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WIRRAL Council's leader is preparing for battle with Whitehall over plans that could force the authority to turn green belt land into a housebuilding free for all.

The Government has ruled Wirral must produce a blueprint demonstrating how it will hit a target of building nearly 1,000 new homes each year over the next five years.

That's 500 more than the present annual number.

Councillor Phil Davies says he is adamant that he will not sanction the release of green belt land - and has written to communities secretary Sajid Javid urging him to reconsider.

The Government has said green belt restrictions will not be weakened and building on the land should only be permitted as a last resort.

Last week plans to fix the “broken” housing market and boost housebuilding across England were unveiled by Mr Javid.

The moves aim to speed up the building process and a target of one million new homes by 2020 has been set.

Under the reforms every local area will need to produce a "Local Plan" to make sure enough land is released in areas where people want to live.

Currently 40% of local authorities do not have an up-to-date plan that meets the projected growth in households in their area.

Ministers also said that to limit the pressure on the countryside as much use should be made of previously-developed “brownfield” land for homes as possible.

But Cllr Davies says the targets are "crazy and unrealistic" and inevitably will result in "massive pressure" to release swathes of precious green belt land which make up 45% of the peninsula.

The white paper also fails to take into account the borough's complex and diverse housing needs, said Cllr Davies.

He told the Globe: "I am not prepared to allow our green belt land to be built on. I am resolute about that commitment.

"It is the jewel in Wirral's crown and greatly valued by our residents.

"Mr Javid is trying to impose a one-size-fits-all solution that totally ignores local issues.

"Forecasts show Wirral will have three times as many 85 year olds as new-borns by 2030 - we also have pockets of extreme deprivation alongside some of the wealthiest suburbs in the country.

"Our future housing offer clearly needs to reflect these realities."

He added: "Control over developments on the green belt should sit with local councils - not Government inspectors.

"Rather that Whitehall impose a top-down housebuilding target on us we should be free to build the homes Wirral residents need in the places where they want them."

Housing minister Gavin Barwell recently told ITV's Robert Peston that Britain's housing shortage can be resolved without building on "large tracts" of green belt: "We are not going to weaken the protections.

"We have a clear manifesto commitment. There is no need to take huge tracts of land out of the green belt to solve the housing crisis," he told ITV1's Peston on Sunday.

He said councils can take land out of the green belt in exceptional circumstances - but they should have looked at every alternative first.

"That policy is not going change," he said.

Councillor Davies is also contacting major housing developers such as the Peel group urging them to start building on land they own and for which planing permission has been granted, but work has never commenced.

There are more than 18,000 such plots in Wirral - 13,000 of them in the Wirral Waters/Dock Road regeneration area - with permission to build in some cases dating back five years.

A public consultation on the proposals is to be launched in March and runs until May.

Wirral's Local Plan must be delivered to the Government by early-2018.