Expanding Birmingham Eastwards into Sutton Coldfield's green belt may be the worst strategic option
Sutton Coldfield green belt. Photo Courtesy of Martin O'Connell on Flikr.
1st August 2013
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions by Andrew Lainton
The forthcoming Birmingham Local Plan Review is very likely to propose several options for expanding Birmingham eastwards around the M6 toll road onto the Sutton Coldfield green belt.
Birmingham is already asking neighboring authorities to increase their housing number to accommodate some of Birmingham needs, the Black Country seems willing to do so, but it wont be enough, hence the rumors that 10,000 houses will be needed in the Green Belt somewhere to the East of Sutton Coldfield.
This has of course been considered in the past as part of the aborted RSS review for the West Midlands. NLP considered a number of options. As we know from FOI requests the expansion eastwards was considered problematic, as together with the 9,000 houses considered near Litchfield, it would add considerable stress to the A38 and other road infrastructure on a corridor that currently only has a small rail modal share. Instead more strategic expansion was proposed at a number of towns such as Worcester.
So under the ‘duty to cooperate’ what have we seen? Instead these ‘growth’ centres have only considered local needs with much reduced housing numbers. In the West Mids everyone seems to be objecting to everyone else's plans hence the fiasco we have seen for plans such as North Warwickshire and Coventry.
What is Brum’s plan of attack, presumably most we say no, so Brum plans an expansion mostly or entirely in its own borders and if some of these does spill over into North Warwickshire then the DTC stick can be used to beat them with.
What a sad excuse for regional planning (or the lack of it). Realistic alternatives which may be much more sustainable are not looked at simply because there is no institutional set up to push them forward, what loses then – the Green Belt, with development focused not on public transport but the densest concentration of motorways in the UK, where commuters may be forced to use a toll road to get to work.
I wont dismiss some expansion to the East out of hand, Birmingham Airport may have capacity to expand, there may be business park and residential opportunities to develop near the HS2 station for the NEC, but this will not and should not soak out the majority of any peripheral growth because High Speed Rail can never take more than a minority of commuter traffic.
So a rational planning system would look at underused rail routes and nodes along it. Surely the once every half an hour service to Hereford could be improved to every 10 minutes with expansion at Bromsgrove etc. Some of this is in the Green Belt too but less sensitive being well away from the Greater Birmingham edge. Also the Wolverhampton-Shrewsbury service could be electrified and have more services, enabling expansion at Shifnal and Cosford, again Green Belt but less sensitive, and greater growth at Telford outside the Green Belt. There is also the proposal to reinstate the Wellington to Stafford Line would could also be used as a direct path for intercity services from Wrexman and Chester to London once additional train paths south of Stafford are opened up. Taking half an hour of journeys to London and costing only 250 mn this would have huge agglomeration benefits and likely would pay for itself in cost-benefit terms. There is potential for small ‘new town’ scale growth around the reopened station at Gnosall (providing the short link to the Newport bypass was dueled).
What is needed here is a proper study of strategic locations where growth with a modal split of at least 70:30 in favour of public transport could accommodate overspill from Birmingham including associated employment growth to reduce commuting. Making big sub-regional centres such as Worcester much much bigger through strategic scale peripheral growth is not necessarily the best solution. Indeed the EU SEA directive requires consideration of such reasonable alternatives. I doubt the Birmingham plan will get very far without commissioning such work.
(O note there is potential for further growth at Reddicth and consolidating Growth in the Warwick/Coventry corridor which is confused in current plans, these however will deal mainly with local growth).
Now where are the LEPs in this? If they are simply licking their lips at buildings around the M6 toll they are not doing their job.
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