Up to 15,900 new homes proposed near busy Lichfield to Birmingham rail route
Sutton Coldfield Station. Gene Hunt of Flickr
27th April 2013
Update: 8th January 2014
By now you should be aware of the Birmingham Development Plan 2031, which includes the proposal to build up to 6,000 new homes (c.15,000 residents) and industrial zone on the Sutton Coldfield green belt over the next 20 years.
But did you know Lichfield District Council, just 15 miles north of Sutton Coldfield, have published a Local Plan? They are proposing to build 9,900 new dwellings increasing the population by 15,500 in the District over 20 years.
All sounds straight forward but how will this affect Sutton Coldfield residents?
The centre of gravity of jobs is clearly south of the M6 in Birmingham, and like Sutton Coldfield, Lichfield provides Birmingham with a large work force who travel along the same busy rail network, the Lichfield Trent Valley to Birmingham New Street Line.
Increasing the population in the Lichfield / Sutton Coldfield region will put a huge strain on train services that are already under pressure today.
The Lichfield Trent Valley to Birmingham News Street Station line is overcrowded and at maximum capacity. Volume issues hamper extra rolling stock from being added to existing trains and thus preventing a much needed increase in passenger numbers.
Track bottlenecks near Birmingham New Street Station mean that train operators are unable to increase service frequency during peak times. This is the only period when the extra carriages make a contribution to revenue. The result being it would not be financially viable to increase rolling stock.
The future transport network must be sustainable
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says that for developments to be ‘sustainable’ they must balance economic, social, and environmental factors. It also requires that best use is made of existing infrastructure and the need for additional investment should be minimised. New development locations must be selected with this in mind.
The NPPF [Para 30] also states ‘Encouragement should be given to solutions which support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reduce congestion.
Any future large scale development, like 6,000 Sutton Coldfield homes, would require transport options which encourage residents away from using the car. It would also have to consider the 9,000 new homes proposed for Lichfield District Council. Walsall Borough Council, say they fear that the Lichfield Plan will backfire and encourage decentralisation and commuting.
This would pose quite a challenge because, according to ONS Method of Travel to Work data 2011, 58.4% of morning commuters in Birmingham traveled to work by car, while only 4.8% used the train. A Centro Future Travel 2012 study found 4.2% of morning peak inbound trips into Sutton Coldfield were made by train compared to 79.1% via the car.
Transport requires cross-boundary ‘alignment’ of policies and investment plans between local authorities, including Birmingham City Council and Lichfield District Council. The need for significant investment to overcome capacity bottlenecks is well established. A planning inspector examining the plan for Lichfield District Council has written to the Council saying that among the MAIN ISSUES he will be examining are whether Birmingham and Lichfield have ‘cooperated constructively’ while preparing their plans and whether proper viability testing of sites has been done.
How about passenger trains on the Sutton Park or Tamworth to Birmingham lines?
Introducing a passenger timetable from Walsall to Birmingham along the Sutton Park Line or Tamworth to Birmingham would contribute to providing sustainable development options in Lichfield, Tamworth and Sutton Coldfield. However, there is a lack of capacity at New Street Station to accommodate passenger trains from either routes.
The solution would be to run train lines into Birmingham Moor Street Station and provide much needed additional rail capacity for central Birmingham.
But this requires the construction of the costly £120m Camp Hill Chords project at Bordesley, a pair of rail lines providing access from the Water Orton direction and Camp Hill line into Birmingham Moor Street. The Chords are schedule for construction around 2019-24 at the earliest. So a passenger timetable on both lines is unlikely to be introduced until after completion of the Chords.
That said, Birmingham City Council will need to provide evidence that there are no other more sustainable alternatives to building on the Sutton Coldfield green belt.
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