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Tuesday, October 19, 2021
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There are better places to build


Thank you for highlighting the current issues regarding future housing development in this area. In my opinion, the Hearn Growth Study does not go far enough! Before you hold up your hands in horror, I am speaking geographically.

Hearn was commissioned by 14 local authorities to look only at the Greater Birmingham and Black Country Housing Management Area. This had the unfortunate effect of their proposed sites being mostly within the Green Belt rather than allowing any research into a wider area of greenfield sites beyond.

Sixty years ago, CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), academics, local councils and individuals succeeded in persuading Parliament of the value of designating land around the perimeters of our cities as Green Belt. Without the Green Belt, it has been estimated that housing development for London could have reached as far as Cambridge.

This protection has worked quite effectively and planning permission is regularly refused on “encroachment into Green Belt” grounds. Hearn seeks to drive a coach and horses through this hard-won legislation.

It is important to understand the difference between Green Belt and greenfield sites. The Green Belt is a narrow strip of land around our cities. The whole of Bromsgrove lies within the Birmingham Green Belt and although that area looks wide on a local map, considered nationally it is a tiny strip of protected land on which there must be no building unless the circumstances are exceptional.

I believe that a planning barrister could easily prove that the housing needs of Birmingham are not exceptional and that there are many alternative sites outside the Green Belt.

If we are to ask that planners and developers play by the Green Belt rules, we have to suggest alternative sites for development. In the last two centuries the solution was new towns like Welwyn Garden, Letchworth, Milton Keynes and, more recently, Redditch, all considered successful solutions to overspill.

None of these new towns has become a suburb of either London or Birmingham simply because they were built far enough away from the cities for this to happen.

The problem with Barnt Green, Alvechurch, Hagley and Wythall is precisely that they are too near to Birmingham to prevent their development becoming anything other than suburbs, probably in the next 60 years.

So rather than just say, “not in my Green Belt”, we can provide more than just robust planning objections; we can provide suggestions for alternative locations in North Worcestershire, which has hectare upon hectare of suitable land, not being used for food production, where an exciting, new town for the 21st century can be built.

It will be near road and rail transport links to the cities and its energy-efficient homes and community renewable energy schemes, cycle tracks and footpaths will be popular, while its commercial and industrial areas will contribute to the Worcestershire economy.

There will be room for expansion without eroding a Green Belt and it will be a truly great place to live and work, as the developers say.

Janet King, Blackwell