ALMOST 15,000 new homes are proposed to be built in the town by 2038 under the revised draft local plan – with fewer properties set for green belt.

Warrington Borough Council has updated its plan to deliver homes, jobs, transport infrastructure and community facilities.

The draft local plan published in March 2019 set out the legal planning framework for development in the borough over two decades and put forward proposals for 18,900 new homes – or 945 a year – up until 2037.

However, a 10 per cent ‘flexibility uplift’ was also factored in to allow for ‘market choice’ and in case sites were not delivered.

Therefore, the draft document designated land for 20,790 homes. The council said there was an urban capacity for 13,726 homes, so green belt had been earmarked for a total of 7,064 homes.

However, the Labour-run authority has today, Monday, published its updated proposed submission version local plan, which will be considered by the cabinet at its meeting next Monday, September 13.

If approved, it will be put before full council on September 20 for approval, ahead of a new, six-week period of public consultation from October 4. Town Hall bosses expect it to come into force in 2023, following an examination by a planning inspector.

Warrington Guardian:

Town Hall

Warrington’s initial 20-year proposed submission version was published in March 2019. The council consulted with residents, businesses and other stakeholders, as part of its commitment to balance the needs of the borough with protecting the green belt and serving the interests of people in the area.

The consultation received more than 3,000 responses and the council says it has taken on board many of the views of 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 the council is proposing some big changes in preparing the updated document.

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 to 2038 inclusive.

The overall number of homes proposed has been reduced to 14,688, with the number of homes set for green belt cut by more than 2,000.

But with the ‘flexibility uplift’, land has been designated for 16,676 homes in total in the updated draft.

Land earmarked for employment use has dropped from 362 hectares to 316 hectares. Around 137 hectares is planned for green belt following a significant reduction in the revised proposals.

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.

Under the new plans, the huge Fiddlers Ferry site has been earmarked for 1,310 homes in the green belt, along with 101 hectares of employment land on brownfield land, during the plan period.

As part of the updated draft document, the amount of land proposed to be removed from the green belt in Warrington is 580 hectares, equating to five per cent 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, which equated to 11 per cent of the total amount of green belt.

Furthermore, there is 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.

Meanwhile, the council has decided to move away from the previously proposed garden suburb in south Warrington and is 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 garden suburb had previously been proposed to deliver around 7,400 homes, with 5,100 during the plan period, extensive infrastructure and community facilities and a major new employment location at the junction of the M6 and M56. It would have seen huge parts of green belt land built on.

The decision to scrap Port Warrington will see 75 hectares of employment land and 25 hectares for a business hub removed from the plan.

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.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Russ Bowden

“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.

“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 in the town can do so and to support an ageing population and residents with disabilities to live independently.

The draft local plan sets out a target for 30 per cent of affordable housing, although this will be reduced to 20 per cent in town centre as there are ‘more questions around viability’ in that area.

Cllr Bowden said: “Delivering a local plan, I would say, is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in a council because often you get a lot of public opposition to it.

“But we’ve always got to tread that line between what the Government is expecting of us through the housing targets and we need to retain control of planning here in Warrington – that has to be decided locally.

“Taking green belt is always the last resort and by pausing and taking stock and re-evaluating the requirements of the plan we’ve made a significant gain there, in terms of green belt.”

Cllr Bowden says the council is removing Port Warrington because it did not think that it had the necessary transport infrastructure to sustain development and because of its impact on Moore Nature Reserve, which will now be protected.

The proposed £212.74 million Western Link bypass, which is planned to open in 2026, would have provided road access to Port Warrington.

But Cllr Bowden said the bypass has always been about tackling town centre congestion and improving air quality.

Peel Hall is among the key pieces of land that remains in the plan. Cllr Bowden said the site is ‘always going to be a difficult issue’ because it is not green belt land.

He said: “What we did last time was change the status of Peel Hall from deliverable to developable, so in principle Peel Hall can be developed but with the appropriate infrastructure and we’ve never yet seen a plan from the land owner and developer to provide the infrastructure and that’s why it’s consistently been turned down.”

A masterplan for 1,200 new homes on Peel Hall has been subject to a new planning appeal.

As reported last month, the report from the inspector who heard the appeal has been sent to the secretary of state for consideration, with a decision to be issued on or before November 9.

Conservative Warrington South MP Andy Carter MP has shared his views on the council’s revised local plan proposals.

He said: “Warrington Labour’s last draft plan in 2019 fundamentally failed to address the need to regenerate our town centre.  

Warrington Guardian:

MP Andy Carter

“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 4,000 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 2,400 homes’ is still going to radically change the shape and feel of south Warrington.  

“The introduction of 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.”

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, says his party broadly welcome the changes that have been proposed in the local plan and look forward to studying the full document in detail.

He added: “Many of the changes reflect comments from the public and us, though there is disappointment that they don’t go far enough.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Bob Barr

“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 five per cent.

“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.”