PROPOSED changes to the planning system in England could increase pressure on councils to build on the Green Belt.
The warning comes from West Midlands Mayor Andy Street who grew up in Solihull.
He says the proposals – called ‘Planning for the Future’ – rely on an algorithm which could force more homes onto councils with more green space, and away from those with more brownfield sites.
A key part of Mr Street’s housing strategy for the region is to target house building on brownfield sites, to protect the green belt.
“There is no doubt that the current planning system needs overhauling,” said Mr Street.
“We have a clear housing shortage and the planning process as it stands has played a role in that.
“Planning for the Future proposes many positive changes – but I have concerns that if we rely on an algorithm to decide where new homes will be built, we could increase pressure on areas like Solihull. That can’t be right.”
Consultation has ended on ‘Planning for the Future’, and Mr Street says he has urged the Government to ensure derelict sites are prioritised for development, following the success of the brownfield first policy in the West Midlands.
He said: “In the last three years, we have shifted the whole basis of housebuilding in our region.
“Instead of tearing into the Green Belt, we have reclaimed and cleaned up old derelict sites for new development.
“The result is that we have protected green fields while regenerating former industrial sites, removing eyesores in often neglected communities.
“When the pandemic struck, our rate of housebuilding had doubled in 8 years to just under 17,000 last year, with the vast majority of new homes built on reclaimed land. We have shown that this works.
“However, we must not let developers ‘off the hook’ by allowing them to pile into greenfield sites and turn away from more challenging regeneration sites.”
Mr Street added that new ‘protected’ status proposed by Planning for the Future could be applied to areas like the Meriden Gap.
“We should identify Green Belt sites where development is simply inconceivable – such as the Meriden Gap – and give them added protection to deter frivolous planning applications designed to test the resolve of councils under pressure to build.
“But it is vital the Government understands that if the cold data supplied by an algorithm offers up cherished green spaces to hungry developers, there will be a backlash from local communities.”