is attempting to cynically exploit planning rules to its own advantage and at the expense of the character and setting of this key part of Meols Drive CA (conservation area.)”

Historic England has confirmed they have no objection to the scheme despite previous concerns but suggested some design improvements and raised issues with the loss of trees. Though the scheme will create no affordable housing onsite, Blueoak will contribute £316,000 to creating affordable housing elsewhere in Wirral.

Wirral Council officers have asked for 10 of the spaces to be “grasscrete” where concrete is covered by grass and a gravel driveway, adding, “The proposed amended development would preserve the character and appearance of the Meols Drive Conservation Area and safeguard neighbouring residential amenity and not result in any harm in terms of highway and biodiversity matters.”

In response to the criticism, a spokesperson for Blueoak said, “No changes have been made to the existing scheme other than the removal of the basement parking and access ramp. This is in recognition of the disruption to surrounding properties who would experience significant disturbance due to extensive excavation and piling works for over six months. 

“The alternative ground-level parking would not only reduce the disruption and construction length, but would achieve a vast carbon saving of 183,900 kg. Moreover, surface-level parking would provide a 3.5% increase in total greenspace, preserve three existing mature trees and allow the planting of twenty additional trees and significant hedging along the site boundary. Planning Officers indicated there would be “tangible benefits through additional greening and domestication of the space, over the approved layout.”

“In summary, Planning Officers have so far highlighted that the new proposal would “preserve the character and appearance of the Meols Drive Conservation Area and safeguard neighbouring residential amenity and not result in any harm in terms of highway and biodiversity matters”. Blueoak Estates continue to work in conjunction with Wirral Planning Officers to reach a design solution that will benefit all parties.”

Image: How the new Links development on Meols Drive could look. Credit: Blueoak Estates

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