Green belt land surrounding Birmingham could be swallowed up by 5,000 new homes if ambitious plans to increase the city’s population by 10 per cent are to be achieved, it has emerged.
Conservation groups reacted with fury to a council 20-year strategy document which proposes “eco-settlements” on rural sites normally protected from development along the line of the M6 Toll in Sutton Coldfield and in the countryside beyond Longbridge.
The Local Development Framework even raises the possibility that Birmingham’s dash for growth may involve building housing estates across the city boundary in the Staffordshire and Worcestershire countryside.
If accepted by the council cabinet on Monday, the framework will increase the number of new dwellings to be built in Birmingham by 2026 from 50,000 to 65,000 – with 5,000 to be located in highly sensitive green belt locations.
A map accompanying cabinet papers shows seven possible development sites – at Butlers Lane, Mere Green, Falcoln Lodge, Walmley and Minworth in Sutton, and close to Longbridge and Maypole to the south of Birmingham.
The document offers three options for growth, partly in response to a Government drive for new housing across the West Midlands and also as a way of achieving the council’s policy of increasing the population of Birmingham by 100,000 by 2026.
Although the draft framework was published in the name of cabinet regeneration member Neville Summerfield, who signed a paper allowing the contents to be discussed at next week’s meeting, senior councillors and officers were stunned by the document’s controversial proposals.
Council chief executive Stephen Hughes reacted by attempting to assure the chairman of the West Midlands Regional Assembly, David Smith, that Birmingham had no intention of building houses in the green belt – despite the contents of the cabinet report.
Coun Smith (Con), who is also the leader of Lichfield District Council, said he would be “deeply concerned” if the expansion of Birmingham involved building on greenfield sites in Staffordshire. He added: “I believe it is absolutely vital to maintain the green belt surrounding Birmingham.
“If the city wants to grow its population it should build new housing on brownfield sites.”
Coun Smith said he was surprised by the document since there had been “absolutely no discussions” between the political leadership of Birmingham and Lichfield councils about the contents.
He said: “We have always been concerned that the M6 Toll would become the natural boundary of Birmingham. This opens up the potential for a tremendous amount of land to be developed.”
Birmingham planning committee chairman Peter Douglas Osborn, who less than a year ago urged his colleagues to resist all green belt development, was unable yesterday to give any assurances that sensitive sites on the edge of the city would be protected.
Coun Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) said the council was being forced by Ministers to build more houses than most people thought was desirable. Failure to comply with the Government’s wishes could result in the council planning strategy being declared “unsound” and powers to approve developments being transferred to Whitehall, he warned.
Peter Langley, West Midlands chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, was “horrified” by the prospect of 5,000 houses in the green belt.
Mr Langley added: “Birmingham has always said it can provide its share of the regional total for new housing without going into the green belt. We would be extremely unhappy if this principle was about to be breached.
Chris Crean, West Midlands spokesman for Friends of the Earth, feared Birmingham was about to cave in to the Government.
Mr Crean added: “What is most worrying is that we are seeing Birmingham go for green belt sites rather than investing in environmentally sustainable housing within the existing built-up part of the city. Will we have 100,000 more jobs for these additional people?”