THE controversial Port Warrington and garden suburb concept are set to be axed from Warrington Borough Council’s proposed Local Plan, with a reduction in housing numbers also set to ease pressures on local Green Belt
The Borough Council has updated its plan, which leader Cllr Russ Bowden says “will be the hardest thing we are going to do as a council,” to deliver the homes, jobs, transport infrastructure and community facilities the borough needs.
The council has today published its updated Proposed Submission Version Local Plan, which will be considered by the Cabinet at its meeting next Monday, September 13.
If approved, the plan will be put before the Full Council on 20 September for approval, ahead of a new, six-week period of public consultation from 4 October.
Warrington’s initial, 20-year Proposed Submission Version Local Plan was published in March 2019. The council consulted extensively with local residents, businesses and other stakeholders on the plan, as part of its commitment to balance the needs of the borough with protecting the Green Belt and serving the interests of local people.
The consultation received more than 3,000 responses, and the council has taken on board many of the views of local people, much of which focused on how brownfield sites should continue to be prioritised ahead of Green Belt.
This, along with the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and changing Government housing methodology, has meant that, in preparing the updated Proposed Submission Version Local Plan, the council is proposing some big changes. These include:
· A reduction in new housing from 945 a year over 20 years, to 816 a year over a reduced plan period of 18 years (2021-2038 inclusive).
· Under the updated plan, the amount of land proposed to be removed from the Green Belt is 580 hectares, equating to 5% of the total amount of Green Belt land in the borough. This is significantly lower than the 1,210 hectares proposed in the previous Proposed Submission Version Local Plan which equated to 11% of the total amount of Green Belt.
· The removal of the South West Urban Extension from the Plan (1,600 homes), the housing allocation for Phipps Lane in Burtonwood Village (160 homes), and the Massey Brook Lane site in Lymm (66 homes).
· Moving away from the Garden Suburb concept in South Warrington (4,200 new homes), and instead including new proposals for a South East Warrington Urban Extension, with a reduced allocation of 2,400 new homes during the plan period.
· The removal of Port Warrington (75ha employment land) and the Business Hub (25ha employment land) from the plan.
· In addition, recent changes have enabled the council to include proposals which further maximise the opportunity to repurpose land, through the inclusion of the Fiddlers Ferry site for development. The closure of the power station in March 2020 has given the council the opportunity to bring the site into the allocation this time. This site was the subject of a high number of responses to the previous consultation.
Warrington Borough Council Leader, Cllr Russ Bowden, said: “Our proposed Local Plan will shape Warrington’s future and it’s vital we get it right. We remain absolutely committed to driving forward Warrington’s ambition and need for development, while protecting Green Belt wherever possible.
“In developing our Local Plan, Warrington, like all local authorities, must meet the minimum housing figures set by the Government. However, a lot has changed since we initially consulted in 2019, not least the COVID pandemic, along with confirmation of the Government’s housing methodology and local decisions such as our declarations of climate and ecological emergencies.
“Our updated plan takes all of this into account while, vitally, addressing many of the issues raised during our public consultation in 2019. We have listened to the views of local people, and acted upon them, and I believe this is reflected in the new plan.
“We are proposing a number of major changes, including a reduction in the number of new houses and a reduced plan period, from 20 years, to 18 years. This, in turn, will mean a reduced need for Green Belt allocation.
“Our 2019 plan had already committed to protecting almost 90% of our Green Belt. Under the updated plan, this is increasing even further, with 95% of existing Green Belt in our borough protected.
“I believe that our updated Local Plan – in responding to, societal, economic, environmental and policy changes – is the right fit for Warrington’s future. However, we recognise that this plan must continue to be shaped by the people of our borough. That’s why we will once again be consulting fully on the plans to ensure that everyone has the chance to share their views.”
Under government policy, every local planning authority is expected to deliver sustainable economic growth through up-to-date Local Plans which will contain strategies and initiatives to achieve their aims.
Warrington’s Local Plan aims to drive forward and support the ongoing growth and development of the borough and provide the housing, business, jobs and infrastructure the borough needs. It aims to provide first-class community facilities – new schools, medical centres, shops and roads – all of which will support thriving new communities and make Warrington an attractive place to live, work and invest in.
The plan also aims to meet the needs of a growing population and future generations, by providing enough new housing – including affordable homes – so that people who want to live here can do so, and to support an ageing population and residents with disabilities to live independently.
In response to the announcement Warrington South MP Andy Carter said: “Warrington Labour’s last Draft Plan in 2019 fundamentally failed to address the need to regenerate our town centre. Covid has rapidly hastened the structural change of the High Street, we have empty shops galore, so this plan must start to address this by encouraging development close to public transport links and seizing the opportunity to create a central zone which is vibrant, welcoming and with affordable homes that can be delivered quickly.
“Changes introduced by the Government to the housing needs assessment, which I’ve worked on in Parliament with the Housing Minister, will mean a reduction of around 4000 homes over the plan period across Warrington, so I welcome this news. The Council must ensure that developers focus first on brownfield sites and where new homes are built there has to be an accompanying investment in local services, schools, GPs and road infrastructure.
“Trumpeting the removal of the garden suburb but replacing it with an ‘urban extension consisting of 2400 homes’ is still going to radically change the shape and feel of south Warrington. The introduction of the Fiddlers Ferry, building on the former power station footprint was a clear omission last time, we must however ensure that development is suitable for the area and in keeping with style and character of nearby existing urban areas.
“We know from past experiences that what this Labour Council say in their press headlines and what we see in the details aren’t necessarily the same thing, so I’d encourage everyone to look at these plans and contribute to the consultation in the coming weeks.”
Lib Dem leader Cllr Bob Barr said: “Warrington Liberal Democrats broadly welcome the changes that have been proposed in the Local Plan and look forward to studying the full document in detail. Many of the changes reflect comments from the public and us, though there is disappointment that they don’t go far enough. The Rethinking South Warrington’s Future Group on Facebook, the Warrington South Parishes Working Group and Our Green Warrington have all been pressing for many of the changes proposed.
“Realistically, for the plan to have any chance of getting through the examination in public, the government’s minimum housing supply figure needs to be complied with. However by bringing on more brownfield land, building at greater densities in the town centre and using the opportunity provided by the closure of Fiddlers Ferry the potential loss of Green Belt has been minimised to 5%.
“We welcome the removal of the South West Urban Extension from the plan. We would like to see the Garden Suburb broken up into a number of smaller, self-contained Garden Villages each with the infrastructure to let children walk to school, residents to shop and work locally and have easy access to medical and leisure services. We fear that developers will still be keen to use the plan to build large housing estates without the necessary infrastructure or community facilities.
“We look forward to participating actively in the coming consultation.”
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