As we know, Labour Councils love to collect their trophies, accolades, and awards. Last week in Wirral, Labour added another to put on the mantlepiece.
Wirral (north of Chester, over the Mersey from Liverpool) is a borough with 6,000 properties lying empty and a whopping 15,000 potential homes where permission has been granted but without a shovel in sight. We are also now one of the 15 councils that have failed to produce a Local Plan.
13 years since the Planning Act of 2004, and the Department for Communities and Local Government has, finally, lost patience with those councils who are not playing their part to build the homes our country needs.
The Planning Act of 2004 required local councils to have a clear plan for development, that would explicitly state those areas which were to be protected and conserved, such as our Green Belt, and those areas which would be considered for development for housing and commercial use.
Since 2004, various sites around this Borough (Council slogan: “a pleasant place to grow”) have been lost. Developers, “land bankers” and builders exploit the absence of a plan that could have been enforced by the Council’s Planning Committee. Instead, due to the lack of a plan, approvals are given, or refusals are overturned on appeal.
In his letter, the Secretary of State expresses concern at the lack of progress by the Council on making a plan, adding: “In the 13 years that have passed since the 2004 Act was introduced your council has failed to meet the deadlines set out in that timetable.” Harsh, but true.
Opposition councillors, green space campaigners, and residents have been asking for the protections that a Local Plan would give yet, every time, we have been met with waffle and inaction.
A Local Plan would unquestionably show which parts of Wirral could be developed, such as brownfield sites, and which should not, such as our Green Belt.
The review announced by the Chancellor in the budget this week into Land Banking is really good news, as well as the moves to tackle empty properties. Every one of the 6,000 empty properties in Wirral is a potential family home that is being wasted.
The Council Leader who, like most Labour leaders, never misses an opportunity to blame ‘cuts’, has, however, missed the bus on this one. Without a Local Plan, there can be no ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ – that’s the charge the Council could have applied to landowners and developers working within a Local Plan and potentially raising millions for the local council.
Now, because of the failure to meet even the most basic timetables in coming up with a plan, the Labour-run Council is facing Government intervention to produce one.
For the Labour Leader here in Wirral, the clock is ticking. The formal process of Government intervention has begun, and he has until 31st January to explain 13 wasted years. That’s his Christmas ruined then.
This opinion piece was written for Conservative Home