Why the housing crisis means Wirral’s green belt is facing its greatest threat ever
Charles Barnes has started a petition on 38Degrees to stop a mobile phone mast and floodlights being built on West Kirby green belt land.
You can view it here. At the same time, Councillor Bruce Berry has taken to Change.org to petition against a planning application submitted by Vyner Estates to build new homes on the site of Diamond Farm which, he says, is “a further attack on green belt in Saughall Massie”.
Saughall Massie is one area severely under threat of new developments, but residents have a lot of fight in them, seen when they consistently turn out in force to protest against the development of a new fire station (which has recently been submitted for approval).
The fight is also being fought in Hoylake, with residents unhappy with the proposals for an enormous golf resort and accompanying hotels. You can see why the powers that be are in favour of it happening, with Cllr Phil Davies seemingly enamoured by the tourism opportunities the plan represents.
That’s four little pockets of opportunity identified on Wirral’s green belt land which have mobilised residents into action recently. With the UK in the midst of a housing crisis, though, locals may find themselves fighting across numerous fronts to protect the future identity of the Wirral.
Wirral’s community has taken action for decades to safeguard Wirral’s green belt. When the Orange Grove was demolished in Hoylake in 1999 it led to calls to create a district conservation society to protect the area’s character from future threats.
There are similar groups across the Wirral devoted to securing the peninsula’s heritage, but there are numerous modern local and national political factors that are far different to those in the ’90s which are set to seriously test the appetite to develop on our green belt land.
We believe the next five years could shape the entire perception of what the Wirral is, what it wants to be and what it will actually become. That may not necessarily be a bad thing depending on your point of view.
The factors that have led us here, too, are cross-party. A lack of housing is a fault that all political parties have to carry the can for, from New Labour through to the Coalition and the current Conservative administration.
Theresa May says her party will pump £5 billion into developing housing. New builds have essentially been ignored for the best part of 20 years. Only 34,920 homes were built across the UK in the second quarter of 2016. We need approximately 250,000 a year to come anywhere close to solving what’s now a national crisis.
Where the heart is?
Suffering most is Generation Rent, scores of people under 35 unable to get on the housing ladder because of a lack of new builds, high rents and stagnant wages. Of course London’s expensive, but some of the highest rental yields in the country can be found in the North West.
All of these factors must have developers salivating. Here’s a luscious area ripe for development to take advantage of those yields and make inroads in an area where house prices can only rise, Brexit or not.
To be fair, properties are already being built in what many would consider to be the right areas; progress is underway in Ellesmere Port, while the old Burton’s factory in Moreton is set to become the site of 300 new homes.
The sheer attractiveness of green belt land though puts it in immediate danger. Green belt land has already been snapped up over the water in Knowsley despite strong opposition with the aim to build thousands of new homes. Why not the Wirral?
Councils are struggling to find land to build property on. At the same time London’s business leaders are urging the government to rethink what the green belt actually is, and that it should be used for housing.
West Midlands’ Mayor is under growing pressure to build on its green belt. Plans are being drawn up to carve up Greater Manchester’s. The Swindon Village-based Save the Countryside group has recently had the wind knocked out of its sails with two new sites on green belt land approved.
This is something that’s not just creeping toward the Wirral, but is already here. How people react and what developers propose in the future will shape the future of the Wirral. More green belt proposals are probably coming sooner rather than later, like it or not.
A solution that suits everybody might be tabled, with small specific pockets of green belt being chosen to build upon to ease the national burden, help people move up the ladder and introduce people desperate to own their first property to the housing market.
History suggests that’ll never happen, though. The Wirral may be approaching a stage where it has to either fight for its green belt, or fight to make sure that the right bricks get laid in the right places.