WARRINGTON South MP Andy Carter says the ‘unapologetic’ council must significantly change proposals set out in the draft local plan and utilise sites including Fiddlers Ferry.

Using Government published data, Bankrate UK has found where the countryside is most at risk of being wiped out by looking at the amount of green belt land in each area, how much of it has been built on in recent years and how much brownfield land is available.

According to the ‘land use change in England’ report, on average two per cent of all new homes built between 2015 and 2018 in England were on green belt land.

But the figure was as high as 50 per cent for some local authority areas in the country.

Bankrate UK mortgage expert Nisha Vaidya says it is important for councils to carefully consider the impact of building on green belt land and look for any alternatives available to ensure ‘we can all benefit from the beautiful English countryside’ for years to come.

Meanwhile, fears have been raised over councils ‘ignoring’ the potential of brownfield land.

The data states Warrington Borough Council (WBC) has 63 per cent of its land area in the green belt, with eight per cent of new residential homes built on the green belt in between 2015 and 2018.

However, a WBC spokesman said: “We are unaware of these figures and as a local authority, we must follow the methodology set out by Government in identifying housing need.”

Warrington Guardian:

Town Hall

The publication of the borough’s emerging local plan has been significantly delayed.

The draft set out the legal planning framework for 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 local plan will not be approved until after the all-out elections in May.

In February last year, council leader Cllr Russ Bowden said unless there is a change in Government approach, then the total number of homes proposed will remain effectively unchanged.

But Tory MP Mr Carter has clashed with the Town Hall leadership over the proposals – and has highlighted ways that he believes changes could be made.

WBC says the draft local plan, having been paused last year, is currently being reviewed in light of the outcome of Government consultations and will be consulted on this summer.

The spokesman said: “We are currently consulting on the supplementary planning document for the town centre which, as well as describing our ambition for good quality homes in the town centre, also reinforces our determination to use brownfield sites for residential development as much as is possible.

“Accessing the green belt is always a last resort.”

Mr Carter says the new research by Bankrate UK shows ‘we have spaces across the town to build affordable and attractive homes’, with over 150 brownfield sites available.

Warrington Guardian:

MP Andy Carter

“Instead, we have a draft plan which earmarks over 7,000 homes for green belt land and a council that has been frankly unapologetic in its approach,” he added.

“We need to see significant changes to the proposals, building more on brownfield sites like Fiddlers Ferry and regenerating the town centre as opposed to building in rural areas where there is little infrastructure and lack of jobs to support families.

“Just last week we’ve seen the council being criticised by the housing minister for failing to meet their own commitment from the 2014 local plan to build sufficient new homes in the area to satisfy demand.

“It means Warrington effectively moves into special measures and risks further inappropriate development being approved in areas which should be protected.

“The new local plan, which generated so much opposition, has seen delay after delay – at a time when Labour councillors should be concentrating on resolving some of the key issues in our town they’re too busy managing their commercial property portfolios in Manchester and Salford, rather than addressing the key priorities for the borough.”

Warrington’s Liberal Democrats have also expressed their views on the issue.

Leader Cllr Bob Barr said: “No political party in Warrington wants to build on green belt, so it is embarrassing to watch the phoney war between the Labour council leader and the Conservative MP for Warrington South.

“We are pleased that the council has bowed to pressure and paused the local plan.

“This allows time to concentrate on developing the town centre and using brownfield sites like Fiddlers Ferry.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Bob Barr

“All local plans are constrained by the minimum number of houses demanded by Government, otherwise they will be rejected.

“We must minimise green belt release but we need a cross-party approach and honesty with the public.”

Cllr Ryan Bate (LD – Grappenhall) says time will tell whether the council keeps its promise to minimise building on the green belt.

He added: “One way to avoid the pressures of people’s post-Covid desire to have housing with better access to green space, public or private, is to make sure that the much-needed regeneration of Warrington’s brownfield sites incorporates high quality public green space.

“This creates sustainable communities and avoids the need to build in the countryside.”

Furthermore, in a letter to Cllr Bowden, Conservative borough council candidate for Appleton Ken Critchley has called on the council to end the delay on the completion of its local plan.

He said: “An integral part of Warrington’s vision over the next 20 years is the local plan.

“I have no doubt that council officers are working tirelessly at this time to support residents and others, but clarity is needed on its timeline and we can no longer afford to drag our heels when it comes to building more affordable homes and creating jobs.

“Critically it is important that the local plan is progressed at pace and reflects the challenges that we face today, such as protecting our green belt and making provisions for sites like Fiddlers Ferry.

“This area has huge potential, and I am informed by Andy Carter MP who has spoken to SSE and they are well under way with the decommissioning, removing the chimneys and allocating back to both industrial and housing needs for the local area.

“I’m pleased to hear that the council are now in conversation with them in regard to bringing this site forward and I would welcome an update.”