THE leader of Wirral Council has urged Government to downgrade housing targets for the borough in a bid to protect Green Belt land.

Cllr Phil Davies' letter to Secretary of State, James Brokenshire comes after figures from the Office of National Statistics gave fresh hope to campaigners fighting to protect Green Belt.

Tory Ministers had insisted 12,000 homes must be built over 15 years as part of its Local Plan, which is currently subject to public consultation.

The ONS data, however, indicates Government has over-estimated its need for more housing in the borough, with a target for 'new builds' actually close to 500 per year - dramatically lower than the first proposed 800.

In his letter to Mr Brokenshire, Cllr Phil Davies wrote that the housing target was incorrect and called for acceptance that the ONS figures more accurately reflect the real housing needs for Wirral.

He said: "We always believed these numbers were wrong and pledged to fight them on behalf of Wirral residents.

"Labour Councillors told us residents from Pensby to Prenton and Bebington to Bromborough were 'up in arms' about these house building numbers and the threat they presented to Wirral's Green Belt – I'm delighted the Office for national Statistics has also taken that opinion.

"We now need the secretary of state to accept his national formula was - as one local paper called it – "a cock up" – and confirm he too accepts the ONS number as the basis for our Local Plan"

Earlier this month a protest was held outside Wallasey Town Hall ahead of an extraordinary meeting on the Green Belt land release after the Government reportedly told the council it had until 2035 to build 12,000 homes.

All local authorities are required to produce a Local Plan which determines what sites should be made available for development - ministers had threatened if the council doesn't meet their timetable for a plan, they will take it out of the local authority's hands.

This includes where housing, new employment and mixed use sites should be released for development and, through a full review, decide what Green Belt land might be released for development.

Liberal Democrat planning spokesman and Oxton ward Cllr Stuart Kelly told the Globe: "We argued from the beginning that the figures were based on out-of-date data we told the Labour cabinet to challenge the figures.

"The Labour Cabinet and its officers knew that ONS was updating its projections in September; they also knew the projection was likely to be lower.

"Unforgivably, Wirral Labour Cabinet chose to go ahead and consult on green belt with the wrong numbers causing great worry and upset to many people; they owe the people of Wirral an apology."

Many residents also questioned why, when 13,000 homes were promised at Peel Holdings' Wirral Waters site, there was the need for decimating almost 50 of the borough's Green Belt sites.

In a leaked letter circulated to all Wirral councillors in August, Peel said it remained 'absolutely committed' to the 13,000 figure it proposed at the site, but that number relates to the entire 30 year project – spanning to 2040 and beyond.

Local MPs also slammed Peel for 'failing' to build the homes and were told to "put a roof over people's heads or get out of the way and let someone else do it."

In response, a spokesman for Peel said the company remained "absolutely committed" to house building on the site.

Last week, Peel revealed that work could soon be starting on the project, with cabinet meeting on October 1 to rubber-stamp the plan's finer details.

A series of public consultation events on Wirral's Local Plan for housing have been attended by more than 1,500 people so far.

Full details of the Local Plan proposals, plus information about how you can have your say, is available online:

All comments must be received by October 26.