THE publication of Warrington’s emerging local plan has been delayed again – until after the all-out elections in May.

The Labour-run council received more than 3,500 responses following a nine-week consultation on the draft document last year.

It set out the legal planning framework for the borough’s development over the next two decades and put forward proposals for 18,900 new homes – or 945 a year – up until 2037.

But there was widespread anger after more than 7,000 homes were controversially earmarked for green belt land in the draft.

The publication of the updated local plan has been hit by significant delays.

It was hoped it would come before full council again in December, prior to being submitted to the secretary of state and put before an inspector.

However, it has been confirmed this will not happen until after the all-out elections in three months.

Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden says some of the 3,500 plus responses were ‘detailed and technical’ in nature and must be fully addressed as part of the process.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Russ Bowden

“Alongside this, the council continues to work with landowners and developers who must demonstrate the viability of elements of the plan, such as the garden suburb,” he said.

“This is fundamental to ensuring that the community infrastructure can be developed in line with new homes.

“Collectively, the work involved in completing these tasks, as well as potentially undertaking further consultation on changes made in response to the last proposed submission version, has delayed the submission of the updated local plan.

“Since the election purdah period begins in March, the local plan cannot come before council again before May.

“The number of homes required over the plan period is developed from the Government’s methodology and their direction to use 2014 census data.

“Unless there is a change in Government approach, then the total number will remain effectively unchanged.

“The local plan has proposed major developments and new housing in the town centre, using brownfield sites and urban infill to maximise land use.”

Cllr Bowden also told residents the council’s own housing company is ‘leading the way’ in the regeneration of sites for housing and that the authority has made significant land purchases to develop the Southern Gateway using brownfield land.

Warrington Guardian:

An artist's impression of how the Southern Gateway area could look after the project is completed

He added: “The major test for the local plan and its examination by a planning inspector will be that all credible site options have been exhausted ahead of green field and green belt use.

“Even with high density developments in the town centre and maximising the urban housing capacity, there is insufficient land available to meet Warrington’s housing number through brownfield sites alone.

“That is why the local plan also includes the use of some green field and green belt land for housing.

“This is an absolute last resort for the council, which has done all it can to ensure sustainable development and to protect such valuable spaces within the local plan.

“Until the technical work from the last consultation exercise is complete, it would be premature and likely misleading to indicate what the impact will be on the local plan in terms of the number of homes to be delivered and the amount of green belt land required.”

And away from the town, in Westminster, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been alerted to the strength of feeling from residents fearing the loss of green belt land.

Tory Warrington South MP Andy Carter recently made his way to Downing Street to discuss the matter with Mr Johnson.

Warrington Guardian:

MP Andy Carter

“There are a number of ways the plan could be changed including the option to increase the density of housing closer to the town centre, using a continental model for planning, which would enable the construction of more homes on brownfield sites as well as shortening the plan period,” said Mr Carter.

“Development of the green belt is not just for housing, a significant proportion is also allocated to employment land.

“These sites must be carefully considered and I’m pleased to see areas like Fiddlers Ferry being discussed by the council for possible inclusion in a revised plan.

“During my recent visit to Downing Street, I raised the key concerns of residents in Warrington South with the Prime Minister so that he’s aware of the views of people.

“The strength of feeling was very clear during the general election, preservation of the green belt matters to people, ensuring we have the right infrastructure and improving our air quality are issues that were raised by many constituents.”

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, believes the number of homes earmarked for green belt in the draft local plan could come down because of the ‘density of developments’, as well as due to the speed at which people are beginning to take up opportunities for building on brownfield land ‘accelerating’.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Bob Barr

The politician said the local plan needs to be ‘fair’ to all parts of the town and emphasised his party is looking for ‘substantial changes’.

Cllr Barr said: “What I am concerned about is I don’t think this needs political knockabout – I think there ought to be a consensus across the council as to what we do.

“Clearly, in the southern wards our residents want us to fight to protect green belt, but to be fair to the council leader he also talks about wanting to protect green belt.

“I am concerned about people trying to divide us, whereas we actually need to have a collective voice.

“I am also concerned about people trying to divide us, by setting north against south, because I don’t think that’s appropriate either.

“Also, I know lots of conspiracy theorists will say it’s been kicked into the long grass beyond the election, no doubt people will make political capital out of that.

“But, actually, it strikes me that the degree of change and the need to be able to defend the local plan against developers, who are going to be our principal enemies once it goes to examination in public, means that it’s almost inevitable that it’s going to slip back beyond the elections now.”