Ambitious plans to enhance Solihull’s two flagship shopping centres and increase the size of the town centre have been unveiled.
Touchwood and Mel Square shopping centres will be expanded under the proposals by Solihull Council, as part of a “major retail, office, leisure, cultural and tourism development”.
Other plans include developing Chelmsley Wood and Shirley town centres to “meet local needs and improve competitiveness”.
The scheme has been outlined in the council’s core development strategy, which also proposes building 10,500 homes in the borough.
Controversial proposals include adjusting green belt boundaries to allow for more house building with 200 green field sites likely to be released for development.
In addition, the council wants to create 26 permanent travellers’ pitches and five transit pitches by 2017.
Residents are being asked to take part in a consultation on the proposals.
Part of the consultation will focus on proposed areas for more affordable housing and the public will be able to comment on existing suggestions or put forward areas of their own.
Solihull, which is home to more than 200,000 residents, currently has a lengthy social housing waiting list of about 15,000.
The council said it has not ruled out building on green belt or on gardens to ensure housing needs are met.
The Government recently reclassified garden land from brownfield to greenfield to try and stamp out the practice of “garden grabbing”, where developers build new homes or flats on back gardens.
Coun John Reeve, cabinet member for economic development and regeneration, said: “What we want to avoid in the long term is the process of planning by appeal.
“For me, the issue with green belt is about its ecological value – whether it is a green corridor or whether it just looks like a green corridor.”
The plans for Solihull town centre include creating 55,000 square metres of additional retail space by 2021– a figure almost the size of Touchwood shopping centre, which has 54,000 square metres.
A further 25,000 sqm of retail floor space could be in place by 2026, as could 35,000 sqm of new office floor space.
In addition, up to 1,565 homes could be built around the town centre over the same period.
Council leader Ian Hedley said: “Solihull town centre is a place of quality and distinction and one of the most successful in the West Midlands. We are intent on it remaining so.
“We want to both encourage and control development so that improvements can be made to retailing access and the public realm, in a way that enhances and doesn’t threaten its current character, viability and vitality.”
Other controversial ideas include expanding Birmingham Business Park into the green belt.
Paul Watson, strategic director of community and economic regeneration, said the council had tried to make the process of drawing up the draft strategy “open and transparent”.
He said: “The current plan runs out in 2011 and if we are going to effectively control development, meet housing needs and promote economic growth, we need to do this work ‘with’ local people, and not ‘to’ them.
“We need to lead the debate, not just respond to outside pressures. This borough must not stagnate, it needs to grow.”
Once the consultation is completed, the finished strategy will form part of the council’s Local Development Framework, which will replace its Unitary Development Plan that expires in March 2011.
* The consultation period will run until December 10. Feedback can be given in person during a series of drop-in sessions – the first of which is at Marston Green Library on October 18 – through leaflets available at local libraries and Solihull Connect, or at www.solihull.gov.uk/ldf