Decision to build on former golf course may have been approved with 'incomplete' information, councillor says

A senior Sandwell councillor has said the decision to build on the former Brandhall golf course may have been approved with “incomplete” information.

Brandhall protestors and councillor Jay Anandou, outside Sandwell council house. Photo: Jay Anandou
Brandhall protestors and councillor Jay Anandou, outside Sandwell council house. Photo: Jay Anandou

Last month, councillors backed plans to turn the green space into a 190-home development despite a fierce campaign by residents.

More than 50 people demonstrated outside Sandwell Council’s chambers and the decision was made before a packed public-gallery.

But in a short follow-up meeting, a senior councillor conceded that some crucial pieces of information had not been available to decision makers at the time.

Peter Hughes, the cabinet member for regeneration and growth, said: “The [budget and corporate scrutiny board] have identified three primary issues where they’ve expressed the view that the information available to cabinet in making the decision to approve may have been incomplete.

“They are as followed, the strategic housing land availability assessment. Secondly, whether sites such as Cakemore playing fields have been fully explored as an alternative site for the replacement of Causeway Green primary school. Lastly, an explanation as to how the views of local residents have been evaluated and weighted  in reaching on the preferred option.”

A special budget and corporate scrutiny meeting will take place in September to report on the issues identified.

It is understood members of Brandhall Green Space Action Group, who have campaigned to preserve the green space, tried to attend today’s public meeting but were unable to as the public entrance was “locked and unmanned”.

Councillor Hughes said any further financial analysis for the former golf course development, which would also include a school and public park, will be presented in the next meeting.

He concluded: “I’d welcome the view from the board that the differences of view and opinion are not insurmountable. I’ll be asking cabinet this afternoon to receive the findings of the budget and corporate management scrutiny board.

“I also think it’s important the cabinet, in responding to the findings highlighted by the scrutiny board, are afforded the opportunity to comprehensively put forward his rationale and a comprehensive explanation of the information available to cabinet in reaching each informed decision, and also to clarify any procedural or process aspects.”

The news comes after a five-hour council meeting last week examined the decision-making process behind the future use of the former golf course. A Labour councillor, Ellen Fenton, called for the decision to be scrutinised in a special meeting.

Sandwell council had intended to build 550 houses, a new public park, and a new school at the former Brandall golf course, in Oldbury – dubbed the Brandhall Village. But campaigners and a public consultation, which showed 83 per cent of individuals objected to the plans, had forced the local authority to reconsider.

Councillors considered five different options at a cabinet meeting in July. After a lengthy debate, members voted on option three – to build 190 new houses, a school to replace the ageing Causeway Green primary school, and develop a 26-hectare park. They also approved the majority of the site as a zone for nature conservation.

Meanwhile, leaked documents authored by Sandwell council also factored in a judicial review as a likely risk to the council if the development went ahead, including “reputational impact for the council”.

Senior councillors were invited to view the former Brandhall golf course before the crucial July meeting.

Ian Bennett, chair of BGSAG, said: “We welcome the decision to defer a final decision on the future a Brandhall green space pending further investigations into the areas of concern that we raised with the council.

“These were that the council had failed to assess the site properly as per their own methodology, that they had failed to consider alternative sites for the rebuilding of Causeway Green school, in particular the playing fields and the Grafton Lodge site, and that they had not fully taken into consideration the views of local residents.

“From the very start of this process, all that local residents have asked for is that Brandhall green space be fairly & equitably assessed by the council. Hopefully this will now take place.

“We look forward to reading the additional reports that cabinet have requested from Sandwell council officers, ahead of the next meeting in September.”

Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Hughes commented: “Cabinet recognise that there are a number of important issues raised at the Scrutiny Call In meeting on the 8 August. It is entirely right that proper consideration is given to these issues  and that is why I have asked for a further report to be considered at a Cabinet meeting in September. As this is such an important and complex issue that engages some of the key statutory duties of the local authority, I want this dealt with in an open and clear process”

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