Tories fight to save ‘green oases’ as Labour targets parks for house building
John Clancy, the leader of Birmingham city council, has made house building a priority.
He has cross-party backing for a pledge to build thousands of new dwellings each year with funding for the ambitious scheme to be provided by local government pension funds and by issuing ‘Brummie Bonds’.
Or perhaps that should be he has cross-party backing for house building in theory.
For as Cllr Clancy will know from his time as a member of the city planning committee, there is rarely any such thing as an uncontroversial site when it comes to deciding where to build new homes.
Opposition Conservative councillors, as might be expected, are opposing plans to build up to 5,000 homes on the green belt in their Sutton Coldfield heartland, arguing that there is plenty of vacant ‘brownfield’ land in Birmingham suitable for housing.
Proposals to develop farm land on the Birmingham-Worcestershire border to the south-west of the city have similarly provoked local protests.
The Tories are also opposing a proposal put forward by Cllr Clancy in the council’s 2016-17 spending plans to address the housing shortage by building on under-used parks. He wants to transfer up to eight acres of what is described as “unwanted” land to the housing department for each of the next four years.
The land would be sold for housing, netting the council £800,000 by 2019-20, and the scheme could see as many as 550 new homes built over the next four years.
This would be but a tiny contribution to the 80,000 dwellings the council says it needs to build by 2030 to keep pace with demand. There is sufficient vacant land in the city for about 50,000 properties and the council is desperate to identify additional sites.
Any proposal to develop recreational land is likely to attract opposition from local communities, and there may be tough decisions ahead for Labour councillors representing constituents as well as Tories.
The 2016-17 council budget book talks about disposing of “unwanted or underused” land owned by the Parks Service, but it does not specify any criteria for determining unwanted or underused.
Conservative group leader Cllr Robert Alden will move an amendment at next week’s city council budget meeting in an attempt to block house building on council-owned parks.
He claims the £200,000 a year to be raised through disposing of park land could be achieved through “a small reduction” in the council’s communications budget.
Cllr Alden said:
Many of parks have been gifted to the city to be enjoyed by residents forever more, not so that the council can build on them.
The reality is most wards in Birmingham already have less green space per a resident than there is meant to be. Now the council is planning 50,000 additional houses, including 6,000 on the Greenbelt, we will need these green oases within the city now more than ever as the population grows.
Cllr Alden, who made his political name as something of an environmentalist, added:
As well providing families without access to gardens somewhere safe for their children to play and also provide a significant environmental benefit. Parks provide valuable habitats for plants and wildlife and remove pollution from the atmosphere.
Indeed, studies estimate every acre of parkland removes 80 pounds of pollutants from the air we all breathe across the city. Parks truly are a green lung that help keep residents healthy.
Making it clear that the Tories regard building homes on parks as a political matter, Cllr Alden added: “Going into the local elections in May residents will have a clear choice, vote Conservative to save our parks or vote Labour to start building over them.”
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