MP: Give Black Country communities the power to shape their towns

Black Country communities should be given control over what happens to their towns, writes MP Wendy Morton.

Former Chief Whip Wendy Morton
Former Chief Whip Wendy Morton

Green and open spaces define our communities and that is why I have long campaigned to protect our precious Green Belt in my Aldridge-Brownhills constituency and the wider Walsall community.

Therefore, I am pushing for a meaningful Brownfield First Policy to protect our open spaces and ensuring their preservation for future generations.

Over the course of two years, I have fought the proposed Black Country Plan and its proposed development, together with tremendous support from many local Councillors, residents and community groups particularly in Aldridge, High Heath, Pelsall and Streetly.

So that meant for the second summer running this year we had to fight again when two additional sites were added in Streetly, off the Chester Road. It was a further step in the wrong direction, risking the loss of huge swathes of Green Belt land with a staggering 8,000 homes now being proposed on the eastern flank of Walsall across Aldridge, Pelsall and Streetly.

With the Black Country Plan now being put off the table, there is an opportunity for Walsall Borough Council to look at this again, and adopt a fairer, more localised approach that better meets local needs.

However, the battle to protect the green belt is not over and our Government must play its part.

The top-down centrally imposed targets from Government are wrong and we must not be afraid to say they are wrong.

We have a Planning Inspectorate based over 100 miles away in Bristol. The Inspectors are remote from public opinion and their decisions are failing our local area.

As a Member of Parliament in Walsall I am calling on the Government to stop this Bristol-based Government quango from doing any more damage to local communities. Residents across my Aldridge-Brownhills community and in the wider Black Country want the Inspectorate reformed.

We want to see an end to top-down housing targets, destruction of our Green Belt and our locally elected Councillors being over-ruled by faceless bureaucrats who sit behind desks with no understanding of our local needs or agreed plans.

Let’s end these bureaucrats simply seeing our communities as lines on a map.

We also need further commitments from Ministers to ensure a true Brownfield First approach to development is adopted and delivered.

The Conservative Party manifesto under Boris Johnson’s leadership on which I was proud to stand committed to protect and enhance the Green Belt – this must be delivered for my Aldridge-Brownhills constituents and the whole of the Black Country.

Local authorities know their local areas best. They know and understand local needs, they know the infrastructure which is required by new development, and they need more powers over planning, development and regeneration.

Look around Walsall, and the Black Country and there are still many brownfield sites that could be developed. It’s already been done across many sites in the Borough of Walsall thanks to the vision of our West Midlands Mayor Andy Street. We need to see more of his creative thinking as that is positively helping regenerate our towns and communities in a post Covid era.

We need to see an end to the 5-year land supply obligation and an end to the scandal of land banking. We need further Government help with the cost of land remediation through the Brownfield Housing Fund and Brownfield Land Release Fund and this must be adequately resourced.

The best developments are those that work with, not against, local communities. That is why I am pushing the Government for greater accountability of developers to ensure infrastructure commitments are started when developments start, not end. We need to ensure that as part of our planning process we ensure full community gain, not developer gain now and community gain at some point never.

I am not a ‘nimby’, I support more homes and more infrastructure, but in the right places.

The proposed Black Country Plan failed us all. It was a plan which prioritised executive housing, infrastructure at some point in the future and a generation denied their right to the Green Belt and open spaces.

Not once were my own concerns about the Black Country Plan responded to. When I asked about their proposed 1,500 new homes on Aldridge Road in Streetly they didn’t even respond.

They failed to address my points about the lack of school places, GP practices or the concerns about the road network. Equally they failed to answer my concerns on how 4 or 5 bedroomed detached houses in one of the most expensive parts of my constituency would solve the housing crisis in our country.

I want the next generation of homeowners to have my start in life, to be able to get on the property ladder at the first opportunity. However, the previously proposed Black Country Plan to decimate our Green Belt in favour of executive housing will do nothing for the future generations of homeowners, indeed it will only succeed in further destroying the aspirations of that generation.

I want us to be the regeneration generation. Let’s get the planning regulations right so we can unlock the power of local communities and local economic growth whilst also protecting our environment and our precious Green Belt.

If we get this wrong our Green Belt will be lost forever, and we will fail in our ambition to realise economic growth.

The Levelling Up Regeneration Bill is not now returning to Parliament next week. However, I want all residents across my Aldridge-Brownhills constituency and the wider Walsall Borough to know, when it does, I will always champion our precious Green Belt for you and our future generations.

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