BBC Radio 4 "Open Country"

Current information may be read at http://www.stophoylakegolfresort.website/

 

 

 

The BBC Radio 4 programme

"Hoylake : Green Belt and Greens"

was broadcast on Thursday 1 September 2016.  It can be heard here : -

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07qbl5p  .

Immediately following, unbeknown to the Committee, was a programme in the "Farming Today" series with the title "Green Belt Debate" that hosted a discussion between Paul Miner (Planning Campaign Manager for the Campaign to Protect Rural England) and Sam Bowman (Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute) on what the Green Belt should be for in the 21st century.  This can be heard at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07q2dvt  .

Because development on Green belt is politically and domestically sensitive,

your Committee is exploring other avenues of publicity.

RESUME OF SUBJECTS COVERED BY THE COMMITTEE,

LIABLE TO SUBSTANTIAL EDITING BY BBC

A). AMENITY, FOOTPATHS & CYCLEWAYS

The site has two much used public footpaths and cycleways and other lesser used public footpaths that, presumably, Developer will divert.  

 

It is not a pleasant experience crossing a parks-style golf course because restricted sight-lines restrict visibility of oncoming play and following a diverted path leads one over a much longer track.  The original intention of walking and cycling this tranquil countryside will be lost for ever.  The tranquility of the site (currently assessed by CPRE as Level 2) will be lost by the presence of machinery working the courses, players of the courses and visitors and service vehicles to Resort and homes.  I estimate 1,500 vehicles per day compared with a maximum of five should all the farmers work their fields simultaneously.

 

There are Permissive Footpaths loved and used by locals as short-cuts and for their amenity value that will be lost.

 

The countryside today is constantly changing in colour and content as the farmers change their crop and stock.  When it is a golf resort, it will be the same unchanging green.

 

The site is a greatly valued amenity by locals and others for walking, cycling, bird-watching.

 

B). CAPITAL OF THE "GOLF COAST"

Council wants the Resort to be the "Capital of the Golf Coast" but has not consulted with the 100 or so courses and clubs of Cheshire and Lancashire where, for the latter, there are two "Royal" clubs.  It has not considered why the Resort should take precedence over these despite being isolated from the region's airports and seaport to which the only connections are the local rail service and a long motorway journey from the main motorways running North and South of England.  The Resort will be at the Cap Finisterre of the Golf Coast.

 

C). COUNCIL'S CONSULTANTS' REPORT 

Council commissioned reports for the Economic Regeneration & Planning Strategy Select Committee on 15 November 2005 by Jones Lang La Salle "HOYLAKE: A FUTURE GOLF RESORT?" and in 2006 by Capita Symonds "Hoylake: A Future Golf Resort - Detailed Needs Assessment" which latter carries severe "health warnings" regarding building on Green Belt whilst the first makes comparison with extant golf resorts that have offers not at all similar to that proposed for Hoylake.

 

There are no financial quantities, qualifications nor justifications given in the reports from consultants nor its own Technical Assessment.

 

D). COUNCIL'S SECRECY

Council's consultation sessions of 2015 has been very poor, telling people very little that they did not already know from newspapers.

 

Its opinion survey was biased in favour of a positive reply.

 

The comments and questions sought at the time of the consultation sessions have been ignored.

 

Council has put forward no Member nor Official to represent its views at the Committee's public meetings.

 

Council's responses to questions have been slow or non-existent.

 

Council kept secret the recommendation that Langfields should be designated a Site of Biological Importance.

 

What other secrets are there?

 

E). COUNCIL'S TECHNICAL ASSESSMENT

Council's own "Technical Assessment – Hoylake Golf Resort Project" report dated 10 January 2008 says that the land has a very wide bio-diversity that is internationally and nationally noted.  The report lists many caveats. 

 

F). ECONOMY

There will be no inward investment because whatever the Developer receives as profit, he will keep for himself and very little will be spent by local contractors for the building of golf courses and hotels is a specialist industry.

 

Council's Cabinet papers say that the Resort's visitors will benefit the economies of Birkenhead, Chester and Liverpool.  There is nothing to quantify nor justify the gain to the local economy of North or Northwest Wirral.  Council is unable to quantify the economic gains to the Borough.

 

The local economy might be damaged.

 

G). EMPLOYMENT

The local jobs, unless we have people trained in course, hotel, restaurant and building services management, will be of the low-paid service sector kind.  Council has a Policy of improving the Job Skill Set of the Borough that this project does not satisfy.

 

I do not devalue jobs such as bartenders and waiters-on.  I have two sons who are chefs and depend upon waiters to bring their creations to the table.  My wife and I enjoy eating out and value greatly the service rendered by the staff of bars and restaurants.  We have a granddaughter that does both jobs.  We, the Committee, accept that these jobs have value to both sides but believe that Council should be seeking, with the aid of its policy that we endorse, of increasing the Borough's skill set.

 

II do not believe that any job is a good job

 

H). FLOODPLAIN (see MEOLS MEADOWS SSSI)

The proposed site is floodplain for North Wirral having the River Birket (gives its name to Birkenhead where it meets River Mersey) and Newton Brook, crossing it.  We know of the dangers of building on floodplain.

 

My own experience had taught me that water features constructed on parks-style golf courses are not only an essential golfing feature, they may be used for irrigation.  Since nowadays, water abstraction borehole licences are rare, Developer would almost certainly build these to mitigate flooding (primarily for the purpose of gaining Planning Consent) and to provide water for irrigation.

 

2 September 2015, Meols and Moreton were severely flooded by a short, sharp rainfall that caused Birket and Newton Brook to overflow their banks.  Those who know of the Resort were very concerned for their future protection.  Developer's Planning defence would be the provision of water features to collect and prevent flooding downstream.

 

I). GREENBELT

The land for which the Resort is proposed is Green Belt.  The proposal goes against, I had thought, the first three and last of the five purposes of Green Belt, being : -

• to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;

• to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;

• to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;

• to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and

• to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. 

 

Last year, I learned of there being a World War 2 Decoy Control Bunker on site that I tried but failed to have Listed, which is now covered by an enormous mound of spoil.  The recent Survey of those on our mailing list to ascertain major concerns reveals the presence of pre-historic Ridge & Furrow Systems and Medieval field patterns.  The visible field pattern dates to a George III Act of Parliament for their enclosing and drainage.  The site has archaeological interest.

 

Council has little regard for Green Belt land wanting not only this to be built but also a fire station on the outskirts of nearby Saughall Massie village.

 

It is hard to see how Planning Permission can be given for a hotel with associated buildings, roads, golf courses and club house.

 

Planning Permission for housing can be granted in only “very special circumstances”.

 

Developer was successful in achieving his "chosen developer" status because, we believe, his proposal overcame the considerable costs of making the land suitable for development by firstly removing unsuitable overburden that causes flooding that would be replaced with land-fill to raise the landform above the flood-level and sculpt it for two parks-style golf courses and the hotel, etc, service roads and houses.  The latter are, in Planning parlance, "enabling" in that the profit achieved from their sale would help defray the cost of earth-works.  To achieve the level of profit required, the houses would have to be at the higher-end of sale price ("executive") and of sufficient quantity; we have been told 150 plus but believe that "plus" will be operative.

 

Low-cost housing is much needed in the Borough but are excluded here because the profit margin is insufficient.

J). LANGFIELDS SITE OF BIOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE

In December 2015, I was told that Council had not advised the wildlife groups and other stake-holders of the outcome of their proposal of 2009 that an area of land known locally as "Langfields" that covers a large portion (about half) of the Resort site should be made a Site of Biological Importance.  These give no statutory protection but ensure that local Authorities consult with interested wildlife parties to give some protection to sites proposed for development.  The fear was that the report and recommendations by Merseyside Environment Advisory Service had been kept secret for obvious reasons.  

 

I made a Freedom of Information Act request that had the report of 3 February 2009 released.  This recommends that Langfields be designated a "Site of Biological Importance."  Council had deliberately kept secret this recommendation.  The person, who is no longer in the employ of Council, can be named as can his successor.

 

K). LOCAL SERVICES

The extra usage of the site will increase demand upon our already hard-pressed local services such as schools, doctors, ambulance, fire brigade and police.

 

L). MEOLS MEADOWS SSSI (see FLOODPLAIN)

Meols Meadows SSSI lies downstream of the Resort site and is the only one of its kind on Merseyside.  It does not require regular or frequent flooding to flourish but must have an input of fresh water to maintain it.

 

There is a very careful balance of water input to the site, which cannot be guaranteed, against output to prevent flooding but maintenance of Meols Meadows SSSI, which both must be guaranteed.

 

Taken together with recycling of water from the lakes and the heavy use of fertiliser there is the risk of eutrophication, which has dangers for wildlife and humans.  Usage of herbicides and pesticides on golf courses is essential and will accumulate with recycling.  If this water was to reach Meols Meadows SSSI the result would be catastrophic.  The balance of water in and out and quality of water out of the Resort are crucial to the Resort, the people of Meols and Moreton and the Meols Meadows SSSI!

 

We have tried, but failed, to find an Hydrologist to help us understand better the site situation.

 

M). PUBLIC CONSULTATION

There were two periods of public drop-in consultation sessions at the end of 2015 in Hoylake and West Kirby that are generally said to have been poor or dire.  The Wards to the East and South have not been consulted.  Council's report on these sessions is awaited.  The survey of opinion was biased such as to give a positive result.  I have analysed the responses sought and this is published on the website.  Council has been given a copy and invited to comment but has failed so to do. 

 

N). ROADS AND TRAFFIC

The Golf resort is named for Hoylake.  

 

Ironically, Hoylake will suffer no disturbance during construction nor afterwards from visitors and service vehicles.  As discussed elsewhere, the economy of Hoylake might be damaged.

 

There are only two routes from the motorway to the site.  Both pass through areas busy with pedestrian and road traffic to commercial, retail, private housing and schools, etc.  The traffic is already heavy with frequent tail-backs.  Construction vehicles will increase this, perhaps, to unbearable conditions.  "Improved" roads might be required to allow HGVs to pass more readily, but this will increase the safety risk to other road users.

 

It is clear that Council has not considered the site's isolation from the area's roads network and the impact that this will have on country lanes over which HGVs must travel.

 

By comparison with a similar golf course site at "Bury Farm", I estimate that about 1 million tonnes of landfill will be required.

 

O). TOURISM

The Committee accepts that tourism represents a significant proportion of the economy locally to Wirral and Nationally.  But tourism must go hand-in-glove with need and local assent.  We cannot see a need, there being 16 golf courses on Wirral.  There is no local majority assent because Council has kept secret everything about the Resort.  It has not attempted to persuade the people of the Wards to the East and South of the site of its value to them despite its Cabinet documents saying that ALL WARDS are affected.  

 

Tourism must be sustainable, which this project is not.  Not only will the Borough's Carbon-footprint be increased during construction from vehicles and concrete manufacture but afterwards from a 24/7 hotel operation, two golf courses and 150 plus homes all with visitors, services and home-occupiers.

 

The golf courses, Developer will hope, will be played by people from all over the World arriving in this country by air.  Some will arrive by car and some by rail but the carbon output resulting from the Resort will be much greater than current.

 

Consumption of natural resources and utilities (electricity, gas, water, sewerage, telecomms) will increase.

 

We do not anticipate Council or Developer providing estimates.

 

P). WILDLIFE

On hearing of the resort proposals, local birdlife groups became very concerned.  Publicity has always been an issue and there remains a great number of the general population unaware of the proposal.

 

The Committee fears that these Groups, like everyone else consulted by it, will await the publication of the Planning Application in order to see for themselves precisely what the proposal is and what are the matters of concern to each.  The Committee fears that Wirral Council will follow recent Government guidelines and allow the minimum time, three weeks, for which to table legal Objections.  All will have insufficient time.

 

The site is an immensely bio-diverse ecosystem.  The withholding of the Langfields MEAS recommendation will have set back all the wildlife groups.

 

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