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'Once in a generation opportunity': Black Country councils support M54 Tong housing plans

By Dominic Robertson | Shifnal | News | Published: | Last Updated:

Controversial plans for 3,000 homes on Shropshire's Green Belt have been backed as a "unique and once in a generation opportunity" by Black Country councils.

An aerial view of Tong as it looks today

A proposal from the Bradford Estates to build 3,000 homes on its land near Tong, off Junction 3 of the M54, hinges on support from councils in the Black Country – which need the homes because they do not have enough of their own space for housing over the next 18 years.

Despite the homes potentially counting towards the Black Country allocation, it will be Shropshire Council that will make a decision on the plans, with the authority set to decide whether to support the proposal at its cabinet meeting next month.

The homes could only be built on the Green Belt land if the application is considered to have met "exceptional circumstances" – something the Association of Black Country Authorities (ABCA) believe is the case.

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The details are confirmed in a letter sent to Shropshire Council last year, which says ABCA considers "that exceptional circumstances exist that can justify the release of Green Belt land in Shropshire".

ABCA, which represents the City of Wolverhampton Council, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council, and Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, said it "strongly supports" the plan.

Last month ABCA released its own review confirming its councils do not have enough spare urban land of their own for housing – and set in motion a review of its Green Belt land.

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In the letter to Shropshire Council, the leaders of ABCA's four councils, all backed the idea to build what would effectively be a new settlement on Shropshire's Green Belt.

The letter said: "The M54 junction 3 site has the potentially to deliver a strategically significant ‘game changing’ housing and economic development opportunity to the mutual benefit of Shropshire and the Black Country."

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The report enclosed in the letter said the proposal should be progressed as part of Shropshire's own local plan review, stating: "ABCA strongly supports the potential for land at M54 junction 3 to be allocated in the next stage of the Local Plan review.

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"We consider it presents a unique and once in a generation opportunity to drive forward the realisation of Shropshire’s economic growth ambitions and at the same time form part of the strategic solution to meeting housing and employment land needs arising in the Black Country."

The letter added: "We fully endorse the references in the strategic sites consultation document to the junction 3 site as representing a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to meet cross boundary needs, through delivery of nationally significant employment opportunities, high quality housing and a local centre to provide services, facilities and infrastructure as part of a planned new settlement within an important strategic corridor."

ABCA's leaders also backed the Tong site's position as being beneficial for housing and employment needs.

The letter stated: "The site identified at junction 3 of the M54 has direct access into the Black Country via the motorway and the existing railway station at Cosford, with a journey time of less than 20 minutes to Wolverhampton railway station and around 30 minutes to Sandwell & Dudley railway station.

"This degree of proximity and connectivity makes it well placed to accommodate housing and employment needs arising within the Black Country."

The report contained in the letter also explains how thousands of people already commute between the areas for work.

It states: "The Black Country has a strong functional economic relationship with Shropshire. 2011 commuting patterns between the Black Country and Shropshire suggest that some 2,180 working age residents from the Black Country travelled to work in Shropshire and that 4,615 residents from Shropshire travelled to work in the Black Country.

"The strongest relationship is with Wolverhampton, where some 1,058 residents travelled to work in Shropshire and 2,346 residents from Shropshire travelled to work in Wolverhampton.

"When turning to migration data, between 2010/11 and 2017/18 the total number of residents exported from the Black Country to Shropshire was 16,100 and 7,320 exported from Shropshire to the Black Country. This equated to a net total of 8,810 people migrating from the Black Country to Shropshire."

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