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Birmingham in bold move to grab Sutton Coldfield green belt

Birmingham in bold move to grab Sutton Coldfield green belt

🕔22.Oct 2012

As many as 10,000 new homes may have to be built in the green belt in order to accommodate Birmingham’s rapid population growth over the next two decades.

The city council is seeking views on a Development Plan which identifies 3,484 acres (1,410 hectares) of protected countryside that could be earmarked for housing and major industrial development.

The proposal is likely to place further strain on the often tetchy relationship between Labour-led Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield since the sensitive rural sites suggested for development are all on the northern and north-western borders of the Conservative-controlled Royal Borough.

Environmentalists have fought for decades to protect the green fields of Walmley, Minworth, Langley, Thimble End and Over Green. All of these settlements are identified for possible development in a growth corridor between the Birmingham city boundary and the M6 Toll.

A consultation document released by the council predicts that Birmingham’s population will grow by 150,000 by 2031 – a significantly faster rate than previously expected.

There will be insufficient sites within the city boundary to meet demand and it is inevitable that some development will take place in neighbouring authorities, probably in the green belt.

The document warns: “There are limits to the number of new homes that could be built and sold in a particular location, and based on our knowledge of urban extensions in other parts of the country, a reasonable limit for any new housing on land currently designated green belt in north and north-east Birmingham would be a range of between 5,000 to 10,000 dwellings over the plan period.

“Delivering this  level of housing will in itself be challenging particularly given current market conditions and will mean that completions will have to consistently exceed historic rates over the entire plan period.”

The figures present a “significant challenge for planning the future homes and jobs the city needs if Birmingham is to achieve its ambitions and prosper”, the document states.

It calls for a “positive and proactive approach” to how homes and jobs are planned in a sustainable and deliverable way.

The Birmingham Development Plan will replace the Core Strategy, which envisaged about 50,000 new homes by 2026. The latest projections suggest at least 80,000 homes will be required by 2031, although the figure could top 100,000.

Up to 46,000 dwellings can be built in the urban area, leaving more than 30,000 to be constructed outside of Birmingham. The council is also proposing to increase the scale of new build permitted on each development site, with a minimum density of 40 homes per hectare in the suburbs.

Waheed Nazir, Director of Planning and Regeneration at the council, described the growth forecasts as “challenging” and there were no simple options to deliver the scale of housing and employment growth required to meet demand.

Mr Nazir added: “Higher population growth will generate a need for more jobs. The importance of job creation is also underlined by the impact of the recession on unemployment.

“The latest review of employment land supply reveals that there are gaps in provision, in particular a lack of sites which would be suitable for large manufacturing investment projects and uncertainties over the adequacy of the longer-term supply.

“It is important to note that Birmingham’s employment sites are almost all on recycled land, and that there is very little opportunity to create ‘new’ employment land within the built-up area of the city.”

A trawl by planners of all green belt adjoining Birmingham ruled out sites to the south, east and west of the city on the basis of “significant environmental constraints”.

Mr Nazir stressed there was no intention to develop all of the green belt identified in and around Sutton. The purpose of the consultation document was to seek opinions on the merits of different potential development options.

However, Mr Nazir warned: “It should be noted that even if a green belt development option is selected, it remains unlikely that all of Birmingham’s projected housing requirement can be accommodated within the city boundary.

“The council is therefore working within established partnership arrangements and in particular the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership to ensure that the potential need for housing provision in adjoining areas to meet Birmingham requirements is considered as part of

the planning process in those areas.”

The proposals prompted a guarded response from the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, which welcomed the council’s “careful consideration” of where to build new homes, but urged planners to concentrate on areas of poor environmental quality.

WTBBC chief executive Neil Wyatt said: “It is essential that Birmingham gets the new homes it needs, but they must be built in the right places. They must create sustainable, quality places for people to live and safeguard wildlife and green spaces.

“We hope the Development Plan will look at opportunities to build on currently derelict areas of low environmental quality – as exemplified by the recently approved Icknield Port Loop development. The Wildlife Trust is committed to standing up to protect local wildlife sites, and we will make every effort to ensure that when the Development Plan is adopted it will contain proposals that bring a net benefit to the city’s people and wildlife.”

The council consultation document sets out a number of objectives:

  • To develop Birmingham as a city of sustainable neighbourhoods that are safe, diverse and inclusive with a locally distinctive character.
  • To make provision for a significant increase in the city’s population.
  • To create a prosperous, successful and enterprising economy with benefits felt by all.
  • To promote Birmingham’s national and international role.
  • To provide high quality connections throughout the city and with other places and encourage the increased use of public transport, walking and cycling.
  • To create a more sustainable city that minimises its carbon footprint and waste while allowing the city to grow.
  • To strengthen Birmingham as a learning city with quality institutions.
  • To encourage better health and wellbeing through the provision of new and existing recreation and leisure facilities linked to good quality public open space.
  • To protect and enhance the city’s heritage and historic environments.
  • To conserve Birmingham’s natural environments, allowing biodiversity and wildlife to flourish.

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