Future of Shropshire's housing plan due to be decided 'within a couple of weeks'

Planners in Shropshire have defended the county's local plan for housing against accusations from developers that they have not set aside enough homes for the needs of the Black Country.

A planning examination is looking into whether Shropshire Council has met its legal duty to co-operate with other councils to help meet some of their housing needs.

The outcome of a planning examination is crucial for areas where developers hope to build many hundreds of extra houses - including in the Shifnal area, which has been earmarked to take the brunt of the new development.

Shifnal Matters has piled on the pressure to remove its development allocation in full due to the "recent collapse of the Association of the Black Country Authorities (ABCA) and the unproven shortfall of the region".

The Black Country Plan for housing fell apart when Dudley Council’s leader Patrick Harley pulled out of the scheme, stating he was not prepared to sacrifice green belt land to keep others “happy”. It has left the remaining Black Country authorities to draw up their own local housing plans.

Tony Jemmett, a spokesman for Shifnal Matters, said after the hearing: “The group are horrified that this ‘unmet need’ is being thrust on Shifnal and its residents with no proof that this is required.

"We should not be accepting this allocation of housing and employment land until the West Midlands have completed their own local plan review. How can they know they have a shortfall when the process is only part way through, particularly now this has been delayed by the four counties that make up ABCA having to in effect start again.

He added: "Regardless of the amount of houses that are required we should not be taking the West Midlands' unmet need into Shropshire. Telford was built as the overspill for the West Midlands and is still yet to reach its full capacity and the fact that they have been unwilling to accept the West Midlands' claim of an unmet need just shows that they don't feel that this need is justified."

Matthew Reed KC, representing Bradford Rural Estates, told a virtual planning examination that the council has not proven its case for putting aside 1,500 homes in its draft local plan for needs in the Black Country.

"There has been no testing or discussion with the Association of Black Country Authorities on this issue," he said.

The Association of Black Country Authorities covers Wolverhampton Council, Dudley Council, Sandwell Council and Walsall Council.

Hugh Richards, representing Shropshire Council, said the council's contribution of 1,500 homes to ABCA, plus 30 hectares of employment land, is an "initial offer".

He added that the council would then co-operate once more evidence of the needs of councils in the Black Country becomes clear.

"We will then co-operate when the basis for the apportionment of housing is clear. It is not sustainable to do anything else," he said.

Eddie West for Shropshire Council said: "The duty to co-operate is not a duty to agree."

Developers for Raby Estate, Gladman Developments, Stanmore Consortium, and Miller Homes are also listed to make their case.

Campaigners on the other side of the controversial issue are Shifnal Town Council, Shifnal Matters, Tong Parish Council and CPRE Shropshire.

CPRE Shropshire planning spokesman Charles Green said: “The information provided by ABCA is now out of date and in question, particularly given that the borough of Dudley has been the ones to bow out of the ABCA citing there is no justification for them to lose their own green belt land as part of the regions local plan review.”

He adds: “There are new reports , such as the Chilmark Report commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority that show that brownfield availability in the West Midlands could potentially be enough to cover all their housing needs. As they have not yet fully investigated the land availability for development, how can they be sure of a shortfall or the numbers that will be required to fulfil this shortfall.

"For too long councils have felt pressured into allowing large areas of development purely to hit national targets that don't reflect local need. Unaffordable and poorly designed houses mostly as greenfield developments have swamped Shropshire in recent years and there needs to be a change.

"As Shropshire Council are only part way through their local plan review, with a large majority of development being earmarked for greenfield or greenbelt land being used to fulfil unnecessary targets - including taking the unmet need from the West Midlands - we feel that the 1,500 houses and 30 hectares of employment land should now be removed."

Planning inspector Louise Crosby, who is one of three officials who are looking into the issue, said they hope to have a decision within a couple of weeks.

"We will get on with writing the letter," she told the planning examination on Tuesday.

"I would like to think it will be within the next couple of weeks."

She gave no hints as to what the decision might be on whether Shropshire Council has met its legal obligations.

But she added that if they find that the council has met its legal duties the letter will be much longer than if they find it has not.

A number of planning examinations were held in July 2022 covering numerous legal and strategic issues.

This was a more focussed hearing session to further consider whether the council has met the requirement to meet a duty to cooperate in the preparation of its local plan.

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