14 Jan 2020

Local Plan - speech to council

Transcript of Councillor Pat Cleary at Council Meeting 13.01.20
Wirral Local Plan 2020-2035

First of all can I thank all the officers for their hard work on preparing this documentation, our thanks as we know how much work was involved in its creation.

I would like to start by expressing my opposition to the government’s proposed target of building 12,000 homes over the next 15 years.  If people in Wirral find property expensive and unaffordable, then I think that has less to do with the number of new homes we are building and far more to do with  a decade of near zero interest rates and money printing which has enabled the cash rich to buy up property at the expense of the cash poor. That is why home ownership in this country is now at a 30 year low.

So, while the council must respect the legal advice it receives, there is, I believe scope to also include in the Local Plan, locally prepared, evidence based proposals for a lower housing target and I hope that the officers will consider that going forward

If there is in fact a shortage of housing in Wirral, why is the number of empty properties higher today than it was in 2014? Now, I applaud the work of the empty properties team, I liaise with them regularly on issues in my ward. They do a great job, but if we are going to meet the targets that we set out around empty properties in this document then I think that we are going to have to up our game significantly, and really start to look more intensively at compulsory purchase, in my own ward compulsory purchase has played a very positive role, we have seen regeneration and new retail on Oxton Road, we have seen the replacement of the derelict shops by Birkenhead Library with new green space, But, nearby we have seen the Victoria Lodge hotel, which has sat derelict for over a decade, and really blighted the local community. The owner there bring forward any regeneration plans, doesn’t submit any planning applications, shows absolute disdain for the local community and we need to stand up to that kind of land banking and address it.

Given the housing target we face, we have a lot of hefty burdens that have to be met. We have to find the available brownfield land, we have to in many cases reclaim and improve it, we have to achieve the density of housing required if we are going to preserve the greenbelt. We then have to create sustainable communities that are fit for the 21st Century and the climate emergency.

I just want to conclude really by expressing my disappointment really with the transport content in this document because transport is absolutely key to achieving all of those goals going forward. If we look at what we have got in the document, we are still, despite decades of evidence, spending millions of pounds trying to ease congestion that just generates more traffic, and all the problems that goes with it. It’s very disappointing to see that same thinking in this document. New road building is completely incompatible with sustainable development, but yet again we see this kind of outdated thinking here in this document.  We need to seriously look at public transport options for the new brownfield sites and in particular, I will say it again, the streetcar option for Wirral Waters. I don’t know what new year resolutions the council leader has made, but I would encourage him to add a new one  - to give his support and this council’s support to streetcar, it is really negligent I think that we have not supported that option, or not put forward something better if we think that option is not good enough. Otherwise, we will simply not meet the density and amenity/green space requirements for new brownfield developments.

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