Express & Star

Homes plan for M5 green buffer thrown out over cancer risk from pollution

A move to build 60 homes on green space next to the M5 has been turned down over fears that toxic pollution could cause cancer for future residents.

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The proposed layout of a 60-home plan next to the M5 in Oldbury

Sandwell Council’s planning committee rejected the application to build the mix of flats and homes on a much-loved ‘wildlife corridor’ off Titord Road, next to the Asda supermarket and the M5 in Oldbury.

The plan was rejected over fears that future residents would be subject to toxic pollution from not only the M5 but Wolverhampton Road and Titford Road – with the predicted level of poisonous fumes from the busy roads breaching illegal levels for families by the time they moved onto the new estate.

The ‘fine’ pollution particles – otherwise known as particulate matter or PM2.5 because of their less than 2.5-micrometre diameter – contain microscopic solids and liquids that can get deep into the lungs. It is linked to cancer, heart disease, asthma, and low birth weight.

Despite anxiety from colleagues at Sandwell Council’s environmental health department about the dangerous and harmful levels of pollution, the authority’s planners had recommended ahead of the meeting that the application should be given the green light.

Councillor Liam Preece, who called for the plan to be turned down at the meeting in Oldbury, said: “I am deeply uncomfortable with asking people to move into a place that is toxic or unsafe and will likely remain that way in the future.”

The committee’s rejection was met with applause from residents who had opposed the move.

Titford Road resident Phil Shakespeare, who has led campaigns against building on the 100-year-old green space for several years, spoke out against the latest move at Wednesday’s meeting.

He said allowing the homes to be built would cause “complete and irreversible destruction” of one of urban Oldbury’s “rare” green spaces – which had acted as a “positive filter” from noise and pollution for residents.

Mr Shakespeare implored councillors to put the needs of local residents and wildlife before “greedy developers” who were building “luxury houses that people in Oldbury would struggle to purchase.”

However, the rejection and the deemed unsuitability of the land from councillors comes after the council already earmarked the space as a potential site for new homes in the not-yet-approved Sandwell Local Plan – a housing blueprint drawn up in recent years by the council following the collapse of the Black Country Plan in 2022.

A new entrance to the homes would have been built off Titford Road – which was already “challenging” according to local councillors – with congestion and the lack of parking in the cramped street an ongoing problem.

“The traffic is a nightmare and the air quality, I believe, is disgusting,” Langley councillor and borough mayor Bill Gavan said at the the planning meeting. “I totally object to this.”

It was another close shave for those looking to protect the green space from development with planners recommending the homes plan should be approved.

The land behind the Asda supermarket off Wolverhampton Road is home to badgers, foxes and birds and acts as an important barrier to protect homes from M5 pollution, according to residents, but campaigners were faced with a fresh battle when development plans were put back on the table by housing developer Countryside at the start of the year.

A report published ahead of Wednesday’s meeting said the new homes would have been “an appropriate reuse of brownfield land which would deliver a much-needed mix of affordable housing.”

The council said the land failed to meet the criteria for it to be classed as a site of ‘local importance for nature conservation’ and its ecological value was “limited”.

No public access to the green space meant its benefits were “restricted” according to the council.

Planners said they had concluded that the land was “highly unlikely to warrant any specific protection”.

Campaigners had won what was described as a ‘David and Goliath’ battle with London-based developer Canmoor in 2019 for two industrial units, loading bays and a service yard. A petition boasting more than 20,000 signatures was handed to Sandwell Council’s planning committee, which later rejected the application.