What a difference a year has made to the housing debate in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
Developers who were eager to cash in on what appeared to be a never-ending boom in property prices have come back to earth with a thud, in a correction which raises serious questions about government targets for some 450,000 new homes across the region over the next 20 years.
A case in point is the extraordinary proposal to build 70 houses in a back garden development on greenfield land in Marston Green. What made this scheme unusual was not just, as protesters put it, the likely destruction of a classic English country lane, but the fact that the site covered by the planning application lay at the bottom of Birmingham Airport’s main runway.
Developers, the Sandstone Group, may have gambled that government pressure on local authorities to push forward with housing development at almost any cost would result in Solihull Council’s refusal of planning permission being overturned. But a planning inspector sided with the council, leaving the developers facing an expensive and risky High Court challenge in an attempt to get approval for the Marston Green scheme.
Sandstone have decided not to pursue legal action, leaving residents to celebrate success in their battle to save the countryside. But campaigners should be wary of triumphalism, since it is almost certainly the housing market slump that has led to Sandstone’s decision.
As a company spokesman put it: “The High Court challenge is no longer but that’s not to say that our perusal of the site is no longer.”
The fact remains that when the property market eventually recovers, as it will, areas like Marston Green will once more be in the front line of government housing plans.