A guide to the Local Plan

What is the Local Plan?

Every local authority needs a Local Plan. It is a 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 saved policies of 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. Once adopted, following independent examination, the Local Plan will be used to make 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 for the infrastructure, homes and jobs that our residents need
  • Support the regeneration of Birkenhead and other areas of the Borough
  • Support the development of our local economy
  • Support more sustainable travel
  • Protect and enhance our historic and natural 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 on every resident and business. 

What has been happening since the end of the Issues and Options consultation in April 2020? Why has it taken so long to prepare the plan?

The council received over 26,000 comments from over 1,500 separate submissions on the Issues and Options Document and it has taken time to review these carefully.

The end of the consultation in early April 2020 also coincided with the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic which impacted initially on the ability of the council to progress essential evidence studies.

As a result of some of the comments received the council has had to commission several important evidence studies to inform the council’s preferred spatial option. 

Preparing the Wirral Local Plan with its focus on regeneration has also been complex and it has taken time to get all the evidence in place to seek to ensure that we have a ‘sound’ plan that is legally compliant.

Has the council taken account of the comments submitted on the Issues and Options Consultation Document?

The council has considered all of the comments submitted on the Issues and Options Consultation document in the preparation of the Submission Draft Local Plan.  The council has produced a separate consultation statement which explains the consultation process, the comments received and how the council has responded.

View the Issues and Options Consultation Statement 

What was the Regulation 19 Stage?

The purpose of this stage was for the council to publish the version of the Local Plan it intends to adopt (having been informed by earlier consultation and engagement) and invite the submission of  representations to be considered by the Inspector as part of the independent examination. The council’s position is that the Local Plan Submission Draft is both ‘sound’ and ‘legally compliant’. This was the final stage during which people can make formal representations on the ‘legal compliance’ and ‘soundness’ of the Plan (see later).

What has happened since the Regulation 19 Publication?

After the period of publication, carried out in accordance with Regulation 19, the council  collated all the representations received. There were  1332 representations from 193 individuals and organisations to the Submission Draft Local Plan. These have now been submitted to the Secretary of State together with the Local Plan Submission Draft Document, supporting documents and evidence.  The Secretary of State will soon appoint  independent Planning Inspector(s) to examine the Local Plan.

What kind of representations did the council receive to the Regulation 19 Publication?

A wide range of representations were received about many aspects of the plan. A number of sites not included in the Submission Draft Local Plan were promoted by land owners and site promoters seeking to promote alternative growth strategies for the plan, including an increase to the housing requirement and the release of Green Belt sites. A number of representations were also received from individuals, local groups and organisations which suggested development should be restricted and that the housing requirement should be lower. The council's report on the outcomes of the Publication stage can be found in the Wirral Local Plan Regulation 22 Consultation Statement, and there are links to individual representations from the examination web page.

What happens next?

The Inspector(s) undertake the examination into the soundness and legal compliance of the local plan (see below).

What does ‘soundness’ mean?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires that Local Plans are examined by an independent Inspector to assess whether they have been prepared in accordance with the duty to cooperate, legal and procedural requirements, and whether it is sound. This is described as a ‘test of soundness ’. 

Representations on the Local Plan must have clearly described why the plan does or does not meet the following tests.

It is Positively prepared? 

Providing a strategy which, as a minimum, seeks to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs; and is informed by agreements with other authorities, so that unmet need from neighbouring areas is accommodated where it is practical to do so and is consistent with achieving sustainable development;

Is it Justified?

An appropriate strategy, taking into account the reasonable alternatives, and based on proportionate evidence;

Is it Effective?

Deliverable over the plan period, and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic matters that have been dealt with rather than deferred, as evidenced by the statement of common ground; and

Is it consistent with national policy? 

Enabling the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in the Framework and other statements of national planning policy, where relevant.

Is it compliant with relevant law and regulation?

Has the Local Plan been prepared in accordance with statutory requirements for plan making.

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 make it sound where required to address issues identified by the Planning Inspector(s) or other participants.  Anything other than minor changes will 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. 

What is a Local Plan Examination?

The Examination will assess whether the plan has been prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements and if it is ‘sound’.

The Inspector will consider the evidence provided by the council to support the plan and any representations which have been put forward by local people and other interested parties. In most cases the Examination will include hearing sessions which are held in public.

At the end of the Examination the Inspector will send a report to the council recommending whether or not they can adopt the plan. In most cases the report will recommend some changes that are necessary to allow the plan to be adopted.  These are known as ‘main modifications’.

You can find out more about the Examination process here:

View the Procedure Guide for Local Plan Examinations

View the Guide on Taking Part in Examinations

Can I take part in the Examination?

If you submitted a representation at the Regulation 19 Publication stage to the Draft Submission Local Plan and noted that you wanted to attend on the form the Programme Officer will be in touch with you to establish whether you still want to attend a public hearing.  The appointed Inspector will then identify a range of matters and issues to be the subject of the Examination including any public hearings, and relevant representors will be invited to participate as appropriate.

Can I watch the hearings in public?

Yes, anyone is able to attend to observe the hearings in public which will be at Wallasey Town Hall. The dates will be published in the press and on the examination website.

How can I find out more about the progress of the Local Plan Examination?

The council has appointed a Programme Officer who will be responsible for arranging the Examination.  An Examination webpage has been  set up  which  sets out full details including the name and contact details of the Inspector(s), the issues to be examined, the Examination programme and all correspondence between the Inspector and the council. The dates of the public hearings will be in the press as well as on the website.

What will happen if new evidence comes to light during the examination that might change the view about, for example, the amount of housing needed in the plan?

The evidence base that informs the Plan is never static and new information will always continue to emerge during the production and Examination of the Plan.  Where there is a significant piece of evidence that comes to light the Inspector(s) will normally ask the participants to respond to the new evidence if the Inspector(s) think it is pertinent to the Examination of the plan.

What will happen if national planning policy changes during the examination?

The Government has said it will change national planning policy but at the current time we don’t know when, and we don’t know what the changes will be. It is also unclear what transitional arrangements might be applied once any changes are announced and introduced.  Usually when changes to national planning policy are introduced a transitional period is applied meaning that plans that are at an advanced stage are not impacted.  However, if there are significant changes in national planning policy that are pertinent to the Examination of the Plan then the impact will be assessed by the Inspector(s). In such circumstances the Inspector(s) will normally ask the council and participants to consider and respond with views on the potential implications for the Plan.  In some cases the Inspector(s) may ask for further work to be undertaken by the council and participants before they reach a view on the impact of any changes in national planning policy.

Main Modifications

It is possible that the Inspector(s) appointed to hold the Examination will require the council to consult on ‘Main Modifications’ or changes that he/ she considers necessary to make the plan ‘sound’.  This consultation is normally undertaken by written representations towards the end of the Examination process. 

What happens after the Examination?

If the Inspector(s) find the final Local Plan to be ’sound’ and legally compliant at the Independent Examination, then subject to any modifications the Inspector(s) may recommend, the council will be required to approve and adopt the final version of the Local Plan.

The policies and proposals in the approved Local Plan will then form the statutory development plan which the council will use to determine individual planning applications.

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

Yes, in so far as they are consistent with the policies of the adopted Local Plan.  Neighbourhood Plans will need to be in general conformity with the adopted Local Plan.

The council never listens: does my opinion even count?

Yes: All comments made during the Issues and Options consultation have been considered in the development of the Local Plan Submission Draft and all of the representations made during the Regulation 19 representation period are taken forward to be considered by the Inspector(s) as part of the Local Plan Examination.  

How many homes do we need to build? Why is the housing number higher than the 12,000 figure that has been quoted before?

National planning policy requires Local Plans to provide, as a minimum, to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs.  The calculation of local housing needs requires the use of the ‘standard method’ as a starting point unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach.  Use of the standard method provides for a local housing need of 779 dwellings per annum.

The council's evidence has recommended that an uplift to local housing need should be applied to support economic growth.  This brings local housing need up to 785 dwellings per annum. 

The local housing need figure of 785 equates to a minimum total requirement of 12,560 homes over the 16-year plan period 2021-2037. The Local Plan Submission Draft also includes an additional 50 dwellings per annum within the requirement, to ensure that any net loss of existing housing stock is adequately accounted for. This results in a requirement for 835 dwellings per annum, equating to 13,360 homes over the Plan period

It is necessary to identify a larger supply to make allowances for the potential that sites may not come forward at the pace expected. The Submission Draft Local Plan therefore has identified a potential supply of 16,322 dwellings but not all these are expected to be developed.

The council has applied a 10% discount to relevant categories of supply to account for the potential that some planned housing may not ultimately be delivered. Further details on the assumptions and approach to identifying housing needs and the supply to meet the needs are set out within the Housing Delivery Strategy.

View the Housing Delivery Strategy

Where will new homes and Employment sites be located

The Local Plan’s strategy is to meet all of the Borough’s housing and employment needs within existing urban areas using mostly brownfield land. New homes will be built at higher densities (this means more homes will have to be built on a site subject to higher design quality and the character of the local areas) to improve sustainability.  A key part of this strategy is to provide new homes and employment opportunities through the regeneration of the eastern part of the Borough and Birkenhead in particular.

Why have Green Belt options not been taken forward?

National Planning policy states that once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of Local Plans. The council has concluded, based on evidence, that the exceptional circumstances test for removing land from the Green Belt has not been met and that sufficient land in the urban area has been identified to meet the Borough’s development needs during the Plan period.

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 the 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.

Will the housing built be affordable?

The affordable housing policy in the Local Plan Submission Draft sets targets for affordable housing based on viability studies.  This shows that in some parts of the Borough, proposals for new-build market housing of 10 or more dwellings will be required to provide tenure blind affordable housing at different rates, based on viability zones.  This is set out in Policy WS 3.3. 

The minimum affordable housing target is 10% in Viability Zones 1 and 2, and 20% in Viability Zones 3 and 4.  The council’s policy also requires that 25% of all affordable housing units delivered by developers will be First Homes (housing for sale which should be discounted by a minimum of 30% against the market value). The affordable housing policy will continue to support the ongoing delivery of affordable housing and diversify the affordable products available to local residents to reflect identified needs.

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 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 has recently commenced. 

The council has also prepared the Birkenhead 2040 Regeneration Framework which sets out a strategy for the comprehensive regeneration of Birkenhead.  As part of this approach the council are also working with Peel, the Combined Authority, Homes England and the Government to accelerate the provision of essential 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 13,000 new homes, will there be more schools, medical centres and facilities built to cope with the demand on services?

The Wirral Local Plan Submission Draft is accompanied by an Infrastructure Delivery Plan.

View the Infrastructure Delivery Plan

This will set out what infrastructure (including transport, health, schools, and open space) is required to allow new housing development to take place.

This considers 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.

Have you considered every possible urban or brownfield site?

The council has optimised opportunities on urban and brownfield sites.

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

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

How is the Local Plan helping us to respond to the Climate Change Emergency

The council has committed to reaching a net zero carbon target locally by 2041. Addressing climate change is a key theme running through the Local Plan. Climate change has been addressed in the Local Plan at all geographical scales and measures include: a regeneration strategy that consolidates the urban area coupled with a low carbon transport strategy; and a green and blue infrastructure strategy that provides multiple benefits including carbon sinks, space for wildlife and water. Development requirements include climate mitigation and adaptation measures including greening, avoiding flood risk and managing the changing water environment in terms of its quality and sustainable drainage management as sea levels rise. Biodiversity is both protected and increased through measures in the Local Plan.

Will new homes be energy efficient?

New homes will be expected to meet energy efficiency standards as set out in the national Building Regulations but in addition, Policy WS8 seeks to minimise energy demands for heating, lighting and cooling and where possible and viable aims to secure new development which exceeds Building Regulations standards. Water efficiency standards in the plan are also high.

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

The council has adopted the Wirral Tree Strategy

View the Wirral Tree Strategy, May 2020 Appendix 1

The Local Plan supports additional tree planting and preservation of healthy trees in Policy WS 5 Strategy for Green and Blue Infrastructure, Open Space, Biodiversity and Landscape Protection and within other policies such as such as Policies WS 7 Principles of Design. The detailed requirements regarding matters such as landscaping in development and protecting wildlife are found in policies WD 1 Landscaping and WD 3 Biodiversity and Geodiversity.

What is Local Green Space?

The National Planning Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s planning policies for England.

Paragraphs 101 to 103 introduce a Local Green Space designation (LGS) to protect local green areas of special importance to local communities.

This enables communities, in particular circumstances, to identify and protect areas that are of value to them through Local and Neighbourhood Plans.

LGS is designated by the council through the Local Plan (or through Neighbourhood Plans) and once the designation has been considered through the Local Plan Examination and the Plan adopted, it is subject to the same strong development restrictions as Green Belt, ruling out new development except in special circumstances.

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

The council has prepared a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment Study which identifies areas at risk of flooding and assesses whether such areas are able to accommodate new development and the mitigation measures that may be required. 

View the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment

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 travel 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.

The regeneration of Birkenhead includes improving public spaces and walking and cycling routes through the area as well as a great new linear park – Dock Branch Park which will all encourage people to walk around town.

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. Where appropriate the Local Plan requires new bus services to be provided to serve new housing sites.

Who do I contact if I have any questions or would like to obtain specific documents?

You can contact the Forward Planning Team:

By email: localplan@wirral.gov.uk or By telephone: 0151 691 8235