Monday May 25 2020



In Full . . .

Save these fields from the bulldozer

Posted on March 28 2011 at 10:57:36

More than 11 years ago, The Village magazine ran a front cover almost identical to the one on its current issue. We felt it worth repeating because the threat to our villages has returned – and this time it is even more dangerous.

Back in February 2000, Bromsgrove District Council was fighting to protect our village fields and surrounding Green Belt from the thunder of bulldozers.

But now, in 2011, the district council seems to have accepted we need thousands of new houses – and, indeed, has pushed for more – and it is now just a matter of justifying places to put them.

We have even heard senior officers from Bromsgrove’s planning department questioning whether parts of our Green Belt ever were Green Belt in the first place.

Meanwhile, some district councillors seem to have been pursuaded that little will stop the plans and that communities should be aiming for “damage limitation”.

After many years of covering planning and development matters around our villages and discussing Green Belt protection with planning officers, current attitudes are more than a little worrying.

If nothing else they prompted a re-reading of Bromsgrove’s Draft Core Strategy 2, which on the face of it is a people-friendly document inviting our input into decisions being made about the shape of where we live for the next ten to 15 years.

We all get to have our say by the middle of next month (April 15) and then the councillors will vote on it before it goes off to Whitehall for further ratification and then an examination in public by an Inspector.

The big change between the original core strategy and version “2” is the inclusion of what the planners now call “Development Sites” to accommodate 4,000 new homes up to 2026.This is almost double the 2,100 homes recently allocated to the district for this time period because, the document tells us, Bromsgrove argued that ”around 4,000 housing units would better enable the district to meet some of its needs”.

And it doesn’t stop there. Bromsgrove also proposes a partial review of housing supply by 2021 to decide whether to add up to 3,000 more homes to the total.

Shockingly, the draft core strategy reveals: “This could include a full Green Belt review if deemed necessary.”

Is this the same Bromsgrove which, 11 years ago, launched a Green Belt protection campaign urging villagers to call a special phone line to pledge their support for the Green Belt against what it called “soulless housing estates”?

Why would a district council which has for as long as anyone can remember pointed out that more than 90 per cent of its area is Green Belt, now argue for so many houses to be built that it is inevitable green fields would be bulldozed because the so-called brown-field sites have all been used up?
Why would apparently sensible people be so taken in by the current buzzword of “sustainability” that the Draft Core Strategy says, with all seriousness, that the housing targets are “based on evidence and have local political support”?

If we try to make our communities “sustainable” by creating homes for young and elderly people on small, infill plots in our villages, there would, indeed, be local support. But who supports large housing estates on the edges of our villages, so they eventually coalesce into the rest of the West Midlands conurbation?

Villagers shouldn’t think this can’t happen – especially now there is so much money to be made by developers who can get their hands on our fields. Northfield was a village once; look at it now.

Why does a council which once sought to conserve our villages and the Green Belt now tell people: “New development can benefit their communities by creating wider sustainable communities and that new housing and economic growth can revitalise areas”?

It might create economic growth for and revitalise house-building companies, but turning villages into suburbs does not sustain them.

The strategy also says that Bromsgrove can “benefit from a future ‘New Homes Bonus’, which will reward councils for building homes and working with their local communities”.

Surely this can’t be driving the desire to pour concrete over fields because, as far as we can glean from the Government’s gobbledegook, there is only about £85 million a year in “bonuses” available to be shared between every council in the country.

We have, to a certain extent, been lulled by the house-building moratorium in Bromsgrove of the past six or seven years. We have forgotten how voracious are the developers and how deep are their pockets when it comes to paying lawyers to thwart councils who dare to stand in their way and uphold the real wishes of residents.

The developers will be licking their lips at talk of our villages becoming “wider sustainable communities”. Whatever these might be, we can be sure they mean the end of our communities as we know them.

In Alvechurch, the land swap between Worcestershire County Council and Persimmon Homes means 72 new homes are already springing up in the middle of the village, bringing this year perhaps 300 more car journeys a day to roads already packed at rush hour and 100 more pupils to already over-subscribed schools.

Allowing developers to build more houses on the next field between Old Rectory Lane and the M42 fills in one more gap and makes the field after that vulnerable. Alvechurch parish councillors are of the view that if this field and a smaller plot on the other side of Birmingham Road are to be named “Development Sites”, they should be preserved for future housing needs, as determined by an up-to-date survey – not just built on for profit by the first big developer to pull off a deal.

This seems to be what “sustainable” should really mean.

The far more worrying site is in Barnt Green. In 2000, the field under threat was a large site off Twatling Road, in the part of Lickey people who live there like to call Barnt Green. Fortunately that particularly sensitive spot has not resurfaced.

It has, however, been replaced by the fields to the north of Fiery Hill Road, between Barnt Green and Cherry Hill Road; one of the last green strips between the village and Cofton Hackett which is already conjoined with Birmingham.

According to the map of its intentions as we went to press, Bromsgrove would like to make available for development all of the site, including the Barnt Green Inn and Barnt Green Cricket Club’s Douglas Ground (although we believe the inn and cricket ground’s inclusion is a drafting error).

Again, we ask: why would the planners want to allow building on these fields when not ten years ago their council rejected this plot as an “Area of Development Restraint” (future development site in the Green Belt) then fought a High Court battle over it, only to see it designated as “white land” and vulnerable to development?

Now Bromsgrove says in its draft Core Strategy “after due consideration [we] now concur with this view” – a view that Barnt Green should burst its boundary to within touching distance of the leaves of the Lickey Hills. Why?

Anyone who is interested should go and stand on Fiery Hill Road and look across the open fields to the Lickeys rising up in the distance.

You will see why Bromsgrove District Council has fought so hard down the years to preserve this site.

We believe an application for housing on it was turned down on Green Belt grounds back in the 1960s before Barnt Green Cricket Club bought part of the site as a home for its 2nd XI.

It was later considered important enough to pay for a High Court fight and the district council knows full well that its residents, the people who pay for the council to exist, don’t want to see it built on.

At the public meeting in Barnt Green last month, one resident appeared to hit the nail on the head when he said: “I am getting the impression that the parish is in some way battling against the authority to which we all pay our council tax.”

That is exactly the impression we are getting, too. But whatever is behind this swing in sentiment at Bromsgrove – and surely it can’t just be a Conservative council doing the bidding of a Government now of the same political hue – the timing could not have been better for the people to have their say.

The whole district council is up for election on May 5 and all the current councillors who want to continue their political lives, along with those who are entering the fray, will be looking for your votes.

We suggest that you ask any prospective councillor if they will vote against a Core Strategy that includes a policy of building more than 2,100 homes over the next 15 years.

If they cannot give a cast-iron guarantee – preferably in writing in an email – that they will do this, then vote for someone who will.

Don’t listen to suggestions of Plan Bs from those who imply resistance is futile – that just accepts the principle that up to 7,000 homes are required, when they are not.

Party politics doesn’t matter in local elections: what does matter is voting for councillors who will serve us rather than obey diktats from elsewhere.

We will only have ourselves to blame if over the next decade our communities are swamped by bland, unsustainable housing estates and we have to change the name of this magazine from The Village to The Suburb.

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