House building rates in the West Midlands will have to more than triple for Birmingham to reach an ambitious target to deliver 70,000 new homes by 2026, and some development on green belt land is highly likely, it has been confirmed.
A projected figure for new-build of 3,500 dwellings a year is required to address a worsening housing shortage, according to planning experts. It would require construction at a rate rarely seen in the private sector since the post-war boom of the late 1950s.
Fewer than 1,000 homes a year have been built in recession-hit Birmingham during the past three years, while the average since 2004 is less than 2,000 new dwellings a year, according to the city council.
Birmingham Council leader Sir Albert Bore has set a provisional target of 70,000 new homes based on the latest research into population growth and likely demand for housing over the next 15 years.
However, there is only sufficient vacant land inside the city boundary to provide for about 43,000 new dwellings, leaving Birmingham with the tough challenge of persuading neighbouring councils in Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Solihull to accommodate some of the overspill.
Birmingham Council cabinet member for Development, Jobs and Skills, Tahir Ali, became the first member of the new Labour administration to admit publicly that the house building programme would probably involve building in the green belt when he told a full council meeting that incursion into the countryside “cannot be ruled out”.
Coun Ali added: “Such a proposal would be subject to widespread public consultation and would only be put forward if it was clear there were no alternative options.”
He hinted that the council might seek to re-draw the green belt boundary around Birmingham, which had hardly changed for 50 years. Provisions in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allowing for changes to the green belt “where exceptional circumstances exist” could be invoked, Coun Ali added.
The NPPF requires the council to assess and meet the full extent of housing need using up to date projections of future demand. Research being conducted at the moment by local authority planners will be published later in the year.
The council’s former Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition agreed to plan for about 50,000 new homes by 2026 under the Labour Government’s Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) provisions. But the RSS has been abolished leaving councils free to decide housing targets.
Research presented at a public inquiry into the RSS showed that a target in excess of 60,000 new homes for Birmingham would involve building in the green belt. The inquiry also heard claims from house building organisations that the private sector was highly unlikely to be able to deliver as many as 500,000 new homes in the West Midlands by 2026.
The city council’s new Labour leadership is making it clear that house building must be a priority.
A resolution proposed by Coun Ali and seconded by deputy council leader Ian Ward accused the former Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition of “wilfully ignoring” housing need in Birmingham, and pointed out that a much-publicised policy by the coalition to build council houses delivered only 406 new homes in eight years.
The resolution stated: “New housing is needed to provide homes for the people of Birmingham. It is also needed to support the economic growth of the city.
“Without additional housing, the economic prospects of the city will be damaged, as will the life prospects of those unable to get a home for themselves and their families.”
- Projections for future demand in Birmingham coincide with a National Audit Office report showing that a Government drive to provide more social housing has seriously stalled. Nearly a fifth of contracts with providers to build affordable homes are not yet signed and more than half the dwellings will not be delivered until 2015, the final year of the programme.