1.6 Mentioned in the Doomsday Book, Wirral was once an area of medieval villages and hamlets, engaged in fishing and farming. The key to Wirral's development throughout the ages has been enhanced communications, starting with the granting in 1330, by Edward III, of a charter establishing the original ferry over the Mersey from the Priory in Birkenhead.

1.7 In the 1820's steam-powered boats were introduced into the ferry service. Increased reliability encouraged Liverpool businessmen and merchants to establish homes in Wirral, which in turn led to industrialisation, particularly along the Mersey coast.

1.8 John Laird, in 1824, built a boiler and ironworks on the Mersey shore, which later became the famous shipyard of Cammell Lairds. Wirral's first railway was built in 1840, planned by George Stephenson, and connected Birkenhead with Chester.

1.9 Such improvements encouraged the growth of Wirral: Birkenhead and Wallasey grew into large towns, and houses were also built at Rock Ferry, New Ferry, Seacombe, Egremont and New Brighton around extra terminals added to the expanded ferry service. The year 1847 saw the opening of Birkenhead's first docks, and its municipal park, the first in Britain.

1.10 The first chemical works to be established at Bromborough was Price's Candle Works in 1854, with the world-famous Lever Bros. factory being established in the 1880's.

1.11 If the ferry opened up Wirral, it was the Mersey railway which led to its explosive development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Started in 1886 (the first underwater railway in the world), it connected Birkenhead, Wallasey and West Kirby with Liverpool, and by 1891 had extended to Rock Ferry.

1.12 Such development continued apace, reaching its peak in the 1960's, when the population reached 360,000 and unemployment was around 2.5%. Since then, there has been a steady if unspectacular decline.

1.13 The present Borough covers an area of some sixty square miles and its peninsular setting, bounded by the Rivers Mersey and Dee, and the Irish Sea to east, west and north respectively, has strongly influenced settlement patterns. The Mersey side of the Borough is the focus for intensive industrial and residential development, whereas the hamlets and villages of the Dee side of the peninsula have grown into dormitory settlements for workers in Birkenhead, Liverpool, Ellesmere Port and Chester. In between, there are areas of agricultural land, with some areas of special landscape value, which are all protected by Green Belt designation.

1.14 Between 1981 and 1991, the Borough's population fell from 338,954 to 330,795, a decrease of 2.4%. This was due primarily to lowering birth rates and net outward migration. Although significant, the rate of loss was in fact the lowest of the five Merseyside Districts. The overall figure masks significant spatial differences: Bidston Ward experienced a 20.8% decrease, whereas Royden Ward, where there has been substantial house building in the decade, showed a population increase of 12.6%. The population profile is that of an increasingly ageing population, particularly in the most elderly groups.

1.15 The same decade has seen substantial sectoral change in employment within the Borough. Overall, employment fell by 14.5%. Manufacturing employment exhibited a disturbing decline of 27.5%, and service employment failed to compensate in any way, actually showing a decline of 3.4% over the decade. In fact only one of the ten Standard Industrial Categories exhibited an increase - SIC 9 (Other Services) increased by 8.7%.

1.16 The substantial decline in manufacturing is further illustrated in that in 1981 it accounted for 27.5% of all employment: by 1991 this had reduced to 23.3%. Services, although declining in absolute terms, exhibited the opposite trend - 63.5% of total employment in 1981, which had risen to 71.8% in 1991.

1.17 One result of this situation has already been referred to - that of population loss, and particularly loss of population of working age, seeking jobs in other areas of the country or abroad. In addition, the level of unemployment is directly correlated to employment decline. In December 1993, registered unemployment in the Borough was 14.9%, well over one-and-a-half times the national average. In some Wards of the Borough the situation is chronic - for example, Birkenhead Ward had an overall unemployment rate of 35%, with male unemployment at 52%.

1.18 The Council is committed to doing all in its power to alleviate this situation, through corporate action. Measures are briefly outlined later in this introduction. The UDP has a limited, but important role in this process, by allocating sufficient land of the right size, type and location to foster economic development.