Parts of the region’s green belt could still be under threat of development despite the new Government’s decision to scrap plans to build 400,000 homes across the West Midlands by the year 2026.
Planning officers are currently consulting on the best way forward after their housing targets were scrapped, but they have refused to confirm whether green belt would be protected in the future.
Solihull council leader Ian Hedley welcomed the Government’s decision and said the final housing plan for the borough would be decided by a public consultation this summer.
He said: “The aspect of letting local people and the council have more say in planning and housing for us is a better thing. We will still need to liaise on a regional basis, but it won’t be dictated to us.”
The regional strategy had indicated the borough needed 10,500 new homes but the local authority had said it wanted 7,500 houses, which would avoid building on any green belt land.
A previous report suggested adjustments to the green belt boundary would be necessary in the area north of the A45 and west of the M42/M6.
Areas including North Solihull, Chelmsley Wood, Dickens Heath, Balsall Common and Marston Green have previously been mentioned as potential locations for the new housing.
“If we go to 10,000 and above we are looking at the boundaries of the green belt. We wouldn’t want to build in the Meriden Gap,” Coun Hedley (Lib Dem Shirley East) said.
“It’s an opportunity to have another look and it’s an opportunity to say in the new context where we think the local need is. That’s not to say we’re going to throw anything out.”
Gary Stephens, planning policy team leader for Warwick District Council, said his officers and those at neighbouring Coventry City Council would meet to discuss housing needs.
Following the spatial strategy, Warwick controversially agreed to take 3,500 of Coventry’s housing provision and it is unclear whether this will still be the case.
Warwick’s plans included creating 3,500 homes at Kings Hill on the green belt between Kenilworth and Coventry.
He said the housing process was on hold at present.
“We are taking advice on how to proceed with the core strategy. We are seeking advice through local MPs from central Government and also we are taking legal advice on how to proceed with the process. It is difficult to know how to proceed,” he said.
“The consultation finished earlier in the year, the next stage would be for the council to prepare a draft plan but that is now on hold. It is more the process that is on hold.”
Coventry said it had suspended work on its core strategy. A spokesman for the city council said: “Since Labour took control of Coventry last month, leader Coun John Mutton has stated that there will be no building on green belt land under this administration.”
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, MP for Meriden, has pledged to do “whatever she can to avoid unnecessary encroachment” into the green belt, but questioned whether Solihull’s new administration – a Liberal Democrat-Labour partnership – would follow suit.
She said: “The Conservative Party always promised to hand back planning control to local councils and to get rid of the Regional Spatial Strategy. This gives councils the chance to scale down house-building according to local needs and the wishes of residents. However, the change of the ruling group on Solihull Council does give me some cause for concern. Will the new council be as keen as the Conservatives are to protect the green belt?”
Environmental campaigners have voiced fears over a lack of regulation left to monitor the strategic planning decisions handed back to local authorities.
Gerald Kells, regional policy officer for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said “the jury’s out” on the effects of dropping the strategy without replacing it with other guidelines.
He said the organisation would be closely monitoring councils’ actions regarding building in the green belt.
He said: “Local authorities are signalling what their approach is going to be. We know that some are saying ‘let’s cut our housing numbers’, but others are saying ‘no’.
“The question is, are they going to continue with housing numbers based on large, long-term predictions that may not come true, or are they going to take a more measured approach?”
Chris Crean, of West Midlands Friends of the Earth, said: “While the 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?”
Under the regional spatial strategy an extra 57,500 homes were proposed for Birmingham, 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.
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