Black Country councils spent £2m on housing plan before scrapping it




  • In Science
  • 2022-11-23 09:34:59Z
  • By BBC
Dr Fiona Macmillan and Bobbi Owen
Dr Fiona Macmillan and Bobbi Owen  

Councils in the Black Country spent more than £2m on a major housebuilding plan before it was controversially scrapped, the BBC has learned.

The Draft Black Country Plan, which set out to identify future housing and employment need by 2039, was drawn up jointly by four councils.

But Dudley Council's withdrawal last month means separate, more costly plans will have to be drawn up.

"The whole thing went down the drain," said Walsall Council leader Mike Bird.

Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Sandwell councils worked on the plan in response to a government target of building 76,000 homes in the region.

But in October, Dudley bosses pulled out citing public anger over the inclusion of green belt land, specifically two sites in Kingswinford and Wall Heath, which have subsequently been removed from future schemes.

Neighbouring councils say it has left them "no option" but to draw up their own housing plans, but this is likely to increase costs and delay final proposals to 2025/2026.

"To outsiders looking in, it's a total and utter waste of money and effort," said Mr Bird, who added it was a "great surprise to us that Dudley pulled the site(s) they did".

Green belt land in Walsall
Green belt land in Walsall  

Walsall has been set a government target of 16,000 homes in the borough.

Sites that have already been consulted on, including 30 hectares of land beside the A452 in Aldridge, will remain in the proposals for a new consultation period.

"We see it as an opportunity that Walsall now - to a certain extent - is in control of its own destiny, but for people to think that the green-belt argument's gone away, it hasn't," Mr Bird added.

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The costs of the scheme were revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the BBC.

The figures show in 2018, local authorities received a government grant of £570,000 to support preparation of the Black Country Plan.

In addition, Sandwell spent £472,000 on the scheme, Walsall Council £424,000, Wolverhampton Council spent £370,000 and Dudley £326,000.

"We'll be trying to recover some of those costs from Dudley and our lawyers are looking at that," Mr Bird said.

"Having said that, I'd like to think it hasn't all been wasted because we've collected data during that process."

Councillor Patrick Harley, Conservative leader of Dudley
Councillor Patrick Harley, Conservative leader of Dudley  

Councillor Patrick Harley, Conservative leader of Dudley, said the authority had no intention of compensating their neighbours.

"Good luck with that one," he said.

"We asked to continue to work with you as four Black Country authorities on a region-wide plan. Our request to remove two green belt sites was refused.

"We don't believe we have an obligation to pay monies to any local authority.

"It is the rest of the Black Country out of sync with what people want and what the evidence is telling us about protecting green belt land."

Experts suggest some of the land survey data collected since the project's start date in 2017 will be out of date, while there will be fresh public consultations.

Dudley Council has warned it would need to find a further £500,000 to deliver its own plan.

While political relations may have soured over planning policy, thousands of people living near former industrial land or green belt plots face many more months - if not years - of uncertainty.

Beyond the boundary of Walsall Arboretum, more than 400 homes could be built.

Bobbi Owen, of Save our Greenbelt Walsall Arboretum, said: "To limit the arboretum, to destroy the wildlife corridors and to deprive the people from the town of these views in my mind is short sighted and downright criminal."

Walsall Arboretum
Walsall Arboretum  

The campaigner said many residents had only found out about the first consultation process when they had seen it advertised on a bus.

"I was cheered that Dudley [Council] had the courage to listen to their residents. We have lives outside of the Black Country Plan or the new Walsall Local Plan.

"To keep people's energy and passion going over this number of years, they still don't know if they can sell their house, it's hard for people."

Dr Fiona Macmillan, from the Walsall Arboretum User group, said: "Delay is infuriating. If the houses are built, the whole ambience of the park would shift dramatically and badly.

"What we'd really like is a decent ecology survey and that hasn't really been done."

With hundreds of potential housing sites across the Black Country, councils are coming under renewed pressure - to meet government targets, to find affordable homes for their growing communities and to preserve green belt land. Something will have to give.

Timetables set out by the neighbouring authorities suggest their new local housing plans will not be ready for approval until early 2026.

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