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Mr Dale’s diary: Builders eyeing green belt development, shock

Mr Dale’s diary: Builders eyeing green belt development, shock

🕔17.Oct 2012

And the latest from the Is the Pope a Catholic genre: Developers were asked where in Birmingham they would like to build houses, and lots of them said ‘on that rather nice, leafy meadow, thanks’.

No, you don’t say. Builders are rejecting polluted, expensive-to-clean, brownfield, former industrial land in favour of the leafy lanes on Birmingham’s borders with Worcestershire and Warwickshire.

It was ever thus, as the city council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment proves. This statutory document drawn up to guide the Government on future development plans involved asking land owners and developers for their views on the best sites for new build.

As a result, 580 hectares of green belt covering 17 separate areas were identified. That’s an impressive 1,433 acres in old money. And 54 hectares (133 acres) were across the city boundary in Bromsgrove.

This document has unsurprisingly created a good deal of wrath among the council’s opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups. They have jumped on the Labour-led authority’s proposal to increase the target for house building in Birmingham from 55,000 to 70,000 by 2026.

Lib Dem councillor David Radcliffe has worked out that all that green belt development would result in 26,700 new homes being built, providing accommodation for an estimated 66,750 people. That’s pretty much the equivalent of an entire new town, then.

Radcliffe wants to know what arrangements are being put in place for the schools, health centres, shops, community facilities and other infrastructure required by such a sizeable population growth.

A good question, you might think. But council leader Sir Albert Bore was having none of it.

He pointed out that the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment is merely a “technical” document and does not actually allocate land for development. Well, yes, but since Sir Albert has already warned that part of the 70,000 housing target will have to be built on the green belt you might suppose that the land availability assessment is on the right track.

On the matter of all those schools, hospitals, roads and shops, Sir Albert commented in magisterial civil service-speak: “When planning for future growth that is on a large scale, assessments would need to be undertaken of the needs for supporting infrastructure in considering the opportunity for development to ensure that it is delivered in the most sustainable way.”

Yes, Minister.


FOLLOWERS of Twitter may have noticed an increase lately in dire warnings from left-wing contributors of yet more ‘savage’ spending cuts planned for Birmingham City Council.

Stockland Green Labour councillor Penny Holbrook confessed she was finding it difficult to sleep for worrying about the awful decisions that she and her colleagues will have to make.

She is right to be concerned. Chamberlain Files understands that the target for Government-imposed budget cuts is likely to rise by £200 million, to £600 million by 2015. Consultation on how the council might deal with this is likely to begin within weeks, leading to savings being identified when the 2013-14 budget is approved in February.

It seems inevitable, though, that the council’s discretionary spending – where there is a choice about whether or not to provide services – will bear the brunt of the cutbacks. We can expect much gnashing of teeth over reduced spending in the arts, culture, sport, museums and libraries.

The cabinet member for a green, safe and smart city, James McKay, was asked by Tory Deirdre Alden at this week’s full council meeting whether rumours that householders were to be charged for bulky refuse collections were true.

Cllr McKay replied: “We will be bringing forward budget proposals in due course.

“We will have to take some incredibly tough decisions over the next few years, and the people of this city have elected us to take them.”

We’ll take that as a yes, then.


IAN CRUISE, the combative Labour chairman of the economy and jobs scrutiny committee, isn’t known for hiding his opinions.

So when asked by a Conservative councillor for his opinion on council leader Sir Albert Bore’s suggestion that hosting party conferences in Birmingham is a waste of money, he was ready with a pithy reply.

No, Coun Cruise does not accept his leader’s view. Furthermore, he believes it is important for the city’s future prosperity that such gatherings continue to be staged at the ICC.

Cruise added, possibly in jest, that he would probably be “taken into the chief whip’s office” for a dressing down as a result of his admission.

I can report that the dressing down did indeed take place very quickly after Cruise delivered his comments at the full council meeting. But not in the confines of chief whip Mike Leddy’s office. A sharp exchange between the two took place in the tea room, in full view of colleagues.

Ian Cruise is now a fully paid up member of the awkward squad.


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