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Crucial hearing to discuss controversial plans for 3,000 homes on greenbelt land near M54

The fate of plans for 3,000 homes on green belt land off the M54 could be settled at a hearing called by inspectors.

A sketch of what the development in Tong could look like

It has been confirmed that two days have now been set aside in the New Year for planning inspectors to discuss key elements of Shropshire Council's local plan – central to whether controversial proposals for a huge development on land west of Tong and north of Junction 3 of the M54, can go ahead.

Shropshire Council had rejected the scheme, from the Bradford Estates, deciding not to include it in its local plan, which sets out where more than 30,000 homes will be built in the county up until 2038.

An aerial view of Tong as it looks today

But the authority's move is being challenged, both by the Bradford Estates and a group of Black Country councils.

The hearing, provisionally set for January 17, will decide whether Shropshire Council has done enough to meet demands from the Black Country councils to provide homes to make up for their own shortfall in housing – a legal requirement where councils have a 'duty to co-operate' with other authorities over development plans.

Shropshire Council has insisted it has provided enough, with 1,500 homes towards the Black Country shortfall included within its local plan.

Hearings into the Local Plan took place earlier this year

But the Association of Black Country Authorities (ABCA) – made up of Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton, and Sandwell councils – has challenged the offer.

In a letter to planning inspectors, Walsall Council specifically called for the Tong plans from the Bradford Estates, to be allowed to go ahead.

Following hearings in July, which decide whether Shropshire's overall plan can go ahead, inspectors asked for more evidence to prove it had fulfilled its 'duty to co-operate'.

The authority has now responded, with inspectors saying: "We intend to hold a further hearing session to discuss the additional evidence the council has submitted to the examination.

"This will allow us to ask questions in relation to the additional material and the council and representors who made duly made representations in relation to the duty to cooperate at the Regulation 19 stage of the plan making process to take part in the discussion."

Eddie West, Shropshire Council’s planning policy and strategy manager, said: “The council has recently provided additional evidence to the examination, on request from the inspectors, regarding how the council has met its duty to co-operate on the Local Plan in relation to housing and employment matters.

"The inspectors have indicated they would like to explore this evidence with the council and other relevant stakeholders at an additional virtual hearing session on January 17, 2023. The council welcomes this opportunity to discuss the new evidence.”

Responding to the latest development, a Bradford Estates spokesman said: "We welcome the inspectors' decision to call a further hearing following the release of the Shropshire Council documents, in order to hear representations in relation to the Duty to Cooperate. Bradford Estates look forward to making our representations to the inspectors during these sessions."