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No council will be compelled to build on Green Belt land to meet housing targets, Michael Gove says

Government minister Michael Gove has confirmed no council will be ‘compelled’ to build on Green Belt land to meet housing targets.

Secretary of State Michael Gove at the Lockside development in Walsall

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities visited Walsall on Tuesday (February 13) to see the £44 million Lockside development in Birchills.

The scheme by Walsall Council, West Midlands Combined Authority, Walsall Housing Group (whg) and Lovell Partnerships, has seen the old Caparo steelworks transformed into a  252-home estate featuring properties for sale, social rent and older people’s housing.

His visit, alongside West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Walsall North MP Eddie Hughes, came as he announced a major shake-up of planning rules.

The Government said it was aiming to make it quicker and easier for brownfield sites to be redeveloped for housing. Mr Gove said  while there was a need for more homes to help tackle the housing crisis, Green Belt protection was also important.

Under the defunct Black Country Plan, Walsall was set a target of delivering 13,344 new houses and 164 hectares of employment land by 2039 – with council bosses saying the loss of Green Belt land was inevitable.

But Mr Gove said: “The first and most important thing is we do need many more new homes and we need to get more people onto the housing ladder with the safety and security of home ownership. We also need to help people on waiting lists.

“But there needs to be a balance and, at a time when we are all concerned about the environment and we are all concerned about protecting biodiversity, then Green Belt protection is important.

“What we’ve said to every local authority is you do not need to sacrifice any Green Belt land to meet our housing need.

“Some local authorities would say ‘you know what, there is a little bit of Green Belt land here which we want to re-designate and there is other land we want to protect and get additional investment in order to get nature back’. That’s the balanced approach we take.

“But no local authority is compelled to build on Green Belt land in the new planning rules we’ve put forward.”

He heaped praise on the Lockside Development and said it was an ‘examplar’ of brownfield redevelopment.

The Caparo site had stood empty for more than a decade and become a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

A well-being scheme for the over 55s is set to open next month at Lockside and it is anticipated the whole development will be fully complete by the summer.

Stuart Penn, regional managing director for Lovell, said most of the houses for sale had been sold.

Mr Gove said: “We have more than 250 new homes, the majority for those who want to buy and get on the ladder but also for social rent and homes for older people as well. So it’s a new community of the kind we want to see more of.

“The West Midlands is a success story. London has the worst housing story. It’s the area where the number of homes delivered against targets is worst and the West Midlands is the best.

“Andy Street has overseen a system that’s seen us have more things consistently delivered than were projected for and that’s meant people from every background have a home of their home.”

Mr Street said: “Schemes like this talk about the power of Brownfield remediation and by doing this you can bring whole communities back to life and also protect Green Belt land.

“All of our councils are already trying to do this and we are the trailblazers but it will help the Government is now pushing it.

“There are 252 new homes and it is genuinely a beautiful place and beautifully designed. This derelict space has come back into use, it was a place of anti-social behaviour so for people living around it, it is also good news.

“We have £200 million more funding and we will go to the market looking for more places like this so applications on a postcard please.”

Gary Fulford, whg’s Chief Executive, said: “Lockside is a shining example of how urban regeneration can inject new life into neglected land and create a new, cohesive community of multi-tenure homes.

“We were delighted to show Mr Gove what we have achieved with our partners and the impact these new and affordable homes have had in revitalising the area.”

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