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Friday, September 14, 2018

Cabinet approves ambitious Local Plan Preferred Options for public consultation (with FAQs)

West Lancashire Borough Council's Cabinet has agreed the exciting new Local Plan proposals for public consultation next month.

The Plan will be the subject of a six week consultation exercise commencing in October and as part of that process, the Council will be holding a series of events around the Borough at which officers will be available by appointment to meet local residents to explain the proposals and answer any questions they may have. Details of these events will be published on the Councils website and in the local press.

The Preferred Options document approved by Cabinet for public consultation is for an innovative and ambitious long term strategic plan that will help deliver new development to support the growth of the Borough until 2050. By releasing enough land for development needs for 30+ years, the Council will be in a better position to refuse any applications for development not in line with the Local Plan.

John Harrison, Director of Development and Regeneration, said: "The proposed new Local Plan will be an exciting blueprint for West Lancashire's future. It will enable the Council to better manage new development in a way that creates more sustainable communities, provides homes for all parts of the community and increased employment opportunities for local people by taking advantage of opportunities emerging from the anticipated economic growth in the region, including those stimulated by the expanded Port of Liverpool. The proposals will also reinforce our case for the delivery of a rail connection to Skelmersdale."

"The Council will shortly be embarking on a public consultation exercise and I would encourage the public to take the time to view the Plan on the Council's website and to submit their views on the proposals contained within it."

The Local Preferred Options would provide new homes and employment space in and around Skelmersdale, including an ambitious initiative to create three new Garden Villages and a Logistics Park alongside the M58. The three Garden Villages will offer comprehensively planned new settlements which enhance the natural environment. They will provide new high-quality and imaginatively designed homes, including affordable homes, and access to local employment, all combining the best of town and country to create walkable, vibrant, healthy and sociable communities with good access to cycling and public transport infrastructure. This proposal would make a significant contribution to the business case for creating a Skelmersdale Rail Link.

Within Ormskirk and Aughton, the proposed Preferred Options plan for new homes and the opportunity to create an impressive brand new Knowledge Park and Student Accommodation Village on St Helens Road to complement what is already offered at Edge Hill University. These proposals will attract new, hi-tech businesses to Ormskirk and provide much-needed purpose-built student accommodation to alleviate the demand for houses of multiple occupation. They will also enable university graduates to stay in West Lancashire by offering more of the right type of jobs and housing (to buy and rent) for young professionals, and will support Ormskirk town centre businesses.

Some land currently designated as Green Belt will be released for development, but the Preferred Options will also ensure that the rural areas of the Borough will continue to be strongly protected from inappropriate development (over 88% of West Lancashire will remain as Green Belt). This will allow the agricultural sector to continue making its significant contribution to UK food production and ensuring that the natural environment of the Borough will be protected and enhanced.

While the Local Plan Preferred Options look to deliver exciting developments around the Borough's two largest towns of Skelmersdale and Ormskirk, the proposals also allocate land for smaller opportunities for new developments in the rest of the Borough to meet local housing and employment needs.

The Council is legally obliged to assist neighbouring authorities meet housing and employment development across the wider region. The proposed Local Plan will enable the Council to meet those needs in the best possible way for West Lancashire while ensuring the Borough gains the Council Tax, New Homes Bonus and Business Rates revenues, as well as investment in infrastructure through the Community Infrastructure Levy and other developer contributions. The proposals also give the Council more chance of successfully securing Government investment in new infrastructure in West Lancashire.

Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is a Local Plan?

A. The Local Plan Sets the planning policy for a local authority area (in this case West Lancashire) to guide decisions that the Council will have to make on planning applications and new development going forward. It allocates land for specific types of development, so guiding where that type of development can be built; it protects some areas of land from development if they have particular qualities worthy of protection (e.g. nature conservation sites, public open spaces); and it provides a wide range of policies to guide how developments should be built to ensure they are as sustainable as possible.

Q. Why is a new Local Plan needed?

A. The adopted Local Plan is now 5 years old and recent changes to national planning policy requires Local Authorities to review their Local Plans every 5 years. This is because circumstances can change quite a bit in 5 years. For example, national planning policy has changed quite a bit in the last 5 years, with the recent revision to the National Planning Policy Framework by the Government the end result of these changes. If the Local Plan isn't reviewed to keep up with these changes in national policy, it carries less weight in decision-making on planning applications and so reduces the ability of the Council to refuse applications contrary to the Local Plan and to then defend those decisions to refuse permission at appeal.
Over the last five years, significant opportunities have arisen in the Liverpool City Region and wider North-West because of the growth of the Port of Liverpool, the Atlantic Gateway concept and the Logistics industry in general, and the economic growth that these and other factors associated with the Northern Powerhouse bring can only be if there is land made available through a Local Plan to accommodate new business premises. The adopted Local Plan does not include sufficient land in the right places and of the right size to allow West Lancashire to capitalise on this growth in that way.

Q. Is the current, adopted Local Plan (to 2027) just being scrapped then?

A. No, the proposals in the Local Plan Preferred Options maintain the Council's commitment to delivering what housing and employment land is required in the current Local Plan to 2027, but then considers what the Council should be planning for beyond 2027 up until 2050.

Q. Why are the Council planning to 2050?

A. There are several reasons why the Council thinks it will be better to have a longer-term planning strategy to 2050 than would usually be the case for a Local Plan:

1) It enables the Council, developers and infrastructure providers to plan comprehensively for new development and the infrastructure to go with it. A typical Local Plan allows for only just enough land to be allocated for development to meet short-term housing and business needs, and so small allocations on the edge of towns and villages tend to come forward in isolation and without being able to make a significant contribution to the new infrastructure needs they generate. By planning over the long-term to 2050, the scale of development planned for means that more infrastructure can be provided for with the new developments. The scale of development also means it is more likely that the Council and other infrastructure providers will be able to access funding for new infrastructure.

2) By allocating sufficient land to meet development needs for the next 30+ years in one Local Plan, it creates greater competition in the land market, which means that land values are stabilised and developments can therefore afford to make the full contributions they are required to for affordable housing and new infrastructure.

It provides certainty for all over the longer-term. In a borough like West Lancashire, every time a Local Plan is prepared a little bit of the Green Belt has to be released to meet the short-term development needs of a typical Local Plan period and so every 5-10 years, the Green Belt boundary has to be altered somewhere in the Borough. This runs contrary to the principle of Green Belt, which seeks to see Green Belt boundaries remain the same for a longer period of time in order to provide certainty to landowners, residents and developers. By planning to 2050, the Green Belt boundaries in West Lancashire should not need to be reviewed again through a new Local Plan until after 2040 unless development needs increase dramatically. Green Belt currently covers 90.5% of the West Lancashire, and the proposals in the Local Plan Preferred Options would see that figure reduce to 88.8% if they are all ultimately included in the new Local Plan when it is adopted. As such, less than 2% of the Green Belt in West Lancashire will be built upon by 2050 if all the proposals were to come forward and be developed.

3) It reduces the risk of sites not allocated in the Local Plan coming forward with planning applications and the subsequent appeals that result when the Council refuses permission.

Q. What is Green Belt?

A. Green Belt refers to a planning policy and land use zone designation used in land use planning to restrict development in areas of largely undeveloped countryside or agricultural land surrounding or neighbouring urban areas. West Lancashire is, rather unusually, over 90% Green Belt because it lies in between the urban areas of Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Central Lancashire, and so is where the Green Belt around those urban areas merged together. The Green Belt boundary is therefore tightly drawn around the towns and villages of West Lancashire. Green Belt is not the same thing as greenfield (which is simply any land that has not been developed on), as you can have a greenfield sites that are not in the Green Belt and you can have brownfield (previously developed) sites in the Green Belt. Contrary to popular belief, Green Belt is not untouchable and unable to be developed on forever. As well as there being occasional cases where very special circumstances mean that a planning application for development in the Green Belt can be permitted, the Local Plan is the one place where Green Belt boundaries can be altered if there are exceptional circumstances.

Q. Why don't we just build on brownfield sites?

A. There are very few brownfield sites (also known as previously developed land) left in West Lancashire that are suitable for development (see the Council's Brownfield Register and all those that are, have been accounted for in the anticipated delivery under the current, adopted Local Plan. Therefore, the Council has no option other than to look to greenfield sites to meet its development needs going forward.

Q. Are the proposals meeting housing needs from Merseyside?

A. The Localism Act 2011 introduced the 'Duty to Co-operate' on local authorities. In particular, recent national policy on the 'Duty to Co-operate' requires an authority to consider how it can meet its neighbours' development needs if one or more of its neighbours is unable to meet their own development needs going forward on their local plans. Therefore, as we look at development needs beyond 2027, it is clear that parts of the Liverpool City Region will start to struggle to meet all of their own development needs, in particular housing needs from the north of Sefton which has no more room for new development (being sandwiched between West Lancashire and the Irish Sea).

Alongside this, there are the proposals for a new Skelmersdale Rail Link (with connections to Liverpool and Manchester) and for West Lancashire to accommodate a share of the growing demand for logistics space (emerging from the anticipated growth of shipping through the Port of Liverpool) on the M58 Corridor. This therefore means that the need for housing in West Lancashire (especially around Skelmersdale and the M58 Corridor) will naturally increase because of this growth in jobs and improved access to Liverpool and Manchester.

As such, part of the housing need proposed in the Local Plan Preferred Options beyond 2027 has come about because of this growth associated with Skelmersdale Rail and the Port of Liverpool, as well as because the north of Sefton has no more space for new development sites beyond 2027.

Q. Why have residents, businesses and landowners not been notified of these proposals before or received any information on them from the Council?

A. Until Cabinet's decision to consult on the Local Plan Preferred Options at Tuesday's meeting, the proposals within it had not been approved by Members for consultation. As such, the Council could not notify people about unconfirmed proposals. Now that the public consultation has been confirmed, the Council will publicise the Local Plan Preferred Options across the Borough in October and invite people to share their views through the six-week consultation process. This will also be an opportunity for people to access more information on the proposals and the evidence behind them.

Q. How can people get involved in the consultation and find out more information?

A. Local Plan Review will have all the details on when the consultation period opens on 12 October for six weeks, but we will be publicising the consultation across the Borough and holding drop-in events across the Borough. These drop-in events will run from 10am to 9pm and attendance will be by pre-booked appointment only. The website will give details of how to book an appointment.

Q. What is a "Garden Village"?

A. A Garden Village is a holistically planned new settlement which enhances the natural environment and offers high-quality affordable housing and locally accessible work in beautiful, healthy and sociable communities. They include the following principles of development:

  • Community identity and "ownership" of the Village and all its assets
  • Mixed-tenure homes and housing types that include genuinely affordable homes
  • Access to a wide range of local jobs within easy commuting distance of homes
  • Beautifully and imaginatively designed homes with gardens, combining the best of town and country to create healthy communities, and including opportunities to grow food
  • Development that enhances the natural environment, providing a comprehensive green infrastructure network and net biodiversity gains, and that uses zero-carbon and energy-positive technology to ensure climate resilience wherever possible
  • Strong community, recreational and shopping facilities in walkable, vibrant, sociable villages
  • Integrated and accessible transport systems, with walking, cycling and public transport designed to be the most attractive forms of local transport.

Q. How will the infrastructure that's needed to support this development be delivered?

A. There are a variety of ways that new infrastructure will be delivered to meet the increased demand for services created by new development:

  • Those building the new developments will pay for it – either by creating / building the new infrastructure as part of their development proposals or by paying the Community Infrastructure Levy or other developer contributions to contribute towards the cost of new infrastructure
  • Infrastructure providers – in some cases, infrastructure providers themselves are required to provide new infrastructure to connect to new developments or to meet the increased demand created by the new developments
  • Government funding – Government programmes to fund new infrastructure to unlock new housing development periodically emerge and the Council or other parties will bid into these where appropriate to seek additional funding. Generally speaking, the more housing that would be unlocked in a bid by such infrastructure funding, the better the chance that the funding will be awarded.


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