Controversial plan for thousands of homes on green belt 'paused' by council chiefs

A controversial local housing plan that would see thousands of homes built on the green belt has been held back by council chiefs.

Green belt land off Linthouse Lane, on the South Staffordshire/Wolverhampton border, has been lined up for homes
Green belt land off Linthouse Lane, on the South Staffordshire/Wolverhampton border, has been lined up for homes

South Staffordshire District Council has outlined plans for 9,000 new homes over 17 years in its local plan, which has been slammed by campaigners opposed to green belt development.

But now the authority has revealed it will not be submitting its scheme to the Planning Inspectorate until it receives clarity on the Government's latest proposals over housing numbers.

The local plan has been heavily criticised by campaigners since its launch last year, with many claiming the new homes were not needed, would destroy the green belt and damage the environment.

It comes after the Black Country Plan – which earmarked green belt sites for more than 8,000 homes in Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton – was scrapped in the face of opposition to green belt development.

Councillor Terry Mason, South Staffordshire Council's cabinet member for planning and business enterprise, said the council had queries around the need for councils to consider neighbouring authorities’ housing needs in their plans, as well as questions regarding the release of green belt land for development.

He said: "These are particularly pertinent policies for areas such as South Staffordshire.

"We will be seeking clarity on the new national proposals and until we fully understand the potential implications, we will not be submitting the local plan to the Inspectorate for examination.

Councillor Terry Mason said the council would be assessing the implications of any changes

"While we await further information from Government, we will continue working on the responses and representations made in response to our recent local plan consultation.

"The council believes the best way to stop unplanned development is to have a sound local plan in place, and the plan recently consulted on was in conformity with national planning policy.

"However, now that there is a potential for national change, we need to assess the implications to ensure that going forward, our plan meets the new requirements."

Ministers have proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that could see local housing targets become advisory rather than mandatory.

It has led to a number of local authorities shelving local plans in the expectation that they will be able to reduce green belt development.

In South Staffordshire around 90 per cent of the land lined up for housing is on the green belt. It includes a sprawling site between Kitchen Lane and Linthouse Lane in Wednesfield, on the Essington border, which has been earmarked for 1,900 homes.

Around 4,000 of the homes are for Black Country councils under the 'duty to cooperate', which forces neighbouring authorities to assist each other in meeting housing targets.

Sir Gavin Williamson MP with Nigel McDonald and other campaigners from the Save the Lower Penn Green Belt group

Nigel McDonald, from the Save the Lower Penn Green Belt group, which is fighting plans for around 500 homes, said: "It’s a relief to see that the council is finally listening to the strength of feeling across the area to this poorly thought out plan.

"It shows that the pressure groups such as ours who have been trying to protect our precious green belt land have had an influence.

"The South Staffs Plan has not been thrown out yet and as such we remain vigilant - however the pause to reconsider the housing numbers and proposed sites in light of all of the new data and policy changes is very much appreciated."

South Staffordshire MP Sir Gavin Williamson has urged ministers to "set out clearly" the new rules on housing numbers so councils were able to protect the green belt where possible.

He told the Express & Star the council had made "absolutely the right decision" to pause the plan, and said he hoped new proposals would see "substantially lower" housing numbers earmarked for his constituency.

Sir Gavin said: "Along with other MPs I have been campaigning for the Government to change its approach to housing numbers, which has caused real concern to residents in South Staffordshire.

"Pausing the current plan is the right thing to do until we know precisely what the new guidance is going to be. My hope is that the new housing numbers for South Staffordshire will be substantially lower and that we can protect the green belt."

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is expected to make an announcement on housing numbers in the coming weeks.

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