Plans to build 445,600 new homes in the West Midlands have been condemned as “pointless and dangerous” by the leader of the region’s councils.
David Smith, chairman of the regional assembly, said he did not believe record housing growth proposed in an independent report drawn up for the Government could be delivered.
Coun Smith (Con Lichfield) warned there was “no realistic prospect” that the number of homes suggested in the Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners study could ever be built with the full range of facilities – roads, schools and open space – that would be required to support them.
His comments put the assembly, representing 38 councils across the West Midlands, on collision course with the Government.
The Nathaniel Lichfield report was drawn up against the wishes of the region’s councils.
The study was ordered by the Government Office for the West Midlands after the regional assembly said it could identify sufficient land for no more than 365,600 homes to be built over the next 18 years.
But the assembly’s target, described as “ambitious” by Coun Smith, is significantly below the level of new-build the Government believes is necessary to deal with the country’s housing shortage.
Some development on the green belt is inevitable if the 445,600 figure eventually emerges as the Government’s preferred option, according to Nathaniel Lichfield.
Growth would be concentrated in south Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Birmingham, Solihull and the Black Country.
But the report rejects the assembly’s fears that a higher target would result in unacceptable levels of building in rural areas and result in further migration of families from cities to the countryside.
It is highly likely now that the assembly will seek to have the Nathaniel Lichfield proposals overturned at a public inquiry into the Regional Spatial Strategy, which is due to begin in April.
Coun Smith added: “The West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy is a brave strategy which is very clearly focused on the need for a renaissance of our urban areas as well as supporting rural communities to achieve their potential.
“We, along with local authorities and our other regional partners, will be analysing the Nathaniel Lichfield Study in great depth to see if it is right for the West Midlands, can be delivered in a sustainable manner and with the right infrastructure.
“Nobody disagrees that there is a need for new housing in our region and the draft strategy submitted by the assembly already sets ambitious house building targets. But it is pointless and dangerous to set even higher housing targets if there is no realistic prospect that these targets can be delivered and that the full range of facilities – roads, schools, open space and so on – will be provided to support them. It remains to be seen whether the Government will accept the view of London-based consultants or trust the collective wisdom and expertise of a wide range of regional partners including the expertise of the 38 local authorities that underpins the strategy submitted by the assembly.”
Meriden Conservative MP Caroline Spelman reacted furiously to the possibility that 20,000 new homes could be built in the borough of Solihull.
Mrs Spelman said: “I am fearful that it will mean losses of whole swathes of green belt as I just don’t know where else house numbers of this magnitude could go”
Gerald Kells, regional policy officer for CPRE West Midlands, said: “This study is firmly in cloud cuckoo land.
“The Government should forget its obsession with high housing numbers and instead set realistic, achievable targets that keep the focus on the regeneration of our cities.”
n Read Paul Dale’s blog at birminghampost.net/pauldale