Review of Shropshire's green belt 'possible' if Black Country can't meet housing needs

A major review of Shropshire's Green Belt boundaries would be carried out if the Black Country can prove it has housing and employment needs that it cannot meet itself.

That admission was made at a continuing examination of the county's draft local plan where Shropshire Council continued to hold the line that such a review is not necessary - yet - but the pressure continues to grow from housebuilders and landowners.

Dan Corden, Senior Policy Officer for Shropshire Council, told the hearing on Wednesday that the council's legal duty to co-operate with neighbouring councils "will continue".

"If there is an unmet need that is something that can be discussed," he said. But the council would not 'pre-determine' sites. He admitted though that it "could include a Green Belt review if appropriate at that stage".

Shropshire Council last carried out a full Green Belt Review in November 2018. It was the first time Shropshire Council had assessed the Green Belt since the unitary authority was formed in 2009, and only the second time the Shropshire Green Belt has been reviewed since it was first designated in 1975.

Eddie West, the council's planning manager, said its draft local plan already includes an element of meeting "unmet needs".

But Paul Rouse, representing landowner Bradford Estates, accused the council of "retro-absorbing" an element of unmet needs in the draft plan.

"They did not want to upset the strategy they had already adopted."

Bradford Estates is proposing to build nearly 3,000 homes and commercial land off Junction 3 of the M54, near Tong. The council has resisted putting it into the local plan.

The council is also under pressure to release more Green Belt land at Albrighton and Cosford.

Jackie Mulliner, of Harrow Estates, said: "We know there will be unmet needs from the Black Country. They have flagged that there is likely to be more than 1,500 homes than the draft plan provides for.

"They can't quantify it but the point is that there will be more needed."

She called for "places like Shifnal" to put aside more Green Belt land that can be safeguarded for development.

"Every opportunity should be made to safeguard more land now."

Elle Cass, of Nurton Developments, also called for more land to be released from the Green Belt in areas close to the Black Country.

Shropshire Council says it has put aside enough land to cope with development pressures up into the 2050s.

Eddie West, the council's planning manager, said the level of needs from the Black Country was not known but it "will be examined".

"It is likely there will be an unmet requirement and we have taken steps to accommodate this - but we do not know what the scale is."

Planning inspectors have the power to tell councils to carry out reviews of their Green Belt.

Mr West said the Black Country councils are not just talking to Shropshire but to others that they share a boundary with. But it would not need a Green Belt review until the next local plan is being prepared.

Hugh Richards, a council barrister, said there is "no reason to consider any more Green Belt release or safeguarding."

He said Telford & Wrekin Council also has a local plan and is a "new town set up with a specific purpose that has relevance to what we are talking about now.

"It is possible that all the unmet needs issues might be sorted out by the time of the new plan.

"Release from the Green Belt now is not the time and not consistent with national policies."

And if it was proved that the Black Country needed more, Shropshire Council "would have to reflect on that carefully."

The hearings have heard that the Black Country needs to find 11,000 new homes outside its area.

Planning inspector Louise Crosby asked if the council was considering a joint Green Belt Review with other authorities. "It might be less harm than harm to the Shropshire Green Belt," she said.

Mr West said: "It is an option that is hard to achieve but it is an option open."

Countryside campaigners, including Save Bridgnorth Green Belt, make an opposite argument by saying that need to take 11.4 hectares of Green Belt land at Stanmore has not been established. Tasley is already being lined up for development.

Mr West said they are having to plan for development in Bridgnorth partly because Telford & Wrekin Council has not accepted a release of Green Belt.

Julie Allen, representing Shifnal Town Council, Shifnal Matters, and Tong Parish Council, said land "safeguarded" for development there had been made "without a robust methodology."

Mr West said the council considers its strategy for Shifnal is "effective" and they use their "professional judgement" to ensure that land is available for development in the future.

Ms Allen said that development sites should be selected based on "more quantifiable basis than professional basis."

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