Green belt campaigner say St Helens Local Plan contains 'flawed calculations'

Local residents attended a meeting at Clock Face Miners Recreational Club
Local residents attended a meeting at Clock Face Miners Recreational Club
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Green belt campaigners have claimed St Helens Council has got its projected housing figures “drastically wrong” in the Local Plan.

This week residents came together at Clock Face Miners Recreational Club to discuss the ongoing campaign from the recently-formed Bold and Clock Face Action Group.

Chris Hughes, one of the founding members of group, claimed there are a lot of “flawed calculations” in the Local Plan regarding the number of houses required in the borough.

Mr Hughes pointed to a recent Sky News investigation into the UK housing crisis.

The investigation ranked each local authority area from 1 to 390 for each type of crisis. The higher the ranking, the more serious a housing problem in that area.

According to the Sky investigation, St Helens is ranked 24 out of 390 local authorities in the UK in terms of its demand for housing.

Mr Hughes said: “We’re basically in the top six per cent of the country for oversupply of housing and yet we’re still planning on building another 7,000 houses in the borough. Somebody’s got the figures drastically wrong.”

The Sky investigation also ranks St Helens 366 out of 390 for a lack of supply and 361 for affordability (access to credit).

Speaking to a packed room, Mr Hughes claimed there are no “exceptional circumstances” for the council to justify not using the government’s standard method for calculating houses.

In the current submission draft version of the Local Plan, the council has allocated land to accommodate the delivery of 486 houses per annum.

This revised figure – which is lower than the 486 houses in the submission draft version of the Local Plan – takes into account increased housing need due to employment growth.

St Helens Council spokesman said: “Applying the government’s standard method, the minimum annual housing need figure for St Helens would be 468 new dwellings per year over the lifetime of the plan.

“However, this does not take into account the potential for future growth associated with the development of employment sites allocated in the plan.

“The St Helens borough Local Plan sets out a figure of 486 dwelling per year based on forecast need.

“This is just 18 houses per year across the whole of St Helens borough.

“We do not recognise the six per cent oversupply figure being suggested as accurate.”

On Tuesday night, Mr Hughes said the council’s economic analysis was “grossly optimistic”.

He pointed to a “massive reduction” in services, facilities and amenities in recent years, saying it was “symptomatic of a shrinking town”.

Mr Hughes claimed “inflated figures” used by the council do not show any consideration for a possible recession that may occur following the UK’s departure from the EU.

He also accused the council of not fully exploring alternative options to green belt sites.

In the submission draft version of the Local Plan, it is proposed to reduce the amount of green spaces in the borough from 65 per cent to 59 per cent.

The preferred options plan set out intentions to cut this to 56 per cent.

Part of the reason for the change was down to two new brownfield sites, the Cowley Works and the former Suttons distribution centre, being brought forward by their respective owners for housing development.

Several sites that were previously proposed to be released from the green belt will also now remain in the green belt, following the completion of the St Helens Green Belt review,

Currently there are two green belt sites in Bold that have been allocated for housing in plan.

A 133-ha site – part of the Bold Forest Garden Suburb – on land bounded by Reginald Road, Bold Road, Travers Entry, Gorsey Lane and Crawford Street, is earmarked for around 3,000 homes.

In the current version of the plan, construction of around 480 homes is expected on the site before 2035, with more than 2,500 homes earmarked for after 2035.

Land south of Gartons Lane in Bold has also been earmarked for around 520 homes during the Local Plan period, with 49 proposed after.

The Local Plan submission draft was approved by the Labour-run council in December, despite opposition from opposition councillors.

The Bold and Clock Face Action Group was set up in March.

Mr Hughes wrote to the council accusing it of failing to take all reasonable steps to notify residents affected by the proposed removal of green belt land.

This forced the council to re-run the publication consultation in Bold, and subsequently across the borough.

The deadline for comments to be submitted is 5pm on May 13.