FURIOUS politicians are calling for an inquiry after leaked documents indicate a backroom decision making process organised between senior council officers and the Labour cabinet.

The report shows cabinet members and officers have been meeting behind closed doors to divide up green belt land into sites "rejected" or "accepted" by the Labour group based upon their "political preferences."

But today council leader Cllr Phil Davies has told the Globe: "Any suggestion that decisions have already been made is totally untrue.”

A note in the papers tells councillors: "We are not required to put these preferences into the public domain until July 2019.

"In the meantime we will now do the technical work to firm up the Local Plan."

The list of sites to be built on or saved from development appears to be in place even before views expressed in a so-called public consultation exercise had been analysed.

The "Local Plan Progress Update" prepared for a meeting held in November shows the cabinet:

  • Rejects 1,467 housing on green belt in marginal Labour-held Prenton. 
  • Rejects 2,103 houses on green belt at Labour-held Bebington. 
  • Accepts 974 houses on green belt at Moreton and Saughall Massie.
  • Accepts building 1,140 houses on green belt in Clatterbridge ward
  • Accepts building 267 houses on green belt in Caldy
  • Accepts building 311 houses on green belt in Greasby
  • Two further green belt sites in Clatterbridge for 1,280 houses are considered as "maybe" sites.

Liberal Democrat planning spokesman Cllr Stuart Kelly said: “Wirral Council officers and Labour cabinet have colluded in a shabby backroom carve-up of green belt sites based on what was politically advantageous to the Labour group.

“2,700 people responded in good faith to the consultation on the use of the green belt within the local plan - but all the time the decisions were to be based on what was best for Labour.

“This whole process has been corrupted.

"Why should any of us have any faith in it now it has been revealed that the decisions have already been made in a back room?"

He added: “I am disgusted with senior council officers for their part in this, they have a duty to the whole council and, more importantly, to all the people of Wirral, who pay their over-inflated salaries, to ensure the fairness, openness and transparency of this process.

“The local plan is supposed to be drawn up in accordance with strict guidelines instead they have thrown in their lot with the Labour councillors of the cabinet.

“There needs to be a full, external and independent inquiry into their conduct."

Tory group leader Cllr Ian Lewis said: "This information is dynamite.

"Whoever selectively leaked part of this presentation must have thought they would be helping Labour’s at the council’s elections. Instead, with the full presentation now being made available, they have destroyed the cabinet’s claims to want to develop Brownfield sites first.

“Residents in Saughall Massie, Spital, Greasby and elsewhere can now see, in black and white, that Labour accepts and supports building more than 6,000 houses on their green belt.

“Without any technical evidence into the suitability of these sites and with no consultation with residents the cabinet have chosen sites that offer them the best party political advantage.

“To hold these meetings in secret and to delay publishing their preferred sites until after the council elections is an attempt to hoodwink voters.

"Labour’s credibility on the green belt is now in tatters and it also calls into question the common sense of those senior directors involved.”

An email sent last week by town hall chief executive Eric Robinson to group leaders warns: "We are actively seeking to find out where that leak came from.

"If this is a leak from a member, it will be dealt with through the standards process.

"If from an officer, that officer will be subject to disciplinary action."

 Councillor Davies, said: “Wirral’s Local Plan process remains ongoing. 

"The full list of green belt sites identified for potential release was agreed at cabinet in July 2018. 

"This list went out to public consultation and remains unchanged and no sites have been removed from the list. The cabinet has held discussions with the relevant council officers on the proposed list of sites. 

"This is not only the obvious thing to do but the sensible one in light of the Tory Government’s insistence on imposing a totally unrealistic housing target for Wirral. The public consultation is on-going and we are listening closely to what our residents are telling us.

"At all stages, it has been made abundantly clear that internal discussions cannot predetermine the outcome of the Local Plan. Any decision to amend the list of sites will be taken by full council in due course. It’s nonsense to suggest otherwise  - no deal has been done behind closed doors."

He continued: "Labour’s policy remains unchanged, brownfield sites will be prioritised for development. 

"The main threat to Wirral’s green belt is the Tory government’s top-down housing targets together with the view of at least one Tory cabinet minister who believes that planning laws should be ripped up to allow more building to take place.

"Any suggestion that decisions have already been made is totally untrue.”