Mumaleary's Blog

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Greenbelt release- is there another way?

on October 4, 2018

Last night I started writing some notes in advance of this evenings constituency meetings relating to the potential release of greenbelt land on the Wirral. Notes very quickly turned into a sort of rant, the bulk of which is here so, before you read on I must make you aware of some caveats to this massive monologue…

  • I absolutely appreciate that I am not an expert. I am not a planner and I don’t have any experience in this area (aside from occasional conversations with Mr L and a human geography degree & PGCE from 102 years ago)
  • I understand completely that I am probably not aware of all of the finer detail of the various plans that the council, developers and other stakeholders have.
    I understand basic market rules, I know about supply and demand and the fact that things are only worth what someone is or isn’t prepared to pay
    I know that we are an island; I understand we have a finite amount of space and, as our population grows we need more (and different types) of housing which means that it is inevitable that some greenfield space will be lost over time.
  • I know that there are many, many examples of fantastic and sympathetic new developments, built on greenbelt land which have allowed new communities to develop and ones which were under threat thrive again.
  • I am nervous of posting this. I don’t want to be seen as obstructive or difficult or naïve and childish quietly wishing for the impossible. My current contract is working within the Birkenhead BID and I genuinely can see really positive change happening in the area and I want to continue to be a part of that.

BUT I also know this;

Everyone has the right to an opinion and to question others on theirs. If I don’t at least attempt to voice my hopes and concerns, and the bulldozers move in whilst other areas continue to decline, I will feel like a fraud and- most pertinently; Once our greenbelt is gone, it can’t be brought back.

Yes there are some amazing examples of old quarries being redeveloped as wetlands and nature reserves, of unloved common land being repurposed as football pitches and natural play areas. It is possible to replant hedgerows and create beautiful rooftop gardens, living walls and urban wildlife habitats but they’re not the same. Once we have built on our fields, our common land and our wide open spaces our landscape will be irreversibly altered.
I fully understand and appreciate that Wirral (and the UK as a whole) requires more housing and, naturally developers are more likely to be interested in building in desirable areas that don’t require demolition and don’t need land to be tested for contamination. I also understand about the different council tax bands and the amount of revenue that different types of homes in the various postcodes could bring in and I know that all councils need to raise funds wherever they can but; I would really like any release of the greenbelt to happen only after all of the appropriate brown field sites and vacant or under populated accommodation has been given due consideration.

Take Birkenhead as an example- specifically Hamilton Square. The largest example of grade 2 listed buildings outside of London. I can’t think of another town or city in the United Kingdom today that doesn’t make better use of such an incredible asset. Properties such as these sell for around £700,000 in Edinburgh and upwards of £15 million in central London. Even in the cathedral quarter in Here they are often vacant, divided up into offices or used as social housing. When they come up for sale as whole properties they are available for around £250,000.
It blows my mind! It seems utterly nonsensical. These beautiful properties are spitting distance from the train, ferry, bus and motorway. Commuters could be in Liverpool in less than 15 minutes. In London in less than 2.5hrs- the place should be buzzing. There should be cafes and boutiques for mooching in on the weekend on the way to the town centre or the ferry. There was an agreement made over a year ago to develop a Heritage plan for the Square but so far… nothing.

I just do not get it.

This is our principal town and it badly needs help. Individuals can make a difference and so many people are doing amazing things in Birkenhead but it needs more. We get frustrated about the North/South divide but there is a significant divide on our peninsula. I know that there are plans in place, maybe all of this is already in the offing, (after all, I have written about the MUSE development previously) and I should just pipe down but, I just can’t say nothing in case this isn’t the plan… I accept that this is the harder choice. I know that it requires a more bigger plan to be seen as one part within a bigger, Wirral wide vision but I can’t see how it is a bad idea.
In the early 2000’s New York City was reimagined in a similar way making underused areas vibrant spaces again. Those areas, which people found ugly and intimidating have flourished, as have the communities around them and the difference this has made both to the individual areas and the cities whole reputation has been incredible. (you can read more on this in the fantastic book Street Fight- Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Jeanette Sadik-Khan).
Currently it is unlikely those with the luxury of choice would opt to buy in most parts of Birkenhead which ensures that the redevelopment of the Town and the creation of properties around it may not have the deep and long lasting impact that it should and could.
Wirral’s history is built on innovation and bold ideas and we need some of this now- we need an identity, a real USP to ensure that we get the right developments in the right areas maintaining what green space as far as is possible and enhancing our existing urban spaces. Wellbeing, mental health considerations and work life balance are becoming ever more important when people look to relocate either as individuals or businesses; this is the type of lifestyle that the peninsula currently offers in abundance- If we do not take this opportunity to genuinely do something bold and different the chasm between the 2 sides of the motorway will continue to deepen and everyone will lose out.
How about the further development of cycle paths along the coast and the installation of electric vehicle charging points working towards becoming the first clean, green and carbon neutral council the UK. Currently we have an amazing amount of gorgeous green space, beautiful waterfront views, free exercise opportunities and a world class park. With the correct planning and management wouldn’t this become a real selling point? Couldn’t we take a lead from the likes Bristol, Brighton and Manchester; these cities are considered disrupters and rule breakers in the best possible way; can’t we find a way for our peninsula to sell itself as a forward thinking, positive and proactive place to be a part of both from a business and residential perspective? I accept that there is a huge financial shadow lurking in the back of this whole suggestion- I am just posing the question; wondering what might be possible with the right backing.
One of Wirrals best known and best loved attractions; Port Sunlight is a prime example of innovative urban planning, built with the needs of the residents and workers in mind. Isn’t it possible that with some bold ideas and brave decisions we could achieve that again; not building from the foundations up but reimagining, redeveloping existing spaces to create a new era and create a new legacy to reinforce the idea that we are an area and you are a council, that cares about the people as much as the pounds. After all, everything seems impossible until its done…


What do you think?

PS) I left this post in drafts because I wasn’t sure how this post would go down but, having been to the meeting I now think it is more important than ever that everyone responds to the council consultation and tries to encourage them to look at the Wirral as a whole instead of as individual, stand alone areas.

You can find out more on how to make your view heard here;

Deadline is 26th October 2018.

3 responses to “Greenbelt release- is there another way?

  1. Twinny says:

    Hallelujah to that!!! Well said! Good rant dude x


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