Hearings for Shropshire’s local plan took place last month and it has now emerged that a planning inspector has asked for more evidence of the discussions the authority held with neighbouring Black Country councils over house building.
The outcome of the response to the inspector’s request could have major implications for development in the county, with the issue a key factor in decisions over plans for 3,000 homes on green belt land to the West of Tong, and north of Junction Three of the M54.
It is a project Shropshire Council has rejected, but a decision that is being challenged by The Bradford Estates, which is behind the scheme.
The local plan sets out where homes and business developments will be built in the county up until 2038. The current hearings will decide whether the plan is ‘sound’ or needs to be reconsidered.
It includes sites in nearly every town and village in the county which would provide space for a combined 30,800 homes.
Under government rules councils have a ‘duty to co-operate’ with neighbouring authorities, to help them find space for housing which they are unable to do themselves.
Within Shropshire’s local plan there is space for 1,500 homes to meet a shortfall in the West Midlands.
However, this has been challenged by the Association of Black Country Authorities (ABCA) – made up of Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton, and Sandwell councils.
As part of the evidence being considered by the inquiry Walsall Council has specifically voiced its call for Shropshire Council to make space for another 3,000 homes in the county – on the Bradford Estates land.
A submission from the Walsall authority states: “Walsall requests that the Shropshire Local Plan should increase its housing requirement by 3,000 to incorporate up to 4,500 dwellings to support the housing needs of the emerging Black Country Plan. Some 1,500 of this could be met by the proposed housing allocations in the plan around Shifnal and Bridgnorth, with the addition of up to 3,000 dwellings to be met at Land to the north of Junction 3 of the M54 as part of a new Strategic Settlement.
“Land to the north of Junction 3 of the M54 was strongly supported by ABCA during the Strategic Sites consultation in 2019.”
Lawyers representing ABCA, and the Bradford Estates, challenged Shropshire Council’s allocation for homes under the duty to co-operate rules during the hearings last month.
A submission on behalf of the Bradford Estates said the evidence of co-operation over sites for the West Midlands was “scant”.
It has now been confirmed that examining inspectors Louise Crosby and Carole Dillon have asked for specific answers over the process by which Shropshire Council decided on the level of help it would provide West Midlands authorities.
They have given Shropshire Council until August 5 to respond.
In a letter to the council they said: “As discussed during the Stage 1 hearing sessions we would like to give the council the opportunity to provide additional evidence to demonstrate that the council has complied with the legal duty to cooperate.
“As that evidence should already exist it is not for us to prescribe its breadth or format.
“What is vital is that it helps demonstrate constructive, active and ongoing engagement on strategic matters relating to housing and employment and how this engagement maximised the effectiveness of plan preparation.”
A second set of hearings on the local plan are planned for later this year, before a final decision on whether the plan is ‘sound’ and can be formally adopted.
A spokesman for Shropshire Council said it would be providing the information in coming weeks.
He said: “Further to the close of the Stage 1 Examination hearing sessions in July, the appointed Inspectors have written to the council requesting additional information on the activity undertaken between the council and neighbouring and closely related authorities under the legal duty to cooperate as part of the plan making process.
"The council will be providing this additional information in the coming weeks, and this will include additional information relating to cross boundary discussions with the Association of Black Country Authorities.
"This will not impact on the council’s position with regard to the level of unmet need proposed to be accepted from the Black Country, nor how it is proposed this will be accommodated in Shropshire, which has already been agreed through a Statement of common Ground between Shropshire and the Association of Black Country Authorities.”