GOVERNMENT officials have given their seal of approval for the sell-off of a war memorial field in Wirral.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles has confirmed that he will not "call in" the decision to build almost 100 new homes on Ingleborough Road playing fields.

The council's planning committee gave the go-ahead for Tranmere Rovers' plans in October but the Department for Communities and Local Government later ordered the authority to submit full details of the scheme.

Protesters, including residents and Birkenhead Institute Old Boys, campaigned against the proposals in a bid to retain the field's historical nature a memorial to the school’s 88 World War I fallen heroes.

Mr Pickles had issued an "Article 25" to the council on November 8 stating that the application could not be determined without his go-ahead and that he wanted to consider the issue of whether he should call in the plans.

But now, he says he has "carefully considered the impact of the proposals" and does not believe there is "sufficient reason" to call in the application for his own determination.

Kevin Adderley, interim strategic director for regeneration and environment at Wirral Council, said: "I am very pleased that the Secretary of State has, after due consideration, withdrawn the Article 25 Direction and is satisfied that that processes followed and the consideration against planning policies give no reason for him to consider calling in the application for his own consideration."

However Birkenhead Institute old boy Alun Hughes said Mr Pickles' decision was "disappointing."

He said: "There is disappointment that Pickles has not appreciated the cultural significance of memorials to those who gave their lives for this country.

"Birkenhead Institute Old Boys (BIOB) are now seeking assurances from Wirral Council that they will respect the wishes of BIOB in respect of covenants protecting the memorial foundation stone to ensure that it will not be used in the disrespectful way proposed by TRFC.

"We call upon Tranmere Rovers chairman Peter Johnson personally to enter into early discussions with BIOB  over how to best create a meaningful replacement memorial to fallen soldiers commemorated at the site and /or give consideration to the sale of the field, a fundraising appeal to a suitable charitable organisation."

Lead campaigner Dean Johnson had initially hoped the decision to build on the land would result in a public inquiry.

Speaking last month, Mr Johnson: "As soon as the decision to approve the plans was made, we wrote to the National Planning Council because we were totally unhappy with the way we were represented at the meeting and we felt it was just stacked against us.

"To get this independently looked at is really good news as I think there is too much conflicting interest between the club and the council with the sponsorship deal and also hospitality arrangements for councillors.

"Wirral is a small place and the issue has become very cloudy.

"We are hoping the Secretary of State will decide a public inquiry is necessary and we will then have a chance of stopping the plans."

The project to build at Ingleborough goes hand-in-hand with a scheme to revamp Woodchurch Leisure Centre with state-of-the-art facilities.

A legally-binding order attached to the plans’ approval means work cannot start at Ingleborough until the money is in place to redevelop the leisure centre.