RESTRICTIONS on the number of homes allowed to be built in Liverpool and Merseyside have been lifted under the regional plan released yesterday.

Under the latest plan, 23,111 homes are to be built each year in the North West by 2021, almost double the number allowed under the previous plan.

But the number of new homes to be built is regarded as a minimum target, with limits now lifted.

Previously councils have had to introduce moratoriums after their housing limit had been met.

Increasing the number of houses in the region is seen as fundamental to helping solve the national shortage of homes which has contributed to the boom in property prices which is now unravelling.

The Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) plan also identifies Manchester and Liverpool as the first priority for investment to ensure they will be firmly established as ?world class cities?.

Starting from a 2004 base of 579,000, the numbers of homes in Merseyside is projected to reach 658,000 by 2026 with at least 70% built on brownfield sites.

The number of homes in Liverpool is projected to grow from 190,000 to 213,000; in Wirral (136,000 to 157,000); Sefton (118,000 to 132,000); St Helens (74,000 to 86,000); and Knowsley (62,000 to 71,000).

West Lancashire, which is part of the Liverpool City Region, but not part of Merseyside, is projected to see an increase in the number of households from 45,000 to 53,000.

Communities Minister Baroness Andrews said: ?The North West needs a long-term strategy for boosting its economy, addressing housing need, and protecting the environment by tackling climate change.

?We have an ageing population with more people choosing to live alone, and new households are growing faster than new homes.

?If more homes are not built now the housing ladder will get even further out of reach.

?The North West Plan sets out an achievable vision for reducing the social and economic disparities in the region while protecting its distinctive character and environment.?

The regional plan puts tackling climate change high on the agenda to support national targets to reduce CO? by 60% by 2050, and sets out how growth will be brought forward sustainably. This includes promoting development at locations well served by public transport, the re-use of land and buildings, targets for electricity to be generated from renewable resources, and interim targets for the generation of renewable energy in new developments.

A transport system that concentrates on the development of better links within the region, and between the North West and other regions is a priority.

Liverpool?s World Heritage Site status is to be used to attract tourists, and Chester is to be promoted as a city of heritage.

The plan also states there is no need for change to the Green Belt, and that 55% of household waste should be recycled or composted by 2020.