Tranmere Rovers' Wilfred Owen memorial field development backed
A football club's plans to build homes on land dedicated to World War I soldiers have been approved.
Tranmere Rovers' application to build up to 90 houses on the Ingleborough Road memorial field were given the go ahead by Wirral Council on Thursday.
Plans to take over and redevelop Woodchurch leisure centre were also given the green light.
The proposal for the Ingleborough Road site had faced opposition from campaigners.
The land was formerly part of Birkenhead Institute school and the fields and pavilion serve as a memorial to 88 former pupils, including poet Wilfred Owen, who lost their lives in World War I.
But plans for the new housing development at Ingleborough Road incorporate a dedicated, landscaped memorial area to the site to serve as a tribute to the pupils of Birkenhead Institute.
Supporters' group the Tranmere Rovers Trust urged the council to approve the plans for the club's former training ground, saying it would deliver enormous benefits to the local community.
It said the proposal would provide "state-of-the-art sports facilities for generations of young people, much-needed housing provision and a host of jobs".
Ben Harrison, Trust Chairman, said: "This is a significant moment in securing the long-term viability of Tranmere Rovers, a club which means so much to thousands of people, and we can now look towards the future with renewed optimism.
"These two developments will deliver a number of significant benefits for the Wirral, including new housing, a host of jobs and state-of-the-art sports facilities, so we are pleased that the committee has made a common sense decision in keeping with the wishes of so many residents in Tranmere and Woodchurch."
Speaking ahead of the council meeting, Trust Vice-Chairman Mark Bartley said: "We appreciate this is an emotive issue but the plans make provision for a landscaped memorial area within the housing development."
A council spokesman said outline planning permission had been granted subject to conditions.
Tranmere now needs to provide detailed information about how it will fund the scheme.
The Wilfred Owen Memorial Story, a permanent exhibition dedicated to the poet, has set up an online petition against the plans.
Dean Johnson from the group said: "You can't just build houses on it."
He said the club and council had "sold the souls of Wilfred Owen and his band of brothers for profit and greed".
He added: "The sacrifice these brave soldiers made has been weighed against the fortunes of an ailing football club and reduced to pounds and pence.
"Their blood money from the housing will not save their wretched club and will shame Wirral for as long as we remember our war dead."
Owen died aged 25 in November 1918, in the final days of the war.
He is famous for poems such as Dulce Et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth.
Last week his birthplace in Oswestry, Shropshire, was granted listed status.