GREEN belt campaigners have welcomed comments from the leader of St Helens Council about taking a “brownfield first” approach as part of a balanced Local Plan.

Cllr Derek Long told councillors last month that the authority has a “responsibility” to bring forward brownfield land and bringing it back into use

He also said the council will set up a group to look at how it can further strengthen its “brownfield first” approach to the Local Plan, which has been welcomed by Eccleston Community Residents Association (ECRA).

Mike Greenacre, ECRA chairman, said: “Whilst it’s actions not words that will fundamentally change the current plans of the council towards housing development on green belt, this is the first time we have heard any sense talked about a brownfield first approach.

“After the consultation in January 2017, which generated nearly 6,000 responses from residents against the plan, we were told that a revised plan taking account of residents’ views would be released in July 2017.

“Now some 10 months after that revised plan was due there is still no signs of it being released anytime soon.

“Nevertheless, Cllr Long’s comments suggest that he wants to ensure that developments on brownfield sites are given an absolute priority.

“There could be even more sites made available that are currently contaminated and require clean-up costs, which we believe should be funded by the council, developers and government – all of whom benefit from the additional brownfield space created by this clean up.”

ECRA said housing developments on such sites would provide great opportunities to build affordable housing young people can afford as well as being a catalyst for regenerating the town centre.

The campaign group believes there are enough brownfield sites within the borough to meet its housing needs over the next 15 years.

It also claimed that forecasts for jobs growth are “significantly exaggerated” and therefore so is the forecast for increased population.

An ECRA spokesman said: “There was in the initial plan a noticeable lack of information relating to infrastructure needs to support the planned growth – roads, schools and health centres (surgeries) to name some of these areas of concern, so we will be particularly focused on how these have been dealt with in the revised plan assuming that the number of new houses now projected will have been significantly reduced.”

ECRA said it will continue to campaign until it is clear there is a “much more sensible” approach to building on the green belt.

“Once it’s been built upon there is no turning back,” the spokesman said.

“As we observe, it’s actions not words that will matter in the end.

“We wish Cllr Long success in his new role and hope his views on making brownfield first will prevail.”