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Why everyone needs good neighbours….

Why everyone needs good neighbours….

🕔29.Oct 2012

Birmingham’s neighbouring local authorities are working with business leaders in an attempt to identify enough land outside of the city boundary to build 27,000 new homes.

A spatial strategy mapping out proposed development up to 2031, matching dwellings with job creation, is being developed by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and will form a key part of a housing submission to the Government.

The LEP’s involvement emerged as political parties traded the first verbal blows in what seems certain to be a long and bitter battle to save the Birmingham green belt.

A draft version of the Birmingham Development Plan suggests that between 80,000 and 100,000 new homes will have to be built over the next 19 years to cope with rapid population growth.

The council has identified 3,484 acres (1,410 hectares) of green belt that could be earmarked for housing and major industrial development, although it will not be necessary to use all of the land.

A consultation document released by the council predicts that the number of people living in Birmingham will rise by 150,000 by 2031 – a significantly faster rate than previously expected.

Labour city council leaders insist that Birmingham has space for about 53,000 dwellings, most to be built on formerly developed brownfield sites but with 10,000 earmarked for green belt land in Sutton Coldfield. The remainder – 27,000 – will have to be built on largely green field sites across the city boundary in Bromsgrove, Redditch, Lichfield and Solihull.

Finding sufficient space for the 27,000 cross-boundary homes may not be difficult, but reaching agreement with the leaders of Birmingham’s neighbouring local authorities could be tricky.

The LEP members other than Birmingham  – Bromsgrove, Cannock Chase, East Staffordshire, Lichfield, Redditch, Solihull, Tamworth and Wyre Forest – represent the battleground over which the now defunct West Midlands Spatial Strategy was fought.

The councils, largely Conservative controlled, spent two years opposing housing development on the very green field locations now firmly in Birmingham’s sights.

One of the first decisions of the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010 was to abolish regional spatial strategies, leaving it to local councils to come forward with development plans based on consultation.

Conservatives used a Birmingham cabinet meeting to attack the “unrealistically short” eight week consultation period for the draft development plan strategy, claiming that interested parties would not have enough time over Christmas to make submissions.

Deputy Tory group leader Robert Alden said the council would have to “take people with it” if enough sites for such a huge housing boost were to be identified quickly. He added: “People will be far more inclined to support development if they deem it compatible with their local area.

“We need serious consultation involving local communities putting forward what they want for their area. If we end up with communities fighting the council tooth and nail, none of this housing will be built in 25 years.”

Former council leader Mike Whitby, now leader of the opposition Conservative group, called for Birmingham to adopt a Chicago-type strategy, with a zone of 70-storey tower blocks in the city centre. Soaring apartment blocks would make an “appropriate silhouette for a global city”, he claimed.

Liberal Democrat group leader Paul Tilsley believed the development plan should make provision for the “aspirational classes” of university graduates who often left Birmingham because they city did not have enough large detached houses for sale. Too many people were “moving down the M5 to Bromsgrove” because they could not find suitable accommodation in Birmingham, he claimed.

The Birmingham cabinet member for Development, Jobs and Skills, Tahir Ali, said projections for a rapid rise in the city’s population meant that difficult decisions about housing sites would have to be taken. Coun Ali (Lab Nechells) added: “We need more than 80,000 homes. How can we not consider the green belt?”

He confirmed that the LEP would also look for a 50 hectare site suitable for industrial development and attractive to a major employer. Birmingham had lost out in the past because the city could not offer a large enough parcel of land to prospective inward investors, he added.

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