Birmingham will resist the Government’s “aggressive and single-minded” attempt to sacrifice the countryside to house-building, city council leaders promised last night.
At the start of public consultation into the number of new homes to be built in the city over the next 18 years, members of the council cabinet said they would do everything possible to maintain a long-held policy to avoid development in the green belt.
But cabinet regeneration member Neville Summerfield said councillors had to give serious consideration to a Government option for 65,000 new dwellings over the period – 15,000 more than the council had previously planned for – which would make building on green belt land inevitable.
A map published by the council shows proposals for seven “eco-settlements”, comprising a total of 5,000 homes, on green belt sites at Butlers Lane, Mere Green, Falcon Lodge, Walmley and Minworth in Sutton Coldfield, and to the south of Longbridge on the Birmingham-Bromsgrove border.
Coun Summerfield (Con Brandwood) blamed “mischievous” press reports that had caused great anxiety for many people, although he was forced to concede that information contained in the articles was accurate and that the Government could easily force the council to meet the 65,000 target – Option 3 in a series of proposals under examination.
He said the council had to prove it had looked seriously at all of the options for new-build and that was bound to involve considering the possibility of developing green belt sites, some of them across the city boundary in Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
Coun Summerfield added: “We have to go through this exercise. But it is important to recognise that we are proposing this in order to encourage debate.
“If we refuse to consider Option 3, then Option 3 will be imposed by the Government. The only way to protect our green belt is to consider Option 3, say no, and then move forward. It could not be simpler than that.”
Coun Summerfield said he was confident plans to grow the Birmingham population by 100,000 people could be achieved without encroaching onto the green belt, although a report by council planners suggested this was not the case.
The council released a letter written by chief executive Stephen Hughes to Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell explaining why new-build in the green belt was being considered.
In the letter Mr Hughes hit out at Local Government Minister Baroness Andrews for adopting an “aggressive and single-minded approach” to increasing the level of house building.
The West Midlands could be forced to find land for 80,700 more dwellings than previously planned, he warned.
Mr Hughes added: “It is important to stress that the city council is not making any specific proposals here.
“We know this is controversial and is likely to generate opposition but we must point out that as part of the new development planning system . . . Option 3 enables such propositions to be properly tested.”
He said calls to drop Option 3 from consultation should be resisted because to do so would give the Government an excuse to impose its own solution.
“A far more robust solution will be to proceed with the consultation and then to base any decision on the level and locations of growth in the context of all representations received,” Mr Hughes added.
Sutton Coldfield councillor Alan Rudge called for a campaign to protect Birmingham’s “green lungs”.