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15th Oct, 2021

Bromsgrove councillors clash over Government's proposed planning system changes and district's green belt

Tristan Harris 15th Dec, 2020 Updated: 15th Dec, 2020

COUNCILLORS are calling on the Government to rethink its planning proposals to ensure the district gets the properties it needs and protect the green belt.

They say the white paper Planning for the Future – planning policy changes in England in 2020 and future reforms has serious implications for Bromsgrove.

The new method for assessing local housing need could see the district given a target of 694 homes every year, rather than the 379 it is asked to build annually at the moment.

Campaigners also say extending the current ‘Permission in Principle’ for major developments would mean less applications decided at a local level and, they argue, less scrutiny and democracy.

Independent Coun Steve Colella said: “It seems the Government wants to build almost 330,000 new homes every year, irrespective of the consequences.

“There will be too many shortcuts with developers looking for easy wins and quick sites – and that would more than likely mean the disappearance of the green belt.

“Also the homes developers want to build are not necessarily the properties we want to meet our housing need.

“Here in Bromsgrove we need more starter homes and independent living properties for older people.”

A letter by Coun Charlie Hotham, Coun Annette English and Coun Kate Van Der Plank also criticises the proposals for affordable housing ratios.

Currently Bromsgrove’s policy is to have 40 per cent affordable housing on any developments of ten or more properties.

But the Government’s changes would see the threshold put at 40 to 50 homes before developers needed to include affordable homes.

They claimed the responses from Bromsgrove District and Redditch Borough were very similar, despite the two areas ‘having very different and unique characteristics and challenges’.

“More thought and care is needed on this crucially important issue which will affect the future of our district, and those who live within it, for many generations to come,” concluded the letter.

The comments came as more than 2,000 councillors nationwide, including 27 in Worcestershire (five from Bromsgrove) signed a joint letter asking for action, along with countryside charity the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and Friends of the Earth.

As well as Coun Colella, Coun Hotham and Coun English, Bromsgrove’s contingent also included independent councillor Sue Douglas and Labour’s Harrison Rone-Clarke.

The open letter to Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick pleads for the Government to abandon the most damaging elements of its changes to the planning system.

It claims the changes will undermine public trust in planning and ‘could radically reduce protections for nature, local green spaces and fail to tackle climate change’.

Fears are also expressed over ‘an unacceptable loss of local democracy, scrutiny and accountability and worse outcomes for communities’.

And the letter highlights the need for a strong local planning system to support sustainable development, community cohesion and a healthy environment. It adds the Government’s proposals would ‘not achieve these goals’.

The changes to the planning system are the biggest since 1947 and are also opposed by many MPs, former cabinet members and ex Prime Minister Theresa May.

Coun Adam Kent, said: “Bromsgrove is currently one of the most unaffordable towns in the UK, especially outside the home counties.

“At the end of the day we have not met our housing targets over the past few years – that needs to change and difficult decisions about the green belt need to be made.”

Bromsgrove’s average house price is £305,000 and with average wages around £30,000, properties are 10.5 times the town’s mean income.

He added the council had submitted its White Paper response to the Government, which had been agreed at full council.

In that response, the council had expressed the need to keep the affordable housing threshold at developments over 11, stressing the importance of Bromsgrove having homes its next generation could afford so they could remain in the district.

The council welcomed the ‘Permission in Principle’ as it would shorten the length of time to secure housing development.

Coun Kent said: “Some sites in Bromsgrove have taken more than five years to get through the planning process while people wait for homes.

“Quicker decisions need to be made on whether sites are suitable or not.”

Coun Kent added that the policy would be reviewed over five years so if, for example, 700 homes were built each year, the overall rate could come down after that five-year period.

“It may be that we build ten years’ worth of houses in five years and we don’t need to build anymore after that.”

And he said this was a consultation, the council’s comments had been submitted and they were waiting to see what the final outcome was.

Ruth Bamford, Bromsgrove District Council’s Head of Planning, Regeneration and Leisure Services, previously said: “We would be keen to know what the implications of this would be for an area such as Bromsgrove district, which is almost 90 per cent green belt.”

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