Campaigners say brownfield homes could save green belt
7th September 2013
Rural expansion is being driven through to counter a housing shortfall, despite there being thousands of properties with full or outline planning permission ready to be built within the city.
Almost 17,000 homes are waiting to be built on brownfield sites in Birmingham – even as officials push forward with a scheme to construct 10,000 dwellings in the green belt.
A major housing shortage has been used to drive through the rural expansion despite there being thousands of properties with full or outline planning permission ready to be built within the city boundary.
The news has been greeted with astonishment by green belt campaigners battling the development of 10,000 homes near Sutton Coldfield.
Local MP Andrew Mitchell said the planning permissions proved there was sufficient capacity within existing built-up areas.
He said: “This underlines the point that there is no current requirement to build on Sutton Coldfield’s green belt.
“There is a substantial stock of brownfield sites across the West Midlands.
“Everyone can accept that we need to build more homes but brownfield sites and existing permissions already granted should bear the brunt of that.”
Birmingham City Council has 30,000 on its housing waiting list and estimates a total of 80,000 new homes are needed for the city and surrounding areas by 2031. Around 600 council houses and 11,000 private homes in the city already stand empty.
But council bosses are angry that Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles blamed red tape and restrictive planning departments for holding back developers.
He described council planning departments as “the last bastion of communism and sheer bloody mindedness”.
However, the Local Government Association (LGA) has hit back, saying there are 440,000 homes waiting to be built across England – including the 17,000 in Birmingham. It has also seen a marked reduction in new planning applications. It blamed a lack of funding, either to help developers meet the up-front costs of house building or for mortgage lenders.
Now the LGA is calling on the Government to lift caps on council housing investment saying they could get 60,000 homes built in the next five years.
In an interview with the Birmingham Post, Prime Minister David Cameron said that while he would consider allowing Birmingham City Council to borrow to build, lending was the problem.
He said: “I will happily look at all options. The reason why builders haven’t been building is because companies haven’t been able to borrow.
“We have not only changed the planning rules and encouraged new building provision but we are getting to the heart of the problem with the Help To Buy scheme, helping people to get a mortgage.
“That will unlock the desire among housebuilders to build. I am confident that we are correcting this. If you look at mortgages and new house starts then they are all going up.”
A Birmingham planning department spokesman said: “There are a number of reasons for delays in development, including the viability of sites when prices get deflated, and the lack of mortgage provision for first-time buyers.
“However, here in Birmingham we have managed to sustain levels of house building and are working innovatively with construction partners through the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust.
“The traditional model of working with developers is time-consuming, with the developer getting no financial returns until the point of sale, which is not realistic in the current economic climate if we want to get houses built.”
The spokesman said that developers, as well as banks and other property investors are risk-averse in the current climate and council investment could offer them incentives to get building – as well as ensure the developments are high quality.
Neil Nickolds from protest group Sutton Coldfield Rural said: “It seems crazy that with so many planning applications approved that we are even considering building on the green belt.
“There are also all these empty homes across the city. There are a lot of alternatives to building here.
“It’s a lovely part of Birmingham and once you build houses there that’s it. It’s gone forever.”
Chairman of the LGA’s housing board Coun Mike Jones said the backlog of unbuilt homes and drop in planning applications last year was a worrying sign the housing market was not yet on the road to long-term recovery.
He added: “These figures conclusively show that it is not the planning system holding back the building of much-needed new homes.”
But housing minister Mark Prisk disputed the LGA’s figures calling them ‘misleading’.
He said: “Actually only around 60,000 houses with planning permission are currently stalled. We’ve just reformed the way the system [council borrowing for housing] works.
“I’m always open to bright ideas. We are working with housing associations and the private sector to solve the problem.”
Developer Richborough Estates wants to build 2,000 homes within Sutton Coldfield’s green belt scheme.
Planning manager Robert Mitchell said: “The city currently has the capacity for only around 45,000 homes, including approximately 17,000 which already have planning permission.
“Even if all of these were built, there would still be a need to find around 35,000 elsewhere, whether within the city’s boundary or beyond in the adjoining authorities of the West Midlands urban area.
“It is widely anticipated that the city council will have to accommodate some of these homes within its own boundaries and several locations to the east and north-east of Sutton Coldfield are under consideration as part of the consultation exercise.
“Richborough Estates, as well as other landowners and developers, have put forward the case that some development in the green belt is both inevitable and can be made acceptable.”
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