Arguments for and against the 445,000 new homes that the government would like to see built in the West Midlands by 2026 have been well rehearsed over the past year.
As far as Ministers are concerned, local authorities across the country must be coerced into addressing the housing shortage with a dash for growth that will surpass anything seen since the late 1950s.
Council leaders and environmental groups have responded by warning that a target of the size suggested for the West Midlands is bound to result in unwanted development of greenfield and green belt sites. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that the limited number of brownfield sites in towns and cities cannot deliver enough space to meet the 445,000 figure, and the second is that if developers are given half a chance they are likely to cherry-pick lucrative rural locations rather than land in major urban areas.
The battle lines are, therefore, drawn for the public inquiry into the Regional Spatial Strategy which begins in Wolverhampton today.
The region’s councils believe they have a good case, on practical terms if nothing else. The figure for new-build they are suggesting, 365,000 homes, is half as much again as the target in the existing spatial strategy. This gives a measure of the entirely unrealistic position the government now finds itself in; demanding more and more housing from the private sector just when the economy is likely to be stagnant for the next two years.
Underlying the inquiry, unfortunately, is a belief held by most council leaders that the government will ultimately get the targets it wants, even if they are unachievable.