WIRRAL Council is under fire once again over its controversial lack of a local plan which, if it requires Government intervention, runs the risk of homes being built on the borough's green belt.

Wirral council has not had a local plan – a blueprint for how an area will grow which is required to be in place by the government – for almost 20 years and has been given a final warning by the government to finally write one.

In addition the local authority has been accused of taking control away from its own elected members.

The authority is facing demands from both the local Conservative group and James Brokenshire, the minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government over its controversial local plan.

Mr Brokenshire wrote to the Labour-controlled authority last week with concerns that "little tangible progress" has been made by the council in its proposals for where to build homes.

The local Conservative group meanwhile called in the council's decision to delegate key powers to un-elected officers – in this case the corporate director of economic and housing growth, a role that hasn't even been filled.

The ruling Labour group says that it has made more progress than the government claims, and that councillors and the public will have their say in any decision made.

A call-in meeting, used to scutinise the cabinet and send key decisions back to full council,  took place on Thursday at Wallasey Town Hall, attended by members of the environment overview and scrutiny committee.

Twenty of Wirral’s Conservative members called in the meeting on two counts.

The first is that the council does not have a top official in place to whom decisions can be delegated.

The second reason was that regardless of who would take the role, the group had fears over un-elected officers being given "far too much control" over the plan, calling for more power to be given to councillors outside of the cabinet.

At a heated meeting, lead signatory of the call-in, Cllr Chris Blakeley, said: "We are losing faith in council officers and the council getting this right.

"As elected members, this is our plan. We are the ones who should be keeping a close eye on this and what is being done.

"We need to have a say on the decisions.

"It is our name that will be on the ballot boxes. We will answer for this local plan and so we should be decision makers."

He said if that means more council and committee meetings, then "so be it", adding: "We have a council who has delayed producing a local plan who now appear to want to play catch-up by delegating to council officers, it would appear, at any cost.

"I believe we have responsibility to each and every one of our constituents to protect our green belt, parks and playing fields. We need to keep a close eye on our local plan."

Responding, cabinet member for housing, Cllr George Davies, said he was "disappointed and puzzled" why a "simple decision" like this had been called in.

He also said he was concerned the call-in could delay the process – something he feared may mean government intervention, and homes being built on the green belt.

"The local plan will be developed with full political oversight and extensive community involvement. It will be for all councillors to agree to. Every member of the Conservative group is fully aware of this.

"I would hate to think they are trying to delay production of the local plan to heighten the risk of government intervention.

"I would like to think at times like these that every member would be more inclined to work together for the good of the borough rather than trying to score cheap points off the back of basic decisions.

"If we do not move quickly, [government intervention] will happen.

"The government will be a lot less sympathetic to green belt than members of our council. We need to take control of this.

"Let me be clear. I do not want to build anywhere on the green belt."

He said a cross-party working group would also be created to comb through the finer details, and there will also be a public consultation.

The committee ruled that the decision will be referred back to the cabinet member to "set out a timetable and programme" for the publication of all studies, and that "further action" is taken towards creating a cross-party working group.

It's not the only bit of recent bad news for the council regarding its local plan.

Mr Brokenshire's damning letter told the authority it had 10 weeks to carry out a number of tasks including designating a lead councillor and lead official to progress the local plan.

That's as well as drawing up an "action plan" stating how the council will ensure there is enough land "for housing the whole of Wirral" and that arrangements are in place to ensure timely preparation and decision making.

The letter also criticised Wirral Council for being one of only 11 UK authorities not to have such a plan and how it has "consistently failed" to meet government requirements, with the last local plan written in 2000 covering up to 2001.

The Government threatened to intervene in Wirral's local plan in March last year, telling the council it must build 803 homes each year until 2035.

That figure was disputed by both the council and campaigners, who opposed the risk it would cause to nearly 50 green belt sites across the borough – which it was claimed would mean "effectively merging" areas like Irby and Thingwall.

Debate was then intensified when the Office for National Statistics predicted the need was closer to 500 homes per year – a figure swiftly rejected by Mr Brokenshire.

In response to the secretary of state’s latest letter, the council said it would "of course" comply with the directions, but challenged his "view" on progress made to date.

Council leader Phil Davies contended that a lead councillor and official were already in place, and that other measures had been taken including a public consultation on the local plan.

He added that policies enabling "speedy decision making" have been agreed.

His letter said: "It is clear to me that progress is being made, and being made at pace.

"I am confident we have the resources, expertise and capacity in place to deliver a Local Plan which is appropriate and robust to meet the housing needs of our residents.

"I look forward to continuing to work with your department as we develop Wirral's Local Plan."

A statement this week from cabinet member for housing, Cllr George Davies, argued the ONS figures, if used, would mitigate "almost all risk" to Wirral's green belt, adding: "I believe we are best placed to make that judgement."