A GOVERNMENT minister has rejected the latest Office for National Statistics housebuilding projections for Wirral and ordered that 800 are built every year to meet targets.

Councillors have described the news as a 'reckless approach' to Wirral's Green Belt.

There was fresh hope for campaigners last month when the ONS revealed Government had over-estimated the need for more housing in the borough.

Its figures had suggested the target was actually close to 500 homes per year. But it emerged today that Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire has rejected this.

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 does not 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.

A protest was held outside Wallasey Town Hall last month 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.

Council Leader Phil Davies said: "Our campaign to protect the borough's Green Belt goes on, despite being undermined by Secretary of State James Brokenshire's shocking decision to throw out the latest ONS advice in favour of his own misguided housebuilding targets.

"In September, we thought the Government had seen sense when up-to-date ONS household growth forecasts reduced the number of new homes being demanded for Wirral from 803 to fewer than 500.

"But now, in a dramatic intervention, the Tory Government has said because the new forecast doesn't meet their national target of 300,000 new homes each year, councils have been instructed to stick with the higher, out-dated figures from 2014.

"In a press release rushed out before the budget, the minister shared his confused logic - claiming the new ONS numbers only identified lower demand because there haven't been enough new homes built.

"He seems to believe "If we build them, they will come" – but I am sure local Wirral residents will join me in rejecting this reckless approach to building on our Green Belt.

"Once the Green Belt is gone it is gone, and for the Government to choose its own policy dogma over their own evidence, is an unforgivable betrayal of the wishes of Wirral residents.”

Pensby and Thingwall councillor and Green Belt campaigner Phill Brightmore said: "This Government doesn't understand the housing challenges here in Wirral are completely different to those of London or the South East.

"It's an act of pure vandalism - their 'one-size fits all' approach ends up with the perverse threat of Wirral having to sanction speculative building on the Green Belt to satisfy some spreadsheet or Government auditor in Whitehall.

"Our fight goes on. We must oppose this latest Government ruling.

"I am asking local residents to take advantage of this narrow window of consultation -https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/technicalplanningconsultation - and join me in telling the Tories directly "Do not force building on Wirral's Green Belt".

Commenting upon the government's direction, Lib Dem councillor and  planning spokesperson Stuart Kelly said: "I am absolutely amazed that the Government have chosen to ignore the evidence of housing need provided by the ONS, the evidence is that our population growth projection does not require a build rate of 800 houses per annum. 

"The local Tories need to explain to their minister that the housing issues in Wirral relate to affordability and quality not to over demand caused by to few houses.

"National Government is viewing the housing issue through the prism of the south east and forcing solutions for demand in that area of the country on us all.

"not withstanding this disappointing decision I still believe there is no need to encroach on the green belt to the extent that wirral's cabinet seem intent to do.

"Working constructively with Peel and taking into account the rate at which empty properties can be brought back into use can still mean we can meet this arbitrary Government target without destroying green belt and important agricultural land".

The leader of Wirral's Liberal Democrats, Cllr Phil Gilchrist, said: "This is, indeed, a setback.

"I believe good agricultural land should be defended and not lost to bricks and mortar. Councils  need more powers to get brownfield sites developed instead."