Controversial Government plans to build hundreds of thousands of new homes in the West Midlands should be met with a bit of give and take - even if it means building on the greenbelt, according to upmarket housebuilder Cala Homes.
Darren Humphreys, managing director of Cala Homes (Midlands), argues that by consistently applying the test of sustainability, the best sites for housing in the West Midlands will be found.
"Building sustainably means building new homes in locations which are close to public transport, schools, employment, retail and leisure facilities, therefore reducing the need for car journeys and cutting carbon emissions," says Mr Humphreys.
"It is also very important, with the events of the past few weeks and last summer, to ensure that these locations are not on flood plains."
It was during January this year that the Government Office of the West Midlands told local councils to find room for 420,000 new homes in the region by 2026. This is 55,600 more than the West Midlands Regional Assembly believes is achievable or desirable.
Fears were also expressed by the Regional Planning Partnership, which claimed Government intervention could lead to the worst of all worlds: greenfield sites being snapped up by developers, while brownfield land in towns and cities remained undeveloped.
This would fly in the face of the region's spatial strategy of concentrating housebuilding in the major urban areas of Birmingham and the Black Country.
"The region does need the numbers of new homes which the Government is suggesting, if not more, because of modern lifestyles," counters Mr Humphreys. "With people living longer, many more people choosing to live alone and immigration into the region, the strain on the existing housing stock is intolerable. However, we need to choose very carefully the most sustainable locations for these new homes.
"The construction industry is already helping to tackle household carbon emissions by building more energy efficient new homes with a view to achieving carbon neutral status by 2016.
"Indeed, a new research study by National Energy Services, commissioned by the New Homes Marketing Board found that new homes already generate 60 per cent fewer CO2 emissions than pre-1960s houses and, with increasingly tough building regulations, this figure will continue to improve.
"In 2005, residential fossil fuel use accounted for 15 per cent of the UK's annual carbon emissions and fell by 4.6 per cent against 2004 figures.
"Road transport, on the other hand, accounted for 22 per cent of UK emissions and continues to rise. So surely the best solution is to build homes in locations where people can make best use of public transport and avoid using private cars.
"Therefore, as a matter of urgency, we have to ensure that development takes place along public transport routes, whether that be in-fill developments on previously used land, or expanding development on to greenfield locations in a wedge shape alongside public transport.
"This approach will largely mean that we do develop on brownfield land within major conurbations, with a massive benefit in terms of urban regeneration.
"But in some cases it will also mean that we build on greenfield and/or greenbelt sites, as a far better alternative to brownfield sites in less sustainable locations."
Mr Humpreys cites the example of a disused Ministry of Defence site several miles from the nearest town, presently classed as brownfield and at the top of the list of prime sites for new housing development as it meets the criteria for affordable new homes.
It should be rejected, however, in favour of other sites nearer to work, leisure facilities and public transport links.
"But we also need to look closely at the value of green belt land. Some is of no special value, apart from the fact that it has been previously designated green belt," says Mr Humphreys. "In certain cases, it has also had the effect of increasing commuting distances. It creates artificial boundaries to one community, often quite arbitrarily forcing people to live many miles away from where they work, in another community, increasing the carbon emissions through the use of the car.
"The greenbelt boundaries are constantly changing. Naturally, there are areas of outstanding beauty and special scientific value which must never be built upon, but flexibility must prevail and we must recognise that the concept of a constraining greenbelt is no longer appropriate.
"We cannot afford to be dogmatic in the brownfield versus greenfield and greenbelt debate. If we want to find the right locations to build sufficient new houses which both meet the needs of the people of the West Midlands in the next 20 years, and minimise the effect on climate change, then sustainability has to be main determining factor as to where we build."