A leading Wirral green belt campaigner has hailed the rejection of hundreds of new homes as a “fantastic result.”
Leverhulme Estates has had seven of its planning applications for nearly 800 homes on green belt land dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate, a government body. The plans would have seen up to 788 homes built on countryside across Wirral.
This was for a number of reasons but mainly harm to the green belt and how the applications would undermine the council’s draft Local Plan which is currently under government inspection.
The seven planning applications were rejected by Wirral Council in 2022 but the developer appealed with an inquiry held in May, June, and July 2023. The plans saw campaign groups turn out in their hundreds in opposition but Leverhulme said the plans would provide much needed homes, attractive neighbourhoods and other public benefits.
The firm said it was “disappointed” with the news and argued “Wirral Council’s current trajectory will continue to fail to deliver the mix of housing that the borough requires.”
Leverhulme is one of the developers challenging Wirral Council over its draft Local Plan that doesn’t allow for green belt development and focuses on regenerating areas like Birkenhead, Seacombe, and Bromborough. The plan promises to build more than 14,000 homes on previously developed land.
Phil Simpson (pictured) has been a leading campaigner organising large protests against the plans. He said, “It’s a fantastic result, it’s the right result, it’s a positive move. There are no exceptional circumstances to build on Wirral’s green belt.”
He said, “The seven sites have been a massive waste of money [for Leverhulme]. The support has been magnificent from all parties and the Labour council has been bending over backwards to try to get everything on brownfield sites. They are doing their best.
“They have always been willing to listen and have an objective view on it. We have listened to them and they have listened to us. It’s been a good exercise of communities coming together and working with the council and the council working with us.”
An eighth case for 240 homes on a farm near Greasby is due to be heard by the Planning Inspectorate on 5 December. The Greenhouse Farm site is believed to have historical importance with evidence of settlements there 6,000 years before Stonehenge including a Neolithic blade.
Mr Simpson said, “A battle has been won but the war we have yet to win, the thing is we can’t take our foot off the gas because we have got the farm to win if we possibly can. It is the most historical site.”
Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood has also spoken out against the plans. She said, “It has been an incredibly important campaign and a testimony to the passion which people feel for protecting the environment. I have been proud to campaign alongside them.”
Council leader Cllr Paul Stuart said, “A special thanks goes to our hardworking council officers who played a vital role in securing this result.
“Nonetheless, there is still much work ahead. The Local Plan examination hearings have resumed this week, and they will greatly contribute to our ongoing efforts in protecting the green belt, while also meeting the housing and regeneration needs and desires of our borough’s residents.”
Planning committee chair Cllr Stuart Kelly also praised the decision for “significantly highlighting the potential for them to undermine our regeneration ambitions in the east of Wirral.”
In her decision, Planning Inspector Katie McDonald pointed to “stark evidence” about 20% of children in Wirral living in poverty and a 11 year life expectancy gap between the east and west.
She said, “The evidence before me is that the need for the regeneration of Birkenhead has not diminished over the past 40 years, nor has the importance of the green belt to assist.
“Regeneration will meet housing and economic needs of the current and future population, but will also improve the balance between the east and west. It also seeks to protect the green belt to promote sustainable patterns of transport and travel.”
She criticised developers for “an overly simplistic approach” in their arguments that green belt development would not undermine regeneration plans. She said if permission had been granted, “the regeneration areas would be less attractive to developers because they are more difficult and costly to develop.”
Conservative group leader Cllr Jeff Green paid tribute to council officers for their work but added, “The concern among Wirral residents, and the cost to the taxpayer of these appeals, could have been entirely avoided had the council adopted a local plan at any time since 2004.”
Cllr Green, who was council leader twice between 2010 and 2012, added, “Had it not been for the tireless work of the campaigners, much of Wirral would soon be lost under bricks and mortar.
“Those councillors who, back in 2018, secretly voted to consent to some of these sites for development should be thoroughly ashamed of their actions.
“At the same time, I hope that Leverhulme Estates, and indeed any potential developer, will finally get the message – our borough’s green belt is not an asset to appear on your balance sheet. Instead, the council will work with you, but in the parts of the borough that need regeneration and where people want to live.”
Image: Phil Simpson, from Natural Wirral, has been a leading campaigner against the plans. Credit: Edward Barnes. Commissioned for use by LDR partners