THE St Helens Local Plan has finally been submitted to the Government for independent examination.

St Helens Borough Council originally agreed to submit the plan – which every local authority is required to adopt – back in December 2019.

However, the plan was delayed in March to allow officers to undertake a review after the council entered a long-term partnership with the English Cities Fund (EFC) to regenerate the borough.

A report on this review was due to come back to the Labour cabinet in the summer, but was delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.

The findings of the review went before cabinet in September, where Labour councillors agreed to submit the Local Plan to the Secretary of State.

St Helens Borough Council has today confirmed that the Local Plan, which covers a 15-year period, was submitted to the Secretary of State on Thursday.

Cllr Richard McCauley, cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said: “In submitting the Local Plan to the Secretary of State we are taking a big step towards its adoption.

“The Government-appointed, independent planning inspector will now take full account of our plan, assessing its viability and soundness, along with the feedback from our residents.

“Created with and for our borough to meet our future employment and Government-required housing needs, this plan sets out our ambitions to create jobs, build a mix of high quality, affordable homes and shape infrastructure investments utilising brownfield first and foremost.

“It gives residents some certainty about our development plans and future use of land in the borough. It shows where development is planned, and therefore where resources and possible additional infrastructure, such as roads or new schools, are needed to support it.

“It will protect the vast majority of our open green spaces, develop our town and district centres, and help to prevent decisions being made on developments that may not be in the best interests of our local community, as without it we are at the mercy of developers who would be able to
cherry-pick development sites without our input.

“And as we look ahead towards our post-Covid-19 economic recovery, a sound
and aspirational plan for job creation and growth will be indispensable.”

The Labour-controlled council says the Local Plan “strikes a balance between growth, prosperity and quality of life” for residents over the next 15 years – despite being roundly rejected by the opposition.

The plan has also faced much opposition from the public throughout its turbulent history.

The council faced a backlash in December 2016 when it consulted with the public over its ‘preferred options’ plan, which proposed releasing 1,187 hectares of land from the green belt.

Currently, 65 per cent of the borough is in the green belt. The preferred options plan set out intentions to cut this to 56 per cent.

The submission draft Local Plan that was unveiled in December 2018 proposed that 59 per cent of the borough will remain in the green belt.

Other sites that were previously earmarked for housing in the preferred options plan have been ‘safeguarded’ in the submission draft, which means it has been removed from the green belt to meet development needs beyond the plan period.

One area that is proposed to be safeguarded in the plan is the 49-hectare former Eccleston Park Golf Club site, which is owned by Mulbury Homes.

James Wright, chairman of Rainford Action Group, said last month that the submission draft was an improvement on the “terrible proposals put forward in 2016”.

However, he said the green belt campaign group remain “unconvinced” there is any justification to build on protected land in St Helens.

“The law is clear; protected land can only be built on in exceptional circumstances,” Mr Right said.

“The council has again failed to show such circumstances exist in St Helens and that means we’re heading for further delays to this process, wasting more time and costing taxpayers more money.

“We need a robust and realistic plan in place so St Helens can look forward to a better future.”

Nearly 6,000 representations were received by the council during the consultation on the preferred options version of the Local Plan, which were considered in the submission draft plan.

Approximately 2,000 comments on the submission draft have been collated and now submitted with the plan to the Secretary of State.

Residents who made a representation in this consultation will also receive a letter or email informing them of submission of the plan and the next steps.

Now that it has been submitted, the Secretary of State will now appoint an independent planning inspector to examine the Local Plan and representations.

They will assess the legal compliance of the plan and whether it meets the ‘tests of soundness’ set down in national policy, and will then decide when the public examination will be conducted.

Publication of the inspector’s report on the Local Plan will formally close the examination stage of the process.

The council will only be able to adopt the plan if it is found to be legally compliant and sound by the planning inspector as set out in their final report.

Once known, details of the timescales of the public examination will be shared online.

The Local Plan and supporting documentation are available to view on the council’s website:

Paper copies of the plan are also available to view at St Helens Library at The World of Glass, and Chester Lane, Eccleston, Newton-le-Willows and Parr libraries.