Changes afoot to controversial greenbelt plans

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Council chiefs have told campaigners they WILL make a series of changes to their unpopular plans to build homes on the borough’s greenbelt land.

Mike Palin, chief executive of St Helens, wrote to a number of campaign groups to say additional brown field sites for housing development have now been identified.

Those sites will be included in the revision Local Plan when it is published later this year and could mean fewer homes being built on green belt land.

Campaigners have welcomed the news but say the council should have done a full audit of brown field land in the borough before publishing the St Helens Local Plan in the first place.

A number of St Helens campaign groups wrote to Mr Palin asking for a clarification on several points regarding housing development on the green belt, which has generated widespread opposition throughout the borough.

In an email response, Mr Palin revealed there are “a couple of large brownfield sites being proposed by landowners that had not previously been submitted”.

He also said “the next iteration of the Local Plan will be different to the Preferred Options version”. The Preferred Options were published just before Christmas 2016. The next version of the plan is due to be published in the summer.

John Fairclough, of Residents Against the Development of Green Belt in Rainhill, said: “The St Helens Local Plan has descended into chaos. The council’s failure to properly check what brown field and green field land is available in the borough before coming forward with plans to bulldoze our green belt is a total disgrace.

“We have always said the council’s claim brown field land is running out in St Helens borough is ludicrous. And now, out of thin air, the council has found additional brown field sites for housing, proving we were right all along.

“The council must produce a comprehensive and complete brown field register immediately and ensure it has exhausted every alternative possibility before any building takes place on the green belt.”

Mike Greenacre, of Windle and Eccleston Community Residents Association, said: “The Local Plan the council put before the public at Christmas clearly wasn’t fit for purpose.

“The £200,000 of public money the council has spent so far on this process, just on external advice, has clearly been squandered.

“We should at least be grateful that at long last the council appears to be listening to the people they are supposed to serve. However, the devil will be in the detail. So before we get our hopes up we will wait to see what changes the council comes forward with at the next stage of their Local Plan.

“We are optimistic now that it will be different to what they originally produced, which was little more than a charter for builders to destroy the St Helens countryside so many of us love.”

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “We always suspected the council would revise down its plans for green belt development to make its final proposals appear more acceptable to the public.

“Our position is unchanged. We are against any green belt development until every available brown field site has been used, there is a clear and effective plan to bring back into use the more than 3,500 empty properties in St Helens, and the 2,000 properties across the borough that have been granted planning permission but currently yet to be built are fully completed.”