THE breathtaking Ocean Gateway scheme to transform the Mersey Docks received a major boost yesterday when it was named a housing “growth point” – winning a share of a £100m fund for new facilities.

The move pushes forward plans for 4,500 new homes on the Wirral side of the river – a project named Mersey Heartlands centred on the Birkenhead and Wallasey docks.

Separately, two other areas were also named as “growth points” – plans for 5,700 homes across Halton, Warrington, Knowsley and St Helens and for 2,700 new homes in West Cheshire centred on Ellesmere Port.

The Mersey Heartlands scheme is just the starting point for the planned £10bn regeneration of both the Liverpool and Wirral waterfronts, complete with skyscrapers to rival the gateways to Shanghai, Vancouver and New York.

Together, the Wirral Waters and Liverpool Waters developments are expected to eventu- ally create 45,000 new jobs and provide 65,000 new homes. On the Liverpool side, the spectacular vision for the derelict Central Docks includes a cruise terminal to take the world’s big- gest floating palaces, linked to the city by a futuristic monorail.

Yesterday, the deputy chief executive of Wirral Borough Council hailed the announcement as “fantastic news” that showed the Government had full confidence in the plans.

But Caroline Flint, the housing minister, immediately admitted the doom and gloom of the house price crash meant it could be up to 15 years before the develop- ments are in place.

The three Mersey areas will share £500,000 to carry out further assessments and environmental studies to decide exactly where the homes should be built.

And they gain access to the £100m pot, designed to help them plan and build the schools, hospitals and other vital buildings new developments need. A delighted Jim Wilkie, Wirral’s deputy chief executive, said: “This is fantastic news, because it demonstrates that the Government shares our confidence that the spectacular Wirral Waters scheme can deliver significant regeneration benefits.

“It is an opportunity to reshape the face of Wirral, and the housing market of Wirral, to create an entirely new offer within the inner area of Wirral.”

In West Cheshire, the bid highlighted the huge potential for new housing with the abundance of available, brownfield sites in sustainable locations, particularly in Ellesmere Port. The bid suggested that up to 1,600 new houses a year could be built in West Cheshire over the next 15 years.

The potential redevelopment of Ellesmere Port docks could itself be capable of accommodating up to 7,000 new housing units, as the Daily Post reported earlier this year.

Justin Madders, leader of Ellesmere Port and Neston Council, said: “I am delighted the opportunities for growth and regeneration in this area have been recognised. We have many attractive sites and developers have shown they wish to invest in this area.”

In Knowsley, council leader Ron Round said: “We are delighted that our on-going investment in neighbourhoods and commitment to improve the quality of lives in our communities has received such significant support from the Government.

“Everyone should have the right to a decent home at a price they can afford whether they own or rent it. Our aim now is to maximise this opportunity to meet the future housing needs of Knowsley.”

Yesterday’s announcement is crucial because it increases the housing targets, but it does not speed any development through the planning process and there is no target date for building the housing.

Ms Flint struck a cautious note when she warning that market conditions were now very different to late 2005, when the growth point strategy was announced.

Instead of rising demand pricing first-time buyers out of the market, there are stark warnings that house prices could fall by 35% and developers are laying off thousands of workers.

Ms Flint said: “I am realistic and pragmatic about how challenging it is at the moment.

“We have to deal with the situation we are in at the moment. But, if you only focus on today and not long term, then, when the market picks up, that will make it much harder to get up to the sort of house numbers that we want.”

Separately, Ms Flint announced a “rent first, buy later” scheme to help first-time buyers to get onto the property ladder. Households earning up to £60,000 will be able to rent a new home at a discounted rate for a period of two or three years while building up a deposit to buy a share in it.

Developers prepare Dockland plans

THE “major schemes” of the £4bn Wirral Waters project are expected to be with planners by the end of the year.

Peel Holdings have completed key studies which will support planning applications.

Last night, Wirral Council leader Steve Foulkes said the company had made a “significant investment” in the study which considers the key issues relating to the area round Birkenhead docks.

Peel has completed “baseline studies” which will pave the way for planning applications for more than 500 acres of brownfield dockland to be redeveloped.

Cllr Foulkes said: “All the work that has been done by Peel just doing this baseline study represents a significant investment by them and Wirral Council officers.

“But it places us perfectly to take any opportunity that comes our way, making it easier to receive planning permission.”

Cllr Foulkes said even during “difficult times with the credit crunch” the momentum for the scheme was continuing.

Peel’s plans also include a shopping centre at Bidston Moss, and more than 11m square feet will be developed to provide thousands of new homes.

Daily Post