TRANMERE Rovers’ controversial plans to build almost 100 homes on a war memorial playing field have been given the green light.

The proposals, which will see a new housing estate built at Ingleborough Road, Birkenhead, were approved by Wirral’s planning committee on Thursday night.

A parallel scheme to revamp Woodchurch Leisure Centre to create state-of-the-art sports facilities for both the club and the public were also given the seal of approval.

The plans to sell off Ingleborough Road, which was sold to Rovers from the council in the 1990s, had been fiercely opposed by campaigners who wanted to retain the site’s historical meaning.

The land was once home to Birkenhead Institute which used the field as a lasting memory to 88 old boys who lost their lives in the First World War, including renowned war poet Wilfred Owen.

Birkenhead Institute old boy Alun Hughes told the Wallasey Town Hall meeting: “There is a sense of bereavement by many people about what has happened to our ground over the last few years – the slow stripping of its dignity and the custodianship of Tranmere Rovers.

“Wilfred Owen is the most famous of all the war poets and this is the first memorial to him.”

He also suggested that the pavilion in the field be preserved as permanent memorial.

However Ben Basterfield, speaking on behalf of Tranmere Rovers, said the land had never been for public use and that only one memorial service had taken place there in the last 27 years.

He said: “At the moment, the land is not accessible to the to the general public - it is a private field that was sold from the council to Tranmere Rovers.

"All the planning requirements have been met and that is the basis on which we submit this application.”

A legally-binding order attached to the approval will mean that no work will be allowed to take place at Ingleborough until the money is in place for the Woodchurch scheme.

Among the plans for Woodchurch Leisure Centre are new office suites, two training pitches, a floodlit all-weather synthetic pitch and four junior football pitches.

But Prenton councillor Denise Realey, who called for the plans to be refused, questioned whether or not the Woodchurch scheme would be able to go ahead due to funding issues.

She said: “The money for Woodchurch is not there – if we give Tranmere Rovers permission to do Ingeborough and we don’t get Woodchurch it’s going to undermine the committee and it’s going to make us look ridiculous.

“This is an urban green space and we don’t want to take it away - we have got hardly any as it is.”

Oxton councillor Stuart Kelly said he supported the application and suggested that the memorial stone be moved to the main cenotaph in Birkenhead to be remembered.

The sale of the land is thought to bring in around £5m for the club and supporters said it is vital for the club’s future.

Tranmere Rovers Supporters’ Trust chairman Ben Harrison said the news was “welcomed” by them and that it was now important to “look to the future.

He said: "This is a significant moment in securing the long-term viability of Tranmere Rovers, a club which means so much to thousands of people, and we can now look towards the future with renewed optimism.

"These two developments will deliver a number of significant benefits for the Wirral, including new housing, a host of jobs and state-of-the-art sports facilities, so we are pleased that the committee has made a common sense decision in keeping with the wishes of so many residents in Tranmere and Woodchurch."

However lead campaigner against the scheme Dean Johnson said the decision “will come back to haunt Wirral Council.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Johnson said: "Tranmere Rovers' reputation lies in tatters by this planning outcome - the club with their 'sponsors'  the Wirral Borough Council have sold the souls of Wilfred Owen and his band of brothers for profit and greed.

"The sacrifice these brave soldiers made has been weighed against the fortunes of an ailing football club and reduced to pounds and pence, the blood money from the development will not save the club and will shame the Wirral for as long as we remember our war dead."