A planning application to build 16 new homes in Birmingham’s Moor Pool Estate conservation area is not, in the grand scheme of things, one of the biggest applications that city planners will have to consider this year.
But the relatively small scale of what is being asked for by developers should not detract from an important principle at stake.
The proposal has, quite naturally, stirred up a hornets’ nest of opposition from local people and conservation groups who contend that even a small housing development will ruin the unique character of one of Britain’s best garden suburbs. English Heritage, having at first said it had no objection, has since been persuaded by residents to ask the city council to refuse planning permission on the grounds that Moor Pool is of significant architectural importance.
And yet, for all of the opposition, the letters of complaint from local councillors, residents’ groups and MP Gisela Stuart, the advice from council planning officers is unequivocal. The application, they say, must be approved because there are no grounds in law to turn it down.
The real importance of the application lies in the signal it will send out, given government pressure for the city council to allow as many as 65,000 new homes to be built in Birmingham by 2026.
This figure is substantially more than the council believes is either necessary or can easily be delivered. But even 65,000 may not be enough, if recent remarks by former West Midlands Minister Liam Byrne are anything to go by. He warned of a likely under-provision of dwellings, based on government projections that 87,000 new households will be formed in Birmingham by 2026. One of the most compelling arguments against over-inflated housing targets has always been that insistence on building, say, 460,000 new homes across the West Midlands is bound to put impossible pressure on rural green field and green belt sites and on conservation areas in towns and cities.
The only way that Birmingham can deliver upwards of 65,000 new homes is to permit far more development to occur in the city’s leafy suburbs than the people who live there think is desirable.
The likelihood is that there will be many more Moor Pools cropping up during the next few years, changing the landscape of Birmingham for the worse.