One of the much-repeated criticisms of the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy is that it seeks to steamroller through totally unrealistic levels of house building in order to please the Government and that in doing so practicalities such as where the infrastructure needed to support 365,000 new homes is going to come from have been sidelined.
Remarkably, key environmental issues including impact on the green belt, the rural landscape and flood risk from building on such a scale have been relegated to a phase three review of the RSS in two years’ time.
The opening session yesterday of a public inquiry into RSS revisions heard from the Environment Agency that the West Midlands remains the only English region not to adopt a flood risk policy, despite the damage wreaked by torrential storms in 2007. The agency, which is a Government-backed watchdog, naturally finds it unacceptable that councils are planning a huge increase in house building without taking into account flooding risks, or indeed how the occupants of the new homes will get the infrastructure required to supply water to their homes. And yet the Government is intent behind the scenes on getting its own way. A consultants’ report drawn up on the orders of ministers suggests that 445,000 new homes should be the regional target up to 2026 – almost twice as many as existing policies specify.
There is of course an air of unreality about all of this and it was unlikely, even before the recession hit Britain, that developers would be able to deliver the 365,000 target within the timescale. Certainly, to quote the regional assembly, a figure of 445,000 is pie in the sky, even if it is finally approved.