Homes can be built without touching green belt, say campaigners

The number of new homes planned for green belt land in the Black Country and Staffordshire could be cut by thousands if the focus is shifted towards building in town and city centres, campaigners said today.

Mayor Andy Street, right, with MP Stuart Anderson at the under-threat Seven Cornfields site
Mayor Andy Street, right, with MP Stuart Anderson at the under-threat Seven Cornfields site

Planning bosses have said 27,000 homes will need to be built on the region's green belt over the next 16 years in order to meet growing demand.

But the claims have been rubbished by green belt campaigners who say smarter planning could massively reduce the impact on the countryside. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has vowed to do all he can to protect the green belt, and has backed town and city centre development.

The West Midlands branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has tabled an alternative strategy for house building over the next two decades and insist it is possible to provide the necessary housing without destroying the green belt.

Some 70,000 homes are needed by 2038 but members say latest Government statistics present a more "realistic" level of housing need, which could potentially bring the number down by 17,000. Creating more residential developments and increasing the number of homes on approved development sites could cut the total by a further 5,000-10,000 and "drastically reduce the requirement for green belt development".

Their views have been supported by Mayor Andy Street, who has been one of the leading rebels against countryside development in the West Midlands.

Council planners say it is inevitable some green belt land will be lost but Mr Street insists enough homes can be built without touching the countryside, and has spearheaded a "brownfield first" policy, targeting previously developed sites, such as derelict factories and other employment sites. He has dismissed building on the green belt as the "easy option".

Mary Booth, chair of CPRE Staffordshire, said: "There are a number of areas of green belt in Staffordshire under threat of housing development around the West Midlands conurbation, in South Staffordshire, Lichfield and the Cannock Chase districts.

"CPRE Staffordshire is pleased that CPRE West Midlands has commissioned and published this report and we thoroughly endorse the use of brownfield sites for housing development."

Dr. Peter King, Chair of CPRE Worcestershire, said: “Green belt is a precious resource. We should not allow development to encroach upon it, save as a last resort when there is no alternative.

"This means that we should not plan to build houses beyond what is actually needed. The report just published by CPRE WM shows that the number is rather lower than the four Black Country boroughs were planning. Green Belt should only be released for development when previously developed brownfield land is exhausted."

Seven Cornfields in Penn, Wolverhampton, and Foxcote Farm in Wollescote, Stourbridge, are among high-profile green belt sites currently at risk from developers.

Another 26 green belt sites were classed as "low harm" in a recent green belt study, suggesting they could potentially be let go for housing.

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