REGENERATION in Birmingham and the Black Country will be put into reverse if the government insists on pushing forward with wide-ranging plans for new housing in the countryside, council leaders have warned.

In its most outspoken attack yet on proposals to build almost half a million dwellings in the West Midlands by 2026, the Regional Assembly said builders would snap up greenfield sites while ignoring land in towns and cities, which would be more expensive and difficult to develop.

The result would be unsustainable housing growth in rural areas and villages, placing strain on schools, health centres and other public facilities.

Assembly members, representing local councils, businesses, trade unions and faith groups, are formally opposing a government-commissioned study which puts the case for 445,600 new homes in the region – about 80,000 more than council leaders believe is the maximum achievable.

The study, by consultants Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, proposes significant expansion in Warwickshire and Worcestershire, as well as up to 60,000 new homes in Birmingham.

Regional Assembly chairman David Smith said the 38 West Midlands councils remained fully behind proposals put forward in the spatial strategy review, for a maximum 365,600 houses up to 2026. The figure represented the highest growth target with new build being concentrated in Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country, he added.

Coun Smith (Con Lichfield) said: “For a long time we have recognised the need for much more housing in the region to address acute and growing shortages and felt we had addressed this in our proposals.

“It was therefore a great disappointment to us when the government commissioned its own study into even higher levels of housing.

“Having analysed the consultants’ study in more detail we are more worried than ever about the implications of its recommendations for the environment and the economy of our region.”

He said the assembly recognised the unusual situation of having to make representations on its own regional spatial strategy revisions, but added the impact of the government’s housing study was so serious that it needed to be spelt out in detail.

Coun Smith added: “The consultants’ spread of housing is very damaging to our strategy of regenerating the big city areas and building on derelict sites, because house builders will always chose green-field sites first.

“By releasing many more greenfield sites in the shires, the success in regenerating Birmingham and the Black Country risks being put into reverse. The government’s study is all about housing numbers and says very little about all the supporting facilities that are needed to create sustainable communities.”