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Minister’s green belt protection pledge throws 6,000-homes Sutton Coldfield plan into doubt

Minister’s green belt protection pledge throws 6,000-homes Sutton Coldfield plan into doubt

🕔10.Mar 2014

An attempt by Birmingham City Council to approve up to 6,000 new homes in the Sutton Coldfield countryside is in doubt after the Government restated its opposition to green belt development except “in very special circumstances”.

The council has earmarked land at Walmley to deliver a substantial contribution to the 45,000 dwellings it wants to be built in Birmingham by 2031.

The local authority says it has no alternative but to take some green belt land in order to address a housing crisis and satisfy growing unmet need for accommodation.

It would be the first green belt development in Sutton for 20 years and the proposal has sparked widespread anger from local Tory councillors, MP Andrew Mitchell, and countryside campaigners.

But the chances of the proposal in the draft Birmingham Development Plan being approved at a public inquiry took a knock when Planning Minister Nick Boles told MPs that a desire to satisfy unmet housing needs was unlikely to be a good enough reason for the special circumstances required to swallow up green belt land.

In a written statement on March 6, Mr Boles said: “We have carefully considered representations made on the draft practice guidance and feedback from hon. members and noble peers in recent Parliamentary debates.

“I would particularly note that we are re-affirming green belt protection, noting that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development.”

Mr Boles also reconfirmed the Government’s view that local councils are under no obligation to take the housing development ‘overspill’ from neighbouring councils.

His comment may have implications for Birmingham, where council leader Sir Albert Bore is negotiating with Bromsgrove, Redditch, North Warwickshire, the Black Country LEP, South Worcestershire, Lichfield and Stratford in an attempt to identify sufficient land to build 33,000 dwellings.

Sir Albert has pointed to a Strategic Housing Market Assessment which predicts that 80,000 new homes are required between 2011 and 2031 to meet rising demand and address current shortages. With sufficient land for only 45,000 home in Birmingham it is essential to find sites across the city’s borders for 33,000 properties, according to Sir Albert.

Birmingham has been relying on the duty to co-operate rules in the Local Government Act which require neighbouring local authorities to work together in addressing cross-boundary issues such as housing and employment provision.

But Mr Boles said he was amending the duty to co-operate to make it clear that adjoining councils could not become dumping grounds for unmet housing needs.

He said: “We encourage joint working between local authorities, but clarifying that the duty to co-operate is not a duty to accept; we have considered and rejected the proposals of HM opposition to allow councils to undermine green belt protection and dump development on their neighbours’ doorstep.”

He also stressed the importance of bringing brownfield land into use and made it clear that authorities do not have to allocate sites on the basis of providing the maximum possible return for landowners and developers.

Sutton Coldfield Rural Campaign and Beacon Street Area Residents’ Association (BSARA), a member of the Lichfield Alliance have, in light of the ministerial statement, written to Birmingham City Council asking for a statement of clarification covering the following matters:

  • An assessment of the impact on the proposed Plan arising from the ministerial statement and the associated practice guidance, particularly Birmingham’s housing shortfall;
  • To clarify whether the Council stands by its justification regarding the “exceptional circumstances” that  require Green Belt boundaries to be altered; and
  • To quantify in the light of the new practice guidance,  the need to allocate sites in the Birmingham Plan prior to the finalisation of the GBSLEP joint housing study
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