RESIDENTS have been told building on green belt land is the ‘absolute last resort’ after council chiefs backed the controversial draft local plan.

The document – which is aimed at delivering the homes, jobs, transport infrastructure and community facilities the borough requires – came before the executive board inside a packed Town Hall chamber this evening, Monday.

The draft aims to deliver 18,900 new homes – or 945 a year – up until 2037.

However, in addition to a 10 per cent ‘flexibility uplift’, the document sets out proposals for 20,790 homes.

There is an urban capacity for 13,726 homes, so green belt land has been earmarked for 7,064 homes.

The plan is also bidding to support the borough’s economic growth by making 362 hectares of employment land available, including 213 hectares on the green belt.

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Executive board members opted to back the document this evening, Monday, which paves the way for it to be submitted to full council for approval on March 25.

Full council approval would give the green light for an eight-week formal public consultation in the spring – with Town Hall chiefs tipping the local plan to be adopted in late 2020.

Cllr Judith Guthrie, executive board member for environment and public protection, delivered the report to members.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Judith Guthrie

She said: “Given the slowing rate of household growth and job creation over the plan period, the additional capacity of the garden suburb and the likelihood of substantial additional brownfield capacity within the existing urban area, in particular Fiddlers Ferry power station and sites around the town centre, this council is not proposing to remove any additional land from the green belt in order to safeguard it for the future development beyond the plan period.”

Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden also aimed to reassure residents inside the packed chamber.

He said: “I would probably say delivering a local plan must be one of the most challenging issues for elected members.

“I think this should be an opportunity to develop Warrington in a way that we can all share the ambition and vision of.

“I think the conversation tonight has demonstrated even if we use every piece of brownfield land and urban infill in Warrington, we still can’t meet that minimum housing objective set for us by Government.

“That is a real challenge for us because it does inevitably mean you to have to look at the relaxation of the green belt.

“I want to impress on everybody that it is the absolute last resort for this council.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Russ Bowden

“The council is in an incredibly difficult position regarding green belt land.”

After the meeting, Cllr Bowden added: “We can’t put forward taking land out of green belt if we haven’t exhausted all other options – if we don’t produce a viable and sound local plan, then we risk losing control of the process.

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“That wouldn’t be serving the interests of Warrington residents.”

Canaries on Tour campaigners Helen Gurnani and Tanya Baker were among those at the Town Hall for the protest ahead of the meeting.

Warrington Guardian:

Helen Gurnani and Tanya Baker

Ms Gurnani expressed fears over the ‘excessive development of Warrington’ and called for green spaces and wildlife to be preserved.

She also believes many concerns raised among the 4,500 plus local plan preferred development option consultation responses were ignored.

Ahead of the meeting, she added: “They have actually made some changes with this new one they are trying to pass now but it is not really enough considering how many people did object and what they were objecting to.

“We are still losing an awful lot of green spaces in Warrington.

“They are building roads that potentially don’t need to be built.

“They are pandering, it seems, to developers, rather than to the public’s needs.

“Somebody needs to stand up for our town and that is what we are hoping people will do.”