Local Plan frequently asked questions

Find out why we need a Local Plan, how the proposals have been produced and what they mean for your community.

You can submit your own question to be answered by emailing localplan@wirral.gov.uk everyone who writes to us will receive a response.

What is a Local Plan?

A Local Plan is a statutory land-use planning document that sets out how the Borough should be developed over the next 15 years, in line with the requirements of national policy and legislation.

The Local Plan must set the overall requirement for housing and other development over the plan period and must identify enough land for development to meet this requirement.

The Council’s latest Local Plan is being prepared to be submitted to the Secretary of State during 2019 and will be used for in making decisions on individual planning applications.

What happens if we don’t develop a Local Plan?

The Government may decide to intervene and prepare a Local Plan on behalf of the Borough.

What is the Development Options Review?

In 2016 the Council undertook consultation on the Borough’s housing needs and land supply, as part of the preparation of the Council’s Core Strategy Local Plan.  This did not identify any significant additional development opportunities to meet the likely identified need for new housing.

In February 2017 (Item 96) the Council’s Cabinet approved the undertaking of a wider review of potential development options before producing the Local Plan. As a first step, the Council consulted separately in 2017 on a methodology for undertaking a review of the Green Belt and the approach to assessing the supply of housing land.

What is the Purpose of the report to Cabinet on the 23rd July?

The report sets out the results of the review of development options approved by Cabinet in February 2017.  The report reviews the latest available evidence on the future needs for housing in the Borough. It assesses the current supply of housing land in the Borough and identifies potential housing, employment and mixed use sites for public and stakeholder consultation which could be considered for inclusion in the future Local Plan for Wirral.

What are Wirral’s future housing needs?

The Government has produced a standard method for calculating the minimum number of homes needed in a local authority area. This is based on nationally-published population and household projections. This calculation shows an overall minimum need for new housing of 12,045 new dwellings over 15 years, equal to 803 dwellings per year (net of demolitions). This is broadly consistent with the Council’s earlier findings and a more recent assessment undertaken at Liverpool City Region Level. 

What do we need to do to meet these needs?

National policy requires that the Local Plan must be able to demonstrate a supply of specific deliverable housing sites sufficient to provide five years’ worth of housing against our housing requirement.  The Local Plan is also required to identify a supply of specific, developable sites or broad locations for years 6-10 and, where possible, for years 11-15.

How much housing land do we have?

Brownfield sites are already being released for development across the Borough.

Appendices 1 and 2  of the July 23rd Cabinet report  includes the urban sites for new housing development to be published for public consultation in September 2018.  

The current estimated supply of housing land outside the Green Belt would accommodate 7,635 dwellings over the local plan period (2018-2033). This means there is a shortfall of housing land equivalent to 4,794 dwellings over the plan period (2018-2033).

What options have been considered for increasing the supply of housing land?

Surplus employment land

A review of the Borough’s employment land was completed in December 2017.  Sites recommended to be published for public consultation to make provision for new employment development and for mixed uses in the Local Plan are identified in Appendix 3 and mapped in Appendix 4 of the July 23rd Cabinet Report report. This review identified only 8 sites that were recommended to be excluded from the employment land supply, in some cases because they were already under construction for housing development. Those which are still available have been taken into account.

Open space and other previously developed urban land

There is a shortfall in provision for pitch sports in the Borough. Reviewing the provision of public open space would mean the re-designation of currently protected sites and/or reduce the existing standard of recreation and open space provision, if any significant housing capacity was to be generated. Amending the existing standards for the provision of public open space in the Borough, would significantly change the pattern of shortfalls in provision of open space across the Borough.   

Increasing the density of development

Increasing densities over those already built into the calculations would be likely to have a detrimental impact on the character of existing urban areas of Wirral which are not already protected by existing density controls or heritage designations like conservation areas.

Wirral Waters

The calculations include 1,100 additional homes currently expected to be brought forward at Wirral Waters, although these have not yet obtained detailed planning permission. The remainder of the outline planning permission for 13,000 homes is over a 22 year period and would not meet the Government’s test for inclusion in the five year housing land supply. 

The potential for other neighbouring local authorities to meet Wirral’s identified needs

The surrounding local authorities of Cheshire West and Chester, Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley and West Lancashire have each already indicated that they would be unable to provide for any of Wirral’s identified housing needs

Why do we need to consider green belt land?

As none of the options discussed above will close the gap between our housing need and the shortfall of housing land, there is no realistic alternative but to review the potential of land in the Green Belt to meet the shortfall in the Borough’s housing land supply and enable the Council to demonstrate that all the available alternatives have been properly assessed.

What is the Green Belt?

The designation and protection of Green Belt is controlled by national policy and the fundamental aim is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open.

National planning policy sets out five purposes for including land within a Green Belt:

  • To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  • To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Once designated, inappropriate development is restricted in the Green Belt unless there are very special circumstances.  

The existing Wirral Green Belt was defined by the Council in February 2000 in the Unitary Development Plan. Just under half (45%, 7,317 hectares) of the land area of Wirral is currently designated as Green Belt and the designation applies to the majority of the Borough’s remaining countryside outside the existing urban area.  The boundary was tightly drawn around the built up area of Wirral to support urban regeneration.

Who owns the Green Belt?

There are various owners.  Very few of the sites being proposed for public consultation are owned by the Council, the vast majority are in private ownership.

Can Green Belt boundaries be changed?

National Policy states that Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances that are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of Local Plans.  The Council is required to demonstrate that it has examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting its identified needs for development before releasing land from the Green Belt.

What has been done so far?

In October 2017 the Council consulted on a methodology for undertaking a review of the Green Belt. This methodology draws on best practice in Green Belt assessments in order to establish a robust methodology for assessing the Green Belt. The Green belt review needs to:

  • Assess every part of the existing Green belt in Wirral against the five purposes for including land within a Green Belt as set out in national policy;
  • Identify any physical or environmental constraints which may also indicate that a particular site might be unsuitable for development; and
  • Take account of the need to promote sustainable patterns of development

Also taken into account are the Settlement Areas identified in previous drafts of the Core Strategy Local Plan and sites previously submitted by landowners and developers.

What are the Green Belt parcels?

In order to make the assessment more manageable a key part of the review is to split the Green Belt into smaller land parcels. The boundaries for these parcels were shown in Appendix 2 of the Green Belt review methodology document which can be viewedThe boundaries to the proposed Green Belt Parcels are based on identifying the clearest and strongest boundaries available, mainly roads and railways, which would normally be expected to meet the requirements of a new Green Belt boundary in national policy. There are 110 parcels in total.

Each parcel has been assessed against the five purposes of including land in the Green Belt. All of the land parcels in the existing Green Belt can still be shown to meet at least one or more of the purposes of including land in the Green Belt. The parcels that have been identified as suitable for further investigation and publication for public consultation are those which are already highly enclosed by an existing urban settlement area or where, if developed, would not reduce the existing separation between adjacent urban settlement areas.

These are the sites listed in Appendix 5 and mapped in Appendix 6 of the 23rd July Cabinet Report. The assessment which sits behind the selection of each parcel will be published for public comment in September.

If a site is released from the green belt through the Local Plan, would all of it be developed?

Not necessarily. Many parcels are subject to environmental or other constraints or have an existing use which will want to be retained such as golf courses, country parks, recreation sites, public open spaces, nature reserves and woodlands. Some of these constraints are highlighted in the table in Appendix 5 of the Cabinet Report.

One of the main purposes of the public consultation in September is to identify other constraints which may impact on the development potential of these sites. Some sites may be removed from the Green Belt but will be safeguarded from development until the next Local Plan for Wirral is produced.

What about the wider impact of more housing? Won’t more roads, public transport, schools and health services be needed?

Yes. We know that for every new house we build the people living there need health services, transport services, road maintenance, waste collections, and schools for their children. Availability of infrastructure will also determine whether the sites identified in the Green Belt can come forward for development. We are working with public services all across the region to plan for this and make sure the needs can be met. 

Has the Council already decided to take land out of the Green Belt?

No decision has yet been taken on whether the Green Belt boundary will be changed or on the sites that will be included in the Local Plan.

The Cabinet Decision on the 23rd July review does not commit the Council to any future land releases from the Green Belt. The consultation starting in September will enable the Council to take representations from the public into account before more precisely determining the environmental and other constraints that may apply to land in the Green Belt.

What Happens Next?

Cabinet approved the recommendation that the sites shown in Appendices 1 to 6 are published for public consultation, for six weeks, alongside the more detailed findings of the review in September 2018, to avoid the summer holidays, before being included in an initial draft Local Plan to be reported to Cabinet in December 2018.

Further consultation on a wider range of potential development options will also enable the Council to demonstrate that the full range of available alternatives had been properly considered, in line with the requirements of national policy and legislation, before any final decision is taken on the content of the Borough’s Core Strategy Local Plan.

How much money will the Council make from this?

In most cases the Council doesn’t own the land, so will not be making money from selling land to developers. There is potentially an increase in the overall tax base from more homes and more residents, but that also brings extra costs from more bin collections, more roads to maintain and more public services to provide.

How does this affect the Celtic Manor resort in Hoylake?

It doesn’t affect the Celtic Manor resort. The land earmarked for that development remains in the Green Belt and it would have to pass the ‘very special circumstances’ test if the planning application is to be approved.

The new fire station in Saughall Massie is on Green Belt land, doesn’t that prove the council is happy to release Green Belt for development?

Due to ongoing Government cuts, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service couldn’t afford to continue operating two fire stations in West Wirral, and had to find a new location which would enable them to reach every area of the patch in a quick enough time to save lives.

The only available location which would meet their needs was the site in Saughall Massie and, after extensive consultation and changes to the design, the proposal was deemed to meet the ‘ very special circumstances’ required to build on the Green Belt and will go ahead. The Government agreed with this decision, and decided not to ‘call in’ the development for further scrutiny.