Birmingham’s appetite for new homes puts West Midlands’ green belt under threat
27th June 2014
Never before has there been such a requirement to redraw the boundaries of the West Midlands Green Belt, freeing up valuable land to satisfy the regions’ hunger for employment and housing land, for the next 20 years.
The Planning Inspectorate is putting Council’s under pressure to ensure they identify enough land to meet the full, objectively assessed needs for housing, over the plan period. This is a requirement set out in the Governments National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a policy designed to make the planning system simpler.
The worst culprit for lusting over green belt development is Birmingham, which needs to find enough land for a minimum of 84,000 houses. The Council says it can only identify capacity for 45,000 dwellings within the urban area and has a deficit of 41,000 homes. To satisfy its appetite, the Council has so far taken a bite from Sutton Coldfield’s green belt to build 6,000 houses and a large scale industrial zone.
However, Sutton Coldfield may just be the beginning with developers urging additional releases of land from the Green Belt, both in Birmingham and beyond.
Birmingham City Council has been trying to work with surrounding LAs, via the Duty to Cooperate, so that additional land, outside of Birmingham’s boundaries, can be identified to accommodate the shortfall. Statements have been inserted into neighbouring local plans identifying Birmingham’s housing shortfall and to require that additional homes may be added through an early review of existing plans.
Finding land for Birmingham’s overspill housing is unpopular and is something Councillors in neighbouring authorities do not want to confront this side of a general election. The problem won’t go away. If anything, a developers’ successful legal challenge against Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and a pending court case against Lichfield District Council - will only add to the pressure.
In the past the Green Belts have been preserved by creating houses in new towns, such as Telford or Milton Keynes and by expanding market towns in the Shires. However, in the absence of a proper housing strategy for the region, and with no new towns being proposed, individual local authorities are nibbling away at their Green Belts’ in a desperate attempt to meet housing targets.
So far, the invasion into the West Midlands green belt has been somewhat minor in-comparison to what could be unearthed through the sub-regional housing study. There have been a number of casualties and Sutton Coldfield appears to be the largest to date. But are we about to witness more?
While Birmingham’s planners say the shortfall is 33,000 homes, the Planning Inspector will face calls from developers to increase the housing requirement and possibly inflate the shortfall to 60,000 homes.
Finding a fair way to allocate Birmingham’s overspill housing among its neighbours, is the subject of a sub-regional housing study, commissioned by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP).
The release of the GBSLEP housing study is immanent and media reports suggest green belt in places like Bromsgrove, Coventry, Solihull, North Warwickshire, Redditch and Lichfield could be under threat. A figure in the region of 5,000 homes per Council has been doing the rounds. Getting this reflected in Local Plans could be a slow and painful process with some critics dubbing the duty to cooperate as the “duty to disagree and delay”. Until local plans are in place, developers will continue to pick off random sites on an opportunistic basis.
So while the Governments brownfield first strategy is welcome, the threat to the regions green belt from a very hungry Birmingham has still to be fully realised. Sutton Coldfield is most likely to be the start of an eroding process to the overall West Midlands belt and could look a lot smaller when the local plans expire in 20 years’ time and the region a lot more bloated.
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