CHAIRMAN’S REPORT – FEBRUARY 2023
Welcome to this report which has been prepared ahead of an overdue General Meeting which has been delayed due to the pandemic and a number of associated issues over the last two years. Not only did Covid disrupt our lives and priorities it also changed our normal practices at home and at work. Nevertheless, conservation business continued and the HCA Committee was engaged on behalf of local residents in a number of different activities.
At the Council’s Planning Department, there has been a fair degree of personnel turbulence on top of the restrictions and delays caused by working from home and the resulting difficulty in making or developing personal contact. However, there seems to be a renewed emphasis on conservation by creation of a new post of Senior Heritage Officer – Chris Han – which encompasses conservation. For our part, we have been active in monitoring: tree management, relatively minor householder applications as well as the more drastic large scale developer proposals to demolish individual properties in favour of luxury flat developments.
This report will touch on the main aspects of our concerns and activities together with some ideas for the future.
FINANCES & MEMBERSHIP
We currently have a membership of some 60 individuals and households but we could do better. We very much hope that a computer literate volunteer might come forward to help us keep our lists up to date and keep people informed through social media.
In financial terms, our transactions are very few and our process for gathering annual subscriptions is haphazard at best. Our current account stands at £467.57 thanks to subscriptions and donations – particularly a generous donation of £100 from the SRRA group. Our expenditure has been limited to a reprint of the HCA tri-fold promotional leaflet, a donation to Conservation Areas Wirral, the annual cost of administering our website and the cost of hiring this hall.
Finances and membership are both areas where we could and should do much better. Hopefully, both these aspects can be addressed by the new committee.
ACTIVITIES & ACHIEVEMENTS
Signs. I hope that you may have noticed that there are now six Conservation Area signs on strategic lampposts drawing attention to the Meols Drive and Kings Gap Conservation Areas. These were kindly funded by Councillor Andrew Gardner from his ward fund allocation and we are grateful for his support. It took over two years interaction with the Council to get these approved then installed! However, now that they are in place, we can recognise them as a small step forward as far as awareness is concerned.
Trees. Felling, trimming or pollarding any tree within a conservation area must be by application to and approval of the Council. This is a relatively straightforward process which can be done on line and takes in the region of six weeks. HCA is notified of such applications in order to register its views within that warning period. Trees have habit of growth and need management even though they are a key feature of our locality and make a welcome contribution to the environment and bird life. In the main, reasons given by householders are reasonable for pruning or removal (excessive shade, growth too close to a building, root infestation or disease) and most gain approval. HCA did object to felling two pines in the line of trees behind the Christian Scientist Church and I am pleased to report that this distinctive family of pine trees is still standing. Sadly, not all householders are aware of the need to seek approval for tree work and many tree surgeons do not bother with restrictions in a CA. In those circumstances, HCA notifies the Council for their enforcement action.
Liaisons. HCA is a supporter and occasional contributor to the following sister organisations:
- Conservation Areas Wirral (CAW). A very well informed and active volunteer community body which represents the interests of all 26 designated CAs in the Borough, CAW gives us guidance and advice on all aspects of planning.
- The Wirral Society. Under the leadership of Rod Tann, and through an annual programme of events, the Wirral Society aims to protectthe Wirral Peninsula’s natural beauty, architecture, flora and fauna and its sea coast. Rod makes regular contributions to The Lake magazine and takes a close interest in conservation here.
- Hoylake Vision. Hoylake Vision is the colloquial name for the Hoylake Neighbourhood Planning Forum which formulated the Hoylake Neighbourhood Plan of 2015. This NDP has a number of useful compatible policies for much of the northern part of our area. An updated version is being prepared. An NDP, once ‘made’, becomes one of the family of reference documents which can be used to evaluate applications.
- Planning Department. Prompted by the difficulties referred to earlier and what we saw as some weaknesses and inconsistencies with a particular application at the West Kirby end of Meols Drive, I attended a meeting with the Head of Planning last September. It was a good opportunity to exchange views and make our position clear. Both sides agreed to try to work more closely together at the pre-application and consultation stages. We have yet to see the full benefits of this attempt at cooperation to materialise but early signs are promising.
- Save Red Rocks Association. This well supported residents’ group was formed at the time of the first application to demolish the house at Wirral Point on which I will report in more detail later. Many homeowners are members of HCA and we exchange information regularly.
Policies & Plans. Successful protection of our CAs is governed by the quality, currency and understanding of the governing plans and policies. Below the national level defined by the NPPF, our local development plans – apart from the NDP – are generally in a poor state and do not fully support todays issues and problems as well as they could. The UDP, for instance, is 22 years old having been promulgated in 2000. The Council is, though, well down the path of replacing it with a new and much needed draft Local Plan which is currently being examined for inconsistencies and compliance. Parts of this draft are helpful towards conservation although there are differences from some of the guidance on CAs in the existing UDP. We must look to safeguard against any weakening of the guidance in the new policies.
The Hoylake NDP has a number of helpful and compatible policies but it does not cover the full Meols Drive area. We rely heavily on the CA appraisals but these are out of date (Kings Gap 2000; Meols; Drive 2004) and there are no supporting management plans to give homeowners, builders and planners the specific guidance we need. There are also some glaring omissions and inconsistencies which confound and lead to different interpretations and poor decision making. However, there is some prospect of movement here which Tom Hutchinson will introduce shortly. A particular concern for us is that each planning application is decided on an individual basis without due regard to its impact on the overall street scene or character of the landscape. We fear the cumulative effect such handling can cause by compromising the features and characteristics that we hold dear. There is also the worry of establishing an unwelcome precedent so active community involvement is doubly important when such risks become apparent.
Summary of Main Applications.
The two rejected designs for Wirral Point
|Wirral Point at 37 Stanley Road
- Wirral Point. This large and prominent dwelling at the Dee end of Stanley Road has been a major concern for the past two years. Firstly, local developers Blueoak submitted plans for a futuristic block of luxury apartments which would have been a major blot on this area of natural beauty. It would have compromised not just the principles of conservation but would have had a major impact on environment and ecology of the site. This application was strongly opposed by HCA, by RLGC and local residents who quickly established a Save Red Rocks Association to focus their objections. This application which required demolition was refused; Blueoak went to appeal which was turned down. A second more traditional block was designed – again at the expense of demolishing this perfectly viable property. This design was out of character and was also refused by WMBC.
The developers again went to appeal but the Inspector rejected their second design whilst making some important comments about the site. Subsequently, Blueoak eventually accepted that the existing building must be retained – which HCA and SRRA had required all along – but converting it to four apartments with less drastic treatment of the grounds. Although opinions may well vary, HCA has taken an objective but neutral stance and has not objected to this application on the principal grounds that the building, its roofscape, its integrity and its mass and scale preserve the traditional and characteristic skyline of this much loved and popular local viewpoint. We need to see more design details and materials specifications but overall HCA believes this is a realistic and acceptable way forward.
|Coach House & Conservatory at 100 MD
- 100/102 Meols Drive. This troublesome application by local developers Hilbre Estates to demolish these two traditional and individual properties opposite the West Kirby Special School and close to Lingdale Road has exercised us greatly. From the MDCA appraisal, these properties are categorised ‘C’ that is: ‘do not make a positive contribution’. However, both houses are perfectly viable as family homes whose design and style are entirely consistent with other individual properties along Meols Drive, albeit adjacent to two large, modern three storey blocks which were approved and built before the CA was designated. This then, is one of the inconsistencies of the appraisals which I mentioned before. Mid-way through its consideration, a strong rear guard action to prevent the demolition of a Victorian coach house and conservatory in the grounds of No 100 but which could not be seen from Meols Drive – but most definitely IS visible from the 8th green on the golf course.. Despite very strong opposition from HCA and from over 170 neighbours who signed a petition against this demolition, the Planning Committee chose to recommend approval of this application for a large block of10 luxury apartments at the gateway to the town. Arguments about compromise to character, traffic congestion and the associated intention to fell many trees in this prominent site did not carry sway. Strong representations have been made by near neighbours but without resolution. At present, final approval is subject to a satisfactory Section 106 agreement. It seems that full approval has not yet been granted and we are unclear on the final position.
- Hilstone Grange. Hilstone Grange at 17 Stanley Road is the large arts and crafts property which dominates the properties on Stanley Road and helps define the unique backdrop to the Royal Liverpool Golf Course. Dating from the 1920s, it is protected as Cat ‘A’ in the MDCA appraisal – as a ‘building of particular interest or value to the character of the area’. Demolition is therefore unthinkable. In 2017, approval was given to convert the building into apartments but this work did not proceed and the approval lapsed. Since then, local developers Lagom Estates took on the project and have gained approval for a sympathetic conversion to apartments. All the main distinctive features will be retained with the addition of a third gable on the golf course side to balance its elevation. I am pleased to report a good level of cooperation and consultation between HCA and the developers to achieve what we believe is a good result to preserve this fine distinctive building and the skyline. As you will have seen, ground works have started on site.
- The White House, 34 Meols Drive. This property is next to the RLGC clubhouse and overlooks the course. It is listed as Cat ‘B’ in the appraisal – makes a positive contribution to the area -and forms part of the line of imposing buildings in this section of Meols Drive. An application from a development company – Cayley Developments based in Oxford – to demolish the building to be replaced by a three storey block of 9 luxury apartments and with underground parking for 18 cars has caused us (and RLGC) considerable concern. Strong objections were made and I am pleased to report that the application has recently been withdrawn. We do not yet know the reasons for that withdrawal and it may not be the end of the matter but at least we have some respite from this developer threat at the moment.
- Graham Lodge, Meols Drive. We have objected to a recent application to demolish a garage to be replaced by a 4 bed dwelling at Graham Lodge at 73 Meols Drive. We have argued that this new building, although subordinate to the imposing scale of the main house, would compromise the sense of spaciousness and aspect of the main and adjacent properties and would demand a new entrance from Graham Road. We await a decision.
|No 15 Stanley Road
Other Houses of Interest. There is recent dialogue about two other prominent houses on Stanley Road. This substantial property at No 15 Stanley Road, owned by Mr & Mrs Skinner, is directly behind the RLGC 17th green and is currently for sale. It is typical of the style of properties built in the early 20th century with a number of distinctive features.. For a number of years, it has been operated as a successful B&B business. It has for some time been effectively split into two. HCA will be keen to monitor any application which might ensue with the aim of protecting the CA.
Not yet submitted but the Healey brothers from 23 Stanley Road are at a reasonably advanced stage of devising an application to extend and renovate this 1950s house as a single property. It is a large and prominent plot and the building is certainly in need of refurbishment and modernisation. Tim and Peter have engaged with HCA and SRRA on their ideas. They profess an understanding of our conservation principles and aims but so far we cannot support their plans.
There will be more to report on both these sites.
This report has highlighted some of the issues the committee has grappled with over the last two years and shows the overall pattern of threats of over-development to the two CAs which form our remit. Apart from those outlined, there are other potential sites which remain vulnerable to large scale over-development at the expense of the stylish and characteristic individual spacious properties we value so much. Such applications, if unchallenged, would irrevocably change the character of this lovely part of the peninsula, destroy the very charm and distinctiveness of the area and compromise the unique character of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club which is of great and historic national and international renown.
Things are difficult in the face of the poor quality and limited relevance of some of the governing planning plans and policies. However, I am not without hope. There have been a few qualified successes to report. HCA has been consulted by the owners or developers on some projects which we welcome. We have the prospect of an improved working relationship with the Planning Department and a new and better Local Plan towards the end of the year. In particular, we have the prospect of instigating, with the Council, new appraisals and management plans for Meols Drive and the Kings Gap. If achieved, that would be a major step forward. This then is the appropriate time to introduce Mr Tom Hutchinson, an independent qualified Town Planner and Kings Gap resident to outline the specifics of a proposal to take this forward.