The Government looks certain to set itself on collision course with West Midlands councils by insisting local authorities identify sufficient land to build almost half a million new houses by 2026 – a move described as “environmental vandalism on an epic scale”.
Consultants working for the Government Office are close to completing a study setting out options for delivering 446,000 dwellings over a 20-year period – one-third higher than the maximum total initially proposed by in the Regional Assembly’s draft spatial strategy. The programme would be the largest construction programme since the 1960s.
If the report by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners is accepted by Local Government Minister Baroness Andrews, the councils will have been forced to move significantly from their starting position when asked to address the national housing shortage – a pledge to deliver additional 340,000 new homes over the planning period.
That figure was revised upwards to 365,000 several months ago following pressure from Baroness Andrews, but now seems certain to be increased to 446,000, or even higher.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England urged councils to stand up to the Government, warning that such a high figure for new housing would place intolerable pressure on rural areas and destroy efforts to regenerate towns and cities.
CPRE West Midlands chairman Peter Langley said: “Not only has the Government got its sums badly wrong, it has totally lost touch with reality.
“People in many parts of the region will be up in arms, and rightly so. This is environmental vandalism on an epic scale and could sound the death knell for urban regeneration.”
Mr Langley predicted developers would rush to snap up greenfield land, where houses could be sold at the greatest profit, while ignoring more difficult brownfield sites. He added: “These extraordinary ideas are emerging just as house building is collapsing.
“There seems little chance of building the number of homes proposed by the Regional Assembly, let alone more, but every chance that this will lead to developers cherry picking greenfield opportunities.”
According to CPRE, the GOWM consultants report suggests:
* more than doubling house building in Solihull, threatening green belt in the Meriden Gap between Birmingham and Coventry;
* almost doubling the house building rate in Warwick, Leamington and Kenilworth;
* substantial extra house building in towns already singled out for growth, such as Rugby, Redditch, Burton-upon-Trent, Stafford and Worcester;
* The Nathaniel Lichfield study was commissioned by GOWM after Baroness Andrews deemed the Regional Assembly’s response to the Government request for more houses to be inadequate.
Peter Douglas Osborn, chairman of Birmingham planning committee and a member of the regional assembly, said land between Solihull and Coventry would be turned into a “giant Chelmsley Wood”.
Coun Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) added: “You will end up with a built-up area stretching from the north-west of Wolverhampton to the southern end of Coventry. It is a totally unacceptable scenario.”
Regional Assembly chairman David Smith said he was “gravely concerned” about the consequences of the GOWM analysis which he believed ran contrary to local democratic accountability.
Coun Smith (Con Lichfield) added: “We have always had concerns about GOWM’s study as it has the potential to undermine the sustainable growth strategy prepared by the assembly and its partners after many months of detailed work and consultation.
“We are now even more concerned having seen the level of detail to which the consultants are working. In proposing ranges of housing figures and broad locations for those houses at the level of individual local authorities, the study is directly cutting across the work of those local councils who are preparing their own local development frameworks.
“Proper planning requires local knowledge and detailed consultation with local communities, all within the framework of our West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy.
“The GOWM study will be seen by many citizens and local councils as pre-empting the statutory planning process and contrary to local democratic accountability. It also runs counter to the Government’s own proposals in its sub-national review for devolving more decision making to local level”.