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Lakes, forests, orchards and motorways: Plan to make West Midlands UK's next national park

By Pete Madeley | Birmingham | Politics | Published:

Plans to create a sprawling national park across the West Midlands have been backed by a new government report.

Even Spaghetti Junction is surprisingly green, just one area of the urban West Midlands dominated by trees and water

The interim findings of the Government’s Landscapes Review has welcomed the vision to boost green spaces in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) area, which was first unveiled last year.

It would see a new National Park spanning across boroughs including Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell, featuring new parks, forests, orchards, conservation areas and cycle routes.

Boffins working on the vision claim the area could become "a region of a thousand cycle and footpaths, a thousand parks and a thousand lakes".

The national park plan would promote green areas in our region, including the historic grounds around Himley Hall and neighbouring Baggeridge

The proposal has been drawn up by Kathryn Moore, Professor of Landscape Architecture at Birmingham City University.

It would see the West Midlands become the UK’s 16th official National Park, joining the likes of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia and the New Forest.

Julian Glover, who lead the independent review, said support for the West Midlands scheme would back up a desire for "the encouragement of a wider range of non-designated systems of landscape protection".

Professor Moore said: “The interim findings of this report demonstrate a welcome appetite to take a different look at how we view our cities and reimagine what these spaces are, and what they could become.

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Peaceful – Wolverhampton’s Penn Common

“A West Midlands National Park would be a vehicle to help drive social, economic and environmental change in the region, profoundly changing its identity.

“It is a vision of what the West Midlands can become when the significance of its landscape is properly realised and celebrated. Above all, this proposal’s central purpose is real transformation.”

The scheme has also been backed by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who said: “The report is very positive towards the concept of a West Midlands National Park, which is a good step forward.

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“Protecting and enhancing our green spaces is important for so many reasons, not least for people’s quality of life, health and well-being.

Popular – Baggeridge Country Park

“But it can also help make the West Midlands an even more attractive place for people to visit and for businesses to invest in, helping to grow a clean economy.”

Councillor Ian Courts, the WMCA lead for the environment and leader of Solihull Council, said: “We have just set new carbon reduction targets for the West Midlands to reach net-zero emissions no later than 2041. More cycle routes, forests and woodland can help us achieve that.

“This is an encouraging report and dovetails with the steps we are already taking as a region to safeguard our green spaces and tackle climate change.”

The plans were showcased last week in front of delegates from across the globe during the two-day ‘SATURN’ event held at Birmingham City University.

Looking beyond the bricks

Forests, orchards, lakes and conservation areas?

These are not the first things that spring to mind when most people think of the West Midlands, the sprawling conurbation that for years, spread itself across the centre of the country under a giant cloud of factory smoke.

This is the land of the blast furnace, the seat of the industrial revolution where the smokestacks rise high and the wheels of heavy industry grind and clatter.

So it is hardly surprising that in some quarters, Professor Kathryn Moore's plan to plonk the UK's 16th national park here has been met with a mixture of mockery and disdain.

The landscape architect wants us to take a step back and reconsider how we view the region, arguing that the cities and towns of the future will be far better places to live and work if they are given an altogether greener outlook.

Her proposals are undoubtedly ambitious, but perhaps not as far fetched as some may suggest.

People enjoying this summer’s sunny weather at Dartmouth Park in West Bromwich

Birmingham has more than 8,000 acres of green spaces and parks – more than any other city in Europe – and has more miles of canals than Venice.

And the Black Country's days of heavy polluting industry are long gone, with a close inspection of its landscape revealing numerous areas of natural beauty.

The area to the east of West Bromwich is a case in point, where the M5 has Sandwell Valley Country Park and Dartmouth Park on one side, with the sprawling green plot containing Handsworth cemetery, two golf clubs and the River Tame on the other.

Dudley's Baggeridge Country Park stretches across to Himley Hall, with the Cotwall End Nature Reserve and Penn Common all within a short distance.

Travel a few miles out of any of our town or city centres and you are in England's green and pleasant land.

Yet all too often these places are overlooked, almost as if they are overshadowed by the tangled road networks and the remnants of our industrial past.

Prof Moore's says the benefits to her plan are many, with new green spaces serving as a driving force for social, economic and environmental change in the region.

Sandwell Valley would form part of a unique urban national park, which would promote new forests and green spaces for the West Midlands

One example she gives involves the creation of new farmland, with a return of large scale agriculture to some parts of the region helping to drastically increase the home grown food supply.

She concedes that all of this requires not only a massive transformation, but also a marked change in attitude and perceptions.

And while the proposals appear to have ministerial and mayoral support, there are a number of sizeable stumbling blocks in the way.

Prof Moore views HS2 as a catalyst to create her vision of a greener West Midlands, a part of the plan that could be scuppered if the project is scrapped due to concerns over cost.

The National Park idea also has echoes of recent plans for a 'garden city' in the Black Country, another bold concept aimed at fulfilling the region's housing need while at the same time creating more green spaces.

It was launched to great fanfare in 2015 and not much has been heard of it since.

Question marks also remain as to how such a project would be funded, and with the region desperately short of housing, there is always the likelihood that any long term plans are allowed to fade into the distance in the mad rush to fill the shortfall.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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