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 political pressure from Brandhall Green Space Action Group, who wished to keep the green space as undeveloped as possible and a public consultation, which showed 83 per cent of individuals objected to the plans, had forced the local authority to reconsider.
Councillors voted in July to build 190 homes on the former golf course, before it was called into a special scrutiny meeting by one of their own councillors.
But last month, at the outcome of the scrutiny meeting, councillor Peter Hughes, cabinet member for regeneration and growth said some crucial pieces of information “may have not been available” to decision makers at the time.
A special meeting for Sandwell council to explain its position will take place this month.
In a letter seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, John Spellar, MP for Warley, had written to an Oldbury resident this month about concerns related to traffic.
It is the second time he has raised concerns over the site. Last year, he queried whether it was an “appropriate site” for both housing and a new school.
The letter stated: “As you will be aware the council have amended their plan considerably to reduce the number of houses proposed and green space. The matter has now been referred back to the council cabinet for further consideration.
“I have written to the council leader pointing out concerns about traffic generation, particularly with the proposed school site, but also with regard to the underlying geology of the site, and the extent to which it is prone to flooding, and they need therefore for the sizeable underpinning for housing, all of which may have an impact on surrounding properties.
“I am hoping they will take this into serious consideration.”
Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE DL asked Kerrie Carmichael, leader of Sandwell council, what action the Labour-led local authority will take to protect the Black Country urban forest.
The forest was created for Sandwell residents at the turn of the millennium by the Millennium Commission, a public body set up with funding raised through the UK National Lottery to celebrate the turn of the new century with grants for community projects.
She said: “A deed of dedication between Sandwell council and the Millennium Commission was also presented to me, highlighting an agreement to preserve the Urban Forest, which was created for the benefit of your electorate around the turn of the Millennium.
“Whilst I no longer hold the position of Commissioner with the Millennium Commission, I would like to understand what plans you have in place to protect the world carried out using government and charitable resources, which were intended to provide benefits for generations to come, in a community already deprived of green space?”
Both letters came after councillors considered five different options at a cabinet meeting in July over the future of Brandhall golf course. 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”.
Brandhall golf course was once run by Sandwell council. It closed in May 2020 after the council said it was spending £275,000 a year subsiding the green space.
Documents show the sale of Brandhall golf course is estimated to be £3 million. A community infrastructure levy and a capital grant from the Department of Education, will boost the sale to a total of £10 million.
Ian Bennett, chair of Brandhall Green Space Action Group, said: “As we have consistently pointed out, Sandwell council have ignored and downplayed the Deed of Dedication that was signed between themselves and the Millennium Commission, so it is particularly encouraging that the former Commissioner is prepared to challenge Sandwell council.
“The second intervention is a letter that we have received from Right Honourable John Speller MP for Warley. Disappointingly, his intervention falls far short of actually holding the council to account. He makes absolutely no mention of the fact to the cabinet approved development plans for a Brandhall on the basis of flawed and inaccurate information.
“As a mark of respect, during this official period of national morning, the action group have decided to suspend our campaigning activities. Rest assured though, as soon as this period is over, we will be back on the case, proactively holding Sandwell to account.”
Kerrie Carmichael, leader of Sandwell council, said she had responded to Baroness Benajmin’s letter. She told the LDRS the council has a “duty to consider and balance competing priorities for the area”, including affordable homes and schools.
She said: “The public consultation influenced our latest proposals for the former Brandhall Golf course site. This is shown in our plans for around 190 homes – significantly fewer than the 550 proposed as part of last year’s consultation – and around 70 per cent of the site becoming a large, brand-new, high-quality park.
“Currently, the site is not managed or maintained as a publicly accessible park, so we will now be able to make the green space at Brandhall much more accessible for all of the local community to use and enjoy.
“We have also approved the designation of the majority of the site as a site of local importance for nature conservation, which will give greater protection to the ecology of this space.
“The Deed of Dedication dated July 1997 only affects part of the Brandhall site and we will be consulting with relevant organisations for the Millennium Forest to agree replacement areas for tree planting, which is permitted under the deed after 25 years.
“Any tree planting lost as part of the building elements of the scheme will be replaced on site and plans will be developed in detail to demonstrate how habitats will be improved and new habitats created wherever possible.”