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Commission to consider green belt ‘costs and benefits’ in effort to unlock housing sites

Commission to consider green belt ‘costs and benefits’ in effort to unlock housing sites

🕔08.Sep 2016

A high-powered body set up to investigate how more sites for housing and employment use can be released across the West Midlands will consider the costs and benefits of green belt land while drawing up its recommendations.

The West Midlands Land Commission will also examine the viability of building on brownfield sites, which is the Government’s preferred option for new homes and industry.

The commission has been set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority to provide independent advice about the best way to secure an improved supply of land to meet targets for economic growth, new jobs and housing.

Its main task will be to help the region’s councils succeed where they have failed in the past – to work together to identify developable land and, crucially, to secure planning permission.

Identifying enough land is considered crucial for the WMCA to meet future housing demand and deliver its Strategic Economic Plan which aims to attract an extra 20,000 businesses to the region by 2030 along with 500,000 new jobs.

While no firm regional target for house building exists, estimates for the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils of more than 200,000 have been put forward in the past. Birmingham alone says it needs to build 80,000 new homes over the next 15 years to meet demand.

Most of the councils have warned that some green belt development is inevitable if sufficient land for housing and employment is to be released. Birmingham city council has recently succeeded in obtaining Government approval for housing and industrial development on the Sutton Coldfield green belt.

In an effort to see off suggestions that the inquiry is little more than a paper exercise WMCA has selected a group of highly regarded experts from the property world.

The commission is led by Paul Marcuse, chairman of the RICS management board.

Other members include Jerome Frost, former Head of Design & Regeneration for the Olympic Delivery Authority, Bruce Mann, executive director of the Cabinet Office’s Government Property Unit, Bill Oliver, retiring chief executive of St Modwen Properties, and Bridget Rosewell, a member of the National Infrastructure Commission.

The establishment of the WMLC comes as the combined authority seeks to develop an extra 1,600 hectares of former industrial sites, or brownfield land, for commercial use over the coming decade.

Cllr Sean Coughlan, WMCA lead for housing and land and leader of Walsall Council, said: “We can’t make any more land and that means we need to make the very best use of the land we have.

The WMLC will provide an opportunity to consider the many aspects which affect the supply and usage of land across the West Midlands.

That’s important because we need land to meet the anticipated growth in residential and commercial development which in turn will help drive the economy, meet future housing needs and ultimately improve people’s quality of life.

Mr Marcuse today released a ‘Call for Evidence’ asking developers, housebuilders, construction companies, real estate and infrastructure investors, landowners, employers and occupiers, academic institutions, LEPs, local authorities, and other public sector bodies for their views on land supply.

He said the commission was seeking evidence on a number of lines of enquiry which were designed to consider the challenges in developing land, identifying blockages in the system and to recommend measures which could be implemented to secure a sufficient supply of land for development.

WMLC is being established at a time of unprecedented opportunity for the region.

A combination of the recent establishment of the WMCA and its devolution deal with Government and the very significant infrastructure investment being made in the region provides a singular opportunity to review the wealth of complex issues affecting the supply of land.

Today’s launch of the WMLC is seen as a key element of the combined authority’s devolution deal with Government.

That deal, which saw the first £36.5 million annual payment given to the combined authority last month, will drive an £8 billion investment package aimed at improving productivity and skills, delivering new transport infrastructure and homes and increasing the general prosperity of the region’s four million people.

But with land supply for employment and residential use already constraining economic growth there are concerns that a lack of land for development could hamper the combined authority’s ability to deliver its Strategic Economic Plan.

While the West Midlands metro mayor, to be elected next May, will assume some responsibilities of the Homes and Communities Agency, the mayor will not be able to use compulsory purchase orders on development sites for housing and employment and will have to rely on councils to do so.

The Commission plans to hold three oral evidence hearings focusing on key areas:

  • What are the challenges associated with delivering the employment land and housing targets set out in the WMCA SEP?
  • What are the blockages to the delivery of developable land across the West Midlands?
  • How can a sufficient supply of developable land in the West Midlands be secured?

Submissions of evidence have been invited on the viability of development on brownfield land, the costs and benefits of green belt land, the impact and operation of the statutory planning system on the West Midlands developable land supply and whether there is a need for greater strategic economic and spatial planning across the West Midlands.

Evidence will also be sought on the role of infrastructure in linking sites for housing and employment use, examples of effective collaboration between public and private sector partners in delivering new development and how to make greater use of the public estate to increase the supply of developable land.

Submissions of evidence should be emailed to WMLand@metrodynamics.co.uk. The closing date for receipt of written evidence is 30 September 2016.

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