City living is on the increase across the West Midlands with Birmingham and Solihull leading the way in building new apartments and houses, a study has shown.
A Regional Spatial Strategy monitoring report shows that 40 per cent more dwellings were completed in Birmingham between 2001 and 2007 than planners had predicted.
In Solihull, the figure was almost 100 per cent above target, and there was also strong housing growth in Coventry and Stoke.
The amount of new-build taking place on previously developed brownfield land is higher than expected, raising hopes that a larger proportion of the 420,000 new dwellings required in the West Midlands by the Government by 2026 can be built in urban areas.
The analysis, produced by the regional assembly, suggests the number of people leaving cities to live in the countryside is beginning to slow.
The population of Birmingham, in decline for years, has risen by 22,000 since 2007. The city council plans a 100,000 increase over the next 20 years.
According to the report: "The policy drive to concentrate development increasingly within the major urban areas continues to appear to be implemented with the majority of authorities building above their targets".
Regional Planning Partnership chairman Rex Roberts welcomed the growth in city living, but continued to express concern about the amount of house building required by the Government which he warned could place further pressure on the countryside and dampen growth in the cities.
Coun Roberts added: "I am very happy to report that the region is starting to develop in a more sustainable direction. However, I am somewhat fearful of the Government’s intention to consider higher rates of new housing development as reflected in its commissioning of a new study to look at further development options.
"What is clear from our monitoring data is that, if this was to lead to large scale releases of greenfield land, it could be highly damaging to the region’s strategy.
"Not only would attention be diverted away from the use of brownfield sites but this could also lead to more dispersed patterns of development and increased travel. This would undoubtedly undermine urban renaissance with serious long-term economic, social and environmental consequences."
Across the West Midlands, the number of housing completions is running at 17 per cent above target. But the region is failing to meet Government requirements to build social housing.
There was a total of 3,368 affordable housing completions in 2007, against a target of 6,500.
Policies designed to improve the standard of living in rural areas are having mixed results with house prices remaining beyond the reach of many people, according to the analysis.
The report notes: "Educational attainment, health and business start-ups are all improving and continue to perform well,
"However, some of the key aims of the rural renaissance are still not being met. There is still a large out-migration from urban areas, though this is showing signs of improving.
"Housing affordability continues to hit rural areas and is getting worse in many areas. The population of rural areas continues to be an ageing one and we continue to see out-migration of younger people."
While housebuilding trends are strong, job creation is lagging behind. Overall employment completion rates in 2006/07 were below the average for the past six years and only 46 per cent took place on brownfield land.
The analysis warns there are not yet any "regionally significant sites" capable of accommodating a major employer identified in the Central Technology Belt, the West Birmingham and South Black Country Regeneration Zone or the Coventry and Nuneaton Regeneration Zone.