What is Regulation 18?

Local Plans must be prepared in stages set out in law. Regulation 18 is a public consultation at an early stage in preparing the Plan. This consultation closed on Monday 06 April at 5pm. The Issues and Options document the Council issued for consultation set out the:

  • Key issues the Local Plan must address
  • Draft vision and strategic priorities
  • Housing and employment development needs which the plan must allocate sufficient land for
  • Preferred option for meeting these needs within the urban area, and other alternative options for meeting any remaining need through Green Belt release
  • Proposed urban housing and employment allocations
  • Potential Broad Locations for Growth
  • Information on key strategic sites
  • Council’s proposed policy approach across a range of topics including environment, climate change, infrastructure, open space and heritage

The Regulation 18 stage is not the final Local Plan.

You will be able to make formal comments and representations on the draft Final Local Plan which will be published (under Regulation 19) in Summer 2020. 

What is the Local Plan?

Every local authority needs a Local Plan. It is 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. It comprises a book of policies and a map of proposals that will replace the Council’s existing Unitary Development Plan, adopted in February 2000.

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 proposed Local Plan is being prepared to be submitted to the Secretary of State during 2020 and, once adopted, will be used to making decisions on individual planning applications for the next 15 years.

The Local Plan is our plan for the future of Wirral. It will play an important part in shaping the future of our towns, villages, infrastructure, environment and economy. We need a Local Plan to plan to:

  • Plan for the infrastructure, homes and jobs that our residents need
  • Support the development of our local economy
  • Support more sustainable travel
  • Protect and enhance our environment

The Plan sets out the Council’s priorities for development and gives clear guidance on what development will and won't be permitted in your area. The plan covers housing, commercial, public and private developments. The Plan will impact every resident and we encourage everybody to take in the consultation process.

Didn’t we have a Local Plan consultation 2018? How is this different?

The 2018 consultation was a Development Options Review, with particular focus on the initial review of the Green Belt and potential development sites in the urban area.

Based on comments received on the Development Options Review and further evidence, the Council published this new ‘Issues and Options’ document for further consultation.

This set out the council’s preferred option for meeting the borough’s housing and employment needs and also covers the full range of planning issues, together with a number of new evidence base documents, many of which were commissioned in response to last year’s consultation.

What happens now that the consultation has finished?

The Regulation 18 consultation document and the responses received will help us to prepare a final draft Wirral Local Plan. This final draft Local Plan will be subject to a final public consultation (the Regulation 19 stage) before it is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for ‘Examination In Public’. This full Local Plan will include both strategic and non-strategic policies.

At the Regulation 19 stage of the consultation, all the evidence will be in place and the Local Plan will be the version the Council considers to be legally “sound" in terms of the legal requirements placed on plan preparation and to be justified and deliverable.

If the Inspector finds the final Local Plan to be “sound” at the Examination in Public, then subject to any modifications the Inspector may make, the council will be recommended to approve the final version of the Local Plan.

Subsequently the policies and proposals in the approved Local Plan will have significant weight in the decision-taking process.

Why haven’t you made a decision yet?

There is a lot of preparation involved in gathering evidence and identifying development requirements. Many of these tasks involved public and stakeholder consultation.

We have considered all of the comments we received to last year’s Development Options Review consultation and have set out our responses to them in our Statement of Response to the Development Options Review.

What happens if the government rejects the council’s Local Plan?

Although there are some legal tests which the Local Plan must satisfy, the Local Plan Examination process allows for changes to be made to the Local Plan to address issues identified by the Planning Inspector or other participants.  Anything other than minor changes may require additional public consultation and/or assessment and the Examination is effectively “paused” during this period.  Every effort is made to avoid having to withdraw the Local Plan or go back to a previous stage. 

Why have Green Belt options been included?

As part of the Local Plan process, a Sustainability Appraisal/Strategic Environmental Assessment requires us to consider and compare the options that we consider could accommodate the housing and employment requirements.

The council is doing everything in its power to avoid Green Belt release, and to progress with the preferred option of delivering all our development needs within urban areas. We will need to take these actions:

  • Higher-density development
  • Turning employment sites to residential sites where appropriate
  • Using suitable council-owned land
  • Working with development partners and government agencies to ‘pump prime’ and achieve development on brownfield land supported by grant funding

If the preferred ‘urban intensification option’ can’t be demonstrated to fully close the gap between our local housing needs and the shortfall of housing land, there is no realistic alternative but to review the potential of land in the Green Belt to accommodate future development.

Even if no land is eventually released from the Green Belt, the review is still required to demonstrate that all the available alternatives have been properly identified and assessed.

How did you choose these Green Belt areas – what criteria did you use?

The Council commissioned independent specialists to undertake a review of the Green Belt.

The review has assessed every part of the existing Green Belt against the five purposes of Green Belt set out in national policy.

The findings of the Green Belt Review have been used to inform options for possible Green Belt release. Other factors such as key environmental constraints and infrastructure have also been taken into account, based on available existing evidence. This is set out in Appendix 4.7 of the Issues and Options document.

Are Neighbourhood Plans still valid once the new Local Plan is adopted?

Adopted Neighbourhood Plans will remain in force but new Neighbourhood Plans will need to take the Local Plan into account.

You held a consultation but has the decision has already been made?

Local Plans must be prepared in stages set out in law, and no decisions have been made at this point.

The council never listens: does my opinion even count?

Yes: the Issues and Options consultation already considered comments made at earlier stages of the development of the Local Plan.  

All comments and representations made during the Issues and Options consultation will be considered in the development of the final draft Local Plan, which will be published in summer 2020. The Local Plan will shape the kind of place we want Wirral to be into the 2030s and we encourage everybody to help ensure the Local Plan meets the needs of our communities.

When is the public consultation?

COVID-19 Update

The consultation was originally due to run for eight weeks from Monday 27 January 2020. However, due to the impact of the Coronavirus, and in order to ensure that everyone is able to submit their comments, the Council extended the Local Plan consultation period by a further two weeks to 5pm on Monday 6 April 2020.

The consultation period has now closed. Comments submitted will appear on the consultation portal as the Council begins to analyse them.

Why do we need 12,000 new homes?

The number has been identified using the Government’s ‘Standard Method’, which is used to calculate the minimum number of homes needed in a local authority area.

This calculation shows a minimum need of 12,000 new homes over 15 years, equal to 800 homes per year. This is broadly consistent with the council’s earlier findings and a more recent assessment undertaken at Liverpool City Region Level.

The Council cannot set out lower numbers unless exceptional local circumstances apply, but to date none have been identified.

If we don’t comply with the national guidance and plan for 12,000 homes, the Local Plan could be ‘unsound’ and we would have to re-write it.

Will the housing built be affordable?

The council is proposing that the Local Plan should require 30% of all new homes to be affordable. Developers will have to meet this requirement, unless they can demonstrate it would not be viable on a particular site. This assessment would have to be independently verified by a council-appointed expert, at the developer’s own expense.

Peel said they‘re going to build 13,000 new homes at Wirral Waters and that’s more than enough to meet Government targets – so what’s the issue?

Wirral Waters is a large and complex regeneration project which will take 30+ years to complete. The Local Plan is a 15-year plan and Peel are proposing to develop approximately 4,500 homes during this period.

The regeneration of the area has been slower than anticipated due to the recent economic recession, poor housing market conditions, poor infrastructure and poor environmental conditions in adjoining areas.

The council has been working with Peel to overcome the barriers to development at Wirral Waters and together with assistance from Homes England is supporting major housing development in the Northbank which is due to commence in 2020. 

The council has also commissioned the Birkenhead Regeneration Study which is a major strategic regeneration study for Birkenhead which will consider how to ‘unlock’ the potential of Wirral Waters. As part of this approach the council are also working with Peel, the Combined Authority, Homes England and the Government to try and accelerate the provision of essential transport infrastructure. In turn, this would enable the development of Wirral Waters to be accelerated.

What happens if you build hundreds of houses and they don’t sell/get rented out etc? Will you keep building homes if there is no market for them?

We don’t anticipate that this will happen. Developers will only build homes in numbers that they think they can sell.

If you build 12,000 new homes, will there be more schools, medical centres and facilities built to cope with the demand on services?

The final draft Local Plan will be accompanied by an Infrastructure Delivery Plan which will set out what infrastructure (including transport, health, schools, and open space) is required to allow new housing development to take place.

This will consider the cost of the infrastructure and who pays for it. This will normally be the developer but in some cases where strategic infrastructure is required, public sector funding may also be required.  Development will only be allowed to take place where the provision of required infrastructure is certain.

The council may also adopt a Community Infrastructure Levy for new development which will contribute to infrastructure.

How does the Wirral Growth Company support the Local Plan?

The Wirral Growth Company is an exciting 50:50 joint venture between Wirral Council and Muse Developments. Its vision is to create the kind of spaces Wirral needs to live, work and spend leisure time, and the partnership will play an important part in meeting our housing need. The vision includes the regeneration of Birkenhead town centre and a separate consultation was held during summer 2019.

Have you considered every possible urban or brownfield site?

The council has tried to identify as much suitable and available land for housing and employment as possible. The Council also invited consultees to submit sites they thought were suitable for development as part of the Issues and Options consultation.

The council has loads of unused land/buildings – are they being used?

The council has reviewed of all its land holdings and will put forward all suitable sites for housing development as part of the Local Plan.

What environmental studies have been carried out to assess the environmental and climate impact on the Local Plan?

The Local Plan is supported by a series of evidence-based studies and a full summary is available in Appendix 1 of the Issues and Options document.

The Issues and Options document is also accompanied by a Sustainability Appraisal and a Habitats Regulations Assessment which were available for comment as part of the Issues and Options Local Plan consultation.

The environmental studies also include:

Climate Change and Renewable Energy Study

The Council is commissioning a study which will consider how the Local Plan can contribute to tackling and adapting to climate change.  It will address opportunities for renewable energy on the Wirral.

Green and Blue Infrastructure Study

The Council is commissioning a study to map, protect and enhance Green and Blue infrastructure in the borough.  This will be completed in time to inform the draft Final Local Plan.

At least 100,000 homes need upgrading to be more energy efficient over the next ten years so shouldn’t we focus on improving existing homes rather than building new ones?

The council will continue to focus on improving existing homes, but we must also meet its identified needs for additional new homes, set out under the government’s standard method.

You have committed to double tree cover in Wirral. How will this be achieved in line with the Local Plan?

The Green and Blue Infrastructure Study will advise on how we can achieve this.

Will the new homes be built be energy efficient?

New homes will be expected to meet energy efficiency standard as set out in the national Building Regulations.

What about flooding, are these new developments are at risk of flooding?

The council has prepared a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment Study which identifies areas at risk of flooding. The Local Plan will avoid development on sites which are subject to flood risk.

The roads are already congested, how do you plan to cope with all the extra traffic?

We need to make sure people have the means to make greener choices.

New developments will focus on locations that are, or can be made sustainable. This means reducing the need for people to travel at all, but ensuring when people do travel that they have suitable public transport options or greener alternatives to cars.

This can help to reduce congestion and emissions, and improve air quality and public health.

A Baseline Transport Modelling Report has been produced as part of the evidence for considering the need for infrastructure in each of options in the proposed Local Plan. Areas likely to experience increased congestion at junctions in the future include those in the vicinity of Wirral Waters, along the A41 south near to Wirral International Business Park, junctions 4 and 5 of the M53 and existing congestion hotspots on key routes to the M53 including the A552. We will identify suitable schemes to reduce traffic and improve junction capacity as appropriate.

More people might cycle if there were better facilities. What is being done about it?

Wirral has some long stretches of consistent off-road cycle routes around the coast but more needs to be done with North to South and East to West connections. As a city region we are developing a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) which will provide strategic corridors with segregated routes away from the traffic.

The first two corridors identified in Wirral are from Birkenhead to New Brighton, which would also provide connections to Wirral Waters and Liscard. The second corridor is along the A41. These routes would be funded by the city region but the council needs to develop access to these routes from the local network.

Bus routes have been cut within the borough so how can we expect any new bus routes to service new homes?

Bus services operate on a commercial basis and new developments will, depending on their size and location, provide opportunities for providers like Stagecoach and Arriva. The council will continue to work with these operators and Merseytravel as the Local Plan progresses and development sites are constructed.

The government are promoting electric vehicles as the solution to vehicle emissions, however, there are a low number of charge points. It is not unreasonable to expect that this could grow with the new housing requirements, what is being done to improve charging solutions?

The council will be asking developers, as with any new development, to future-proof parking so that charge points can be easily fitted. We will also look into opportunities to increase the number of charge points in the borough where it is viable to do so.

What is brownfield land?

Brownfield land is previously developed land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure. 

Brownfield sites exclude:

  • Land that is or was last occupied by agricultural or forestry buildings
  • Land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill where provision for restoration has been made through development management procedures
  • Land in built-up areas such as residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments
  • Land that was previously developed but where the remains of the permanent structure or fixed surface structure have blended into the landscape

The full definition is set out in national planning policy.

What is Green Belt?

Green Belt is an area of land defined in the Local Plan. 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:

  1. To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  2. To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
  3. To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  4. To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  5. 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. 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.