11 Sept 2018

Wirral's green belt: under threat from Labour

Last night there was a special council meeting on the threat of wide scale development on Wirral's green belt. Below is a copy of the speech I delivered. You can also watch it via this link starting from 52 minutes in.

The threat to Wirral's Green Belt

Green Party response to full council meeting, September 10, 2018
I know I speak for many when I say how grateful I am to Professor David Gregg for the work he has done in interrogating the government's assessed need for housing in Wirral over the next 15 years.

He has systematically demolished the assumptions used to generate these targets, especially those around the economy and population trends.

Moreover, the very latest population projections dramatically reduce the likely demand for new housing in Wirral. Professor Gregg has shown that the council's own forecasts for brown field housing on top of Peel Holdings medium range expectation for Wirral Waters plus a modest reduction in our many empty homes is more than enough to meet likely future demand.

His analysis on its own provides compelling evidence to robustly challenge the government's target.

And that is the least the people of Wirral should expect from those elected to represent them and preserve our precious green belt.

But that's not what we are getting and, frankly, this council has form when it comes to undermining the green belt.

As we speak, a new fire station is under construction on green belt land in Saughall Massie. The fire services' own figures as part of that planning application clearly showed that response times from the new station would, on average, increase

If labour councillors are prepared to sacrifice green belt for a new fire station in a sparsely populated village that increases emergency response times then they clearly have a very elastic view of what constitutes "very special circumstances".

And then there is the proposed golf resort in Hoylake. The economics of this scheme are so questionable it requires 160 executive homes on green belt land. If the cabinet thinks council tax receipts from these new homes is reason to sacrifice our green belt then people will quite reasonably form a view that no green belt land is safe under this administration.

If the monies already spent on the golf resort had instead been spent on vital infrastructure for Wirral Waters then we would be much further down the road in providing the kind of new housing that everyone in Wirral would support. 

Don't forget our empty homes and commercial buildings
Officially, Wirral has 4.650 empty dwellings. Almost 2,000 of these are classed as "long term". But this is an underestimate. I regularly report empty properties in my ward. Many are unknown to the empty properties team. 

I have nothing but praise for the empty properties team. Their response to my enquiries is always constructive and comprehensive. But, with just three full time members of staff there is clearly massive untapped potential to reduce the number of empty properties. This should always be a priority to increase the housing stock. Additional investment can be recouped through increased council tax never mind the obvious social benefits.

And its not just empty dwellings. Last year, Wirral Council submitted planning applications to demolish two of its own office blocks by Hamilton Square and convert them into car parks. Just what Birkenhead doesn't need. One can only hope the new arrangement with Muse will bring more enlightened thinking and recognise the obvious potential to convert such assets into new residential accommodation.

The government's targets are unreasonable and unrealistic
The rate of housebuilding required under these government targets is more than double the actual delivery rate in Wirral over the past decade. Where is the evidence that underlying market conditions indicate such a rapid escalation in demand for new housing? How on earth would the supply chain cope with such a rapid escalation in construction activity?

We already have some of the worst standards for new homes in the EU. Our new homes are smaller and colder than our European peers. If these targets are accepted and implemented we will inflict acres of low quality, high carbon housing, with poor access to public transport. Few if any of these houses will be affordable to those on low incomes.

A council truly concerned about climate breakdown, poor air quality and inequality in housing provision would react with horror at these targets. They would mount a principled, reasoned and robust defence of our green belt. 

All of that is absent from the Labour motion. It raises the white flag and meekly accepts the surrender of our green belt. 

For the sake of our current and future generations that simply isn't good enough.

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