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‘We’re not nimbys’, insists MP leading fight to save green belt

‘We’re not nimbys’, insists MP leading fight to save green belt

🕔11.Nov 2014

A public inquiry that could decide the future of the West Midlands green belt has reached its mid-way stage, not that anyone would notice from the scant media attention paid to the Independent Examination of the Birmingham Development Plan. Recommendations from Planning Inspector Roger Clews could have far-reaching implications for the countryside, writes Paul Dale.

Andrew Mitchell, Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield, or the ‘Royal Town’ as he likes to refer to his patch, wished to make one thing absolutely clear: “My constituents are not Nimbys.”

Sutton people “absolutely accept” that more housing is required to meet demand and address a shortage, but the “desecration” of the “much loved” Sutton green belt ought to be a final resort and only considered when all brownfield sites in Birmingham have been built on, Mr Mitchell claimed.

The man in charge of the public examination, planning inspector Roger Clews, will be familiar with such arguments for they occur up and down the country whenever and wherever the green belt is threatened.

It will be Mr Clews’ task to decide on the robustness of Birmingham city council’s Development Plan, which proposes 84,000 new homes by 2031 – up to 6,000 in the Sutton Coldfield green belt.

City planners claim there is only space in Birmingham itself for 51,000 new homes, leaving 23,000 to be built across the boundary in Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. This strategy, if approved, will result in the first major encroachment into the green belt for more than 20 years.

Mr Mitchell is putting his faith in the Localism Act, which makes it clear that the views of local communities about development plans must be given due weight.

The MP said the overwhelming view of Sutton people was that green belt development is not necessary and proposals for 6,000 homes ought to be delayed for up to 10 years while Birmingham concentrated on developing brownfield sites.

There are also fears about the pressure large scale housing development and consequent growth in the Sutton population would place on roads, schools and health facilities.

Mr Mitchell told the inquiry: “The whole of Sutton is adamantly opposed to these proposals and we are bolstered by the knowledge that the spirit of localism in legislation gives considerable weight to the views of local people.

“There have been 6,000 letters of objection and three huge public meetings attended by over 1,000 people. There is very strong concern about these proposals.

“My constituents absolutely accept the need to build more homes. The nature of society over the past 30 years means that family units are smaller and there is a requirement for more homes.

“This is not a nimby exercise. There will be extra strain on schools and doctors’ facilities and parking. The developers make their money and ride out of town and we are left with what they have left behind. We are an ancient royal town with 1,000 years of history and we are extremely concerned about what will fundamentally change in our town.”

Mr Mitchell accused Birmingham city council of poor consultation and under-estimating the number of homes that could be built on previously developed brownfield sites.

“Important evidence documents were missing during the consultation. Birmingham city council chose to use the minimum consultation to the scale of the development planned.

“There was no real intent to engage with the community. Birmingham city council has not taken on board that since 2012 planning is about allowing people and communities back into planning. That was the intention of parliament.”

Mr Mitchell added: “We believe building on green belt sites to be absolutely the last and final resort. The Government has made clear that this is the case. We want to see the building that undoubtedly requires taking place inside Birmingham city.

“A large number of development sites are available and some 40,000 to 50,000 homes could be provided. There are huge opportunities for creative thinking about how this could be done.”

A proposal to take 80 hectares of green belt land at Peddimore for industrial development would lead to the “absolute desecration of the rolling hillside much valued by the people of Sutton”, the MP claimed.

*The independent examination of the Birmingham Development Plan is taking place at Aston University. Hearings resume on November 19 and continue until November 27.

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