Birmingham City Council has revived memories of 15-year-old green belt battle by unveiling proposals for a major industrial site and 10,000 homes on Sutton Coldfield’s green belt.
The failure of the city to find a location suitable for the recent Jaguar Land Rover expansion, which ended up north of Wolverhampton, has focused minds on securing a 50 hectare site ripe for industrial development.
Coupled with the pressure to build 80,000 new homes by 2031 it is perhaps not unexpected that the green belt is to be targeted and four sites along the A38 and M6 Toll motorway to the north and east of Sutton Coldfield have been earmarked.
But the proposals, which are out for consultation until the end of the year, are set to revive memories of the Peddimore Lane battle in which the city council suffered a bruising planning inquiry defeat in 1997.
Back then the Labour-run council, of which current leader Sir Albert Bore was a senior member, wanted a site for a micro-electronics plant and earmarked the scrub land at Peddimore.
But the plan was met with fierce opposition from the Walmley Residents Association who won the inquiry.
This latest development plan is based on Office of National Statistics projections that Birmingham’s population will increase by 150,000 by 2031 and this population growth will require 80,000 new homes as well as the industrial and commercial space to create at least 100,000 jobs.
Official figures revealed earlier this year showed that Birmingham’s urban built up area has space for another 43,000 houses – leaving 37,000 to be found.
Council deputy leader Ian Ward (Lab, Shard End) said: “If we don’t look to meet this need we are saying that we will accept people being homeless and accept deprivation and over crowding.
“It is already happening, children are staying at home longer, some are returning back home and the number of people taking in lodgers is increasing.
“A responsible local authority must attempt to house its citizens.
“We will need to provide 4,000 homes a year over 20 years. This is a greater rate of building than at any other time in the post war period.”
But he also recognised that unlike the previous post war housing expansion which was led by council house building, this one will be reliant on private developers investing, either independently or in partnership with the council. It was also pointed out that this growth is a result mainly of a high birth rate, and that recent government restrictions on immigration could see it scaled down.
The plan identifies sites at Hill Wood to the east of the Watford Gap junction, to the east of Roughley and Whitehouse Common, and two sites either side of the A38 bypass near Walmley.
The development plan is a legal requirement under the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework and it is against this that planning applications are judged.
Coun Ward explained that if the council does not have a watertight plan, which takes account of demand for housing and industry, then developers are likely to sail through any planning appeals and could end up with a free for all on the green belt.
Instead the council has earmarked a small portion of Birmingham’s green belt as suitable for development.
“Even if all this goes ahead it would only account for ten per cent of Birmingham’s green belt and leaves us better able to protect the remaining 90 per cent,” he added.
The plan highlights a small number of open spaces within the city suitable for development – including North Worcestershire Golf Club, and is talking to neighbouring authorities, which have larger stocks of green space, to see if they can accommodate the housing growth.
But even should the 10,000 home plan be officially adopted there is considerable doubt that the private developers will be able to deliver.
Council development director Waheed Nazir said: “According to our evidence the housing market has capacity to deliver no more than 10,000 new homes over the next 20 years.”
He suggested it could be much lower, highlighting the fact it has taken 20 years to complete the construction of 1,100 homes at Bassetts Pole on the edge of Sutton Coldfield.
Any new schools, health services and shops required by new estates would be funded by the developer.
Despite the massive shortfall in housing there is already outcry from opposition groups, including the Conservatives.
Opposition group leader Mike Whitby said: “Before we start building on the green belt, we need to, with development partners look at the sites within Birmingham and in the wider region.
“There is no doubt that Birmingham could do with a large industrial site, but we should be working with the Local Enterprise Partnership and our partner authorities in the LEP to locate that site.”
And Phil Simpson of the Birmingham Green Party said that there is a huge number of empty homes which need renovating and occupying first.
“There are flats above shops and empty homes all over Birmingham which if used offer a much more affordable and sustainable solution to the pressure for housing.
“There is also a huge amount of brownfield sites which can be developed. There is no need to start using the green belt.”