Controversial plans to build 400,000 new homes, some in the West Midlands green belt, have been scrapped.
The Government has handed control of housing back to local councils. Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has written to local authorities giving them permission to ignore housing targets, which had been widely condemned by residents in many parts of the region.
They include plans to build 10,500 new homes in Solihull, which threatened green belt land in the borough.
But while the Government insisted the announcement would protect he region’s environment, West Midlands Friends of the Earth warned that it could lead to chaos in the region’s planning system.
The Government is to scrap the Regional Spatial Strategy, which ordered councils to build 397,900 homes in the West Midlands by 2026.
The previous Labour government said a rapidly ageing population, further increases in life expectancy and the growth of single-person households would result in a devastating housing shortage unless local authorities used their powers to plan for more homes. Authorities will now no longer be forced to follow centrally-imposed targets and are free to decide appropriate growth figures for their area.
This included an extra 57,500 homes in Birmingham, 10,500 in Solihull, 63,000 in the Black Country and 33,500 in Coventry, as well as 40,500 in Worcestershire – mainly in Bromsgrove and Redditch – and 43,500 in Warwickshire.
Mr Pickles has now written to councils confirming that legislation will be introduced to scrap the Regional Spatial Strategy, and ruling that they are free to ignore it when making planning decisions from now on.
His decision means that the 38 West Midlands councils may revert to the 365,500 figure for new housing that they claim is the maximum figure that could feasibly be built by 2026.
It is possible, though, that the figure could be scaled down to less than 300,000 – a total the councils say is reasonable given the impact of economic recession, uncertainties about future recovery and a collapse in land and property prices.
Local MPs and the Campaign to Protect Rural England had condemned the housing targets, although the previous government insisted they were needed in order to provide homes for people who could not currently afford one, and who tended to be ignored.
Mr Pickles said: “The previous Government gave a green light for the destruction of the green belt and we are determined to stop it. That’s why I have written to all councils to let them know they can make planning decisions in the knowledge Regional Strategies will soon be history.’’
But Chris Crean, of West Midlands Friends of the Earth, said: “While the Regional Spatial Strategy had its critics, it was a way of creating a long-term strategy for housing. Ripping it up without anything to replace it will lead to chaos. If these homes are needed, where are they going to go?