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Green belt under threat by WMCA’s ‘growth at all costs’ plan, campaigners claim

Green belt under threat by WMCA’s ‘growth at all costs’ plan, campaigners claim

🕔26.Sep 2016

Council leaders have been accused of pursuing a “growth at all costs” policy that could result in significant housing and industrial development on green belt land across the West Midlands.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) hit out at the newly formed West Midlands Combined Authority which it accused of being prepared to “ride roughshod over the countryside”.

The combined authority, consisting of the seven metropolitan West Midlands councils as well as some surrounding shire counties and districts and local enterprise partnerships, appointed a Land Commission to investigate how more sites for housing and industry can be released across the region.

Commission chair Paul Marcuse issued a ‘Call for Evidence’ asking developers, housebuilders, construction companies, real estate and infrastructure investors, landowners, employers and occupiers, academic institutions, LEPs, local authorities, and other public sector bodies for their views on land supply.

Part of the commission’s remit is to consider the “cost and benefits” of green belt land.

WMCA insists identifying enough land is crucial to meet future housing demand and deliver its Strategic Economic Plan which aims to attract an extra 20,000 businesses to the region by 2030 along with 500,000 new jobs.

While no firm regional target for house building exists, estimates for the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils of more than 200,000 have been put forward in the past. Birmingham alone says it needs to build 80,000 new homes over the next 15 years to meet demand.

But the CPRE has accused council leaders of using over-blown economic growth projections “well beyond the Government’s forecast national growth” and of failing to consult properly about their house building and industrial development plans for Greater Birmingham, the Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire.

CPRE said the land commission reflected a “growth at all costs” approach that regarded the green belt and areas of high quality landscape as barriers to development rather than valuable in their own right.

The Strategic Economic Plan had been drawn up by an organisation with a vested interest in growth, without any consultation with wider interests or the general public and could not be relied upon to provide a balanced view of how the West Midlands should develop, according to the CPRE.

WMCA chief executive Martin Reeves said it was wrong to suggest the commission was “going after particular bits of land” and there were no plans to target the green belt.

Mr Reeves said he would not apologise for WMCA’s Strategic Economic Plan which set out “an aspirational 15-year look at how we want to grow the economy”.

The future use of green belt land would continue “rightly to sit under the ambit of individual councils”, Mr Reeves added.

A CPRE spokesperson said:

The West Midlands Combined Authority is concerned that the delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan will be constrained by a lack of land for development, but they provide no evidence to support this.

On the contrary, available evidence suggests that rates of development are much more heavily influenced by the rate at which firms expand and by the willingness of housing developers to build and market houses on land already available than by the availability of land.

The Commission’s Call for Evidence makes scant reference to the environment and conservation issues, though it does refer ominously to ‘the costs and benefits of green belt land’.

West Midlands CPRE spokesman Mark Sullivan said:

This one-sided approach threatens to become a charter for unrestricted economic and housing development, riding roughshod over the countryside and the environment generally.

The danger is that these proposals will flow through into local plans, and that by the time people start to object it will be too late to stop this juggernaut. All those who care about the quality of the West Midlands environment must make a firm stand now before it is too late.

Mr Sullivan added that WMCA’s three-week consultation period to give evidence to the commission was too short and should be doubled to six weeks.

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