Shropshire Council had said its cabinet would hold talks on whether to support the plans from Bradford Estates to build what would effectively be a new town on land off Junction 3 of the M54, west of the village of Tong, at its meeting on Wednesday.
But now the council has confirmed it will decide whether to support the proposal at a meeting in May.
It comes after the council’s leader, Peter Nutting, last month indicated the authority would reject the proposal – which has the support of several Black Country councils who require the development because they claim they do not have enough space for new homes.
That position is now in doubt after the council confirmed it was considering evidence from the Association of Black Country Authorities as to whether to back the plan.
Robert Macey, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for housing and strategic planning, said: "We had hoped we’d be in a position to make a robust decision on accepting unmet need from the Black Country this month.
"In light of further recent evidence published by the Black Country Authorities regarding their ability to meet their own housing and employment needs, we feel it’s appropriate to allow sufficient time to give full consideration to this evidence, and to frame this important decision within the context of the wider local plan considerations.
“Therefore, it’s proposed that a decision on Shropshire Council’s position on its response to any unmet housing and employment need from the Black Country Authorities, upon which there is an acceptance that proposed land at Junction 3’s inclusion in the local plan is predicated, should be taken at the same time as the rest of the local plan in May 2020, rather than in isolation. These decisions would be made prior to any public consultation of the full version of the plan.”
The council has published an agenda for next week's meeting that includes a paper indicating plans to delay its local plan review.
The review currently does not include the Tong proposal which will be considered separately, and instead sets out areas of the county which can be used for house building and new business land. Several reasons have been given for the delay, including making sure the plan works with the authority’s ‘climate emergency draft strategy’, which is still being completed.
Another major reason for the delay is the suggestion the government will give the county new targets for the amount of houses it needs to build – potentially requiring the council to change its plan and find more space for homes.
It is also recommended that the plan is stretched to 2038 instead of 2036, meaning more houses will be required to meet its targets.
After Councillor Nutting said the authority would reject the Bradford Estates plan the council’s chief executive, Clive Wright, said “no formal decisions have been taken at this stage and so we cannot comment further”.
At the time, Viscount Alexander Newport, the managing director of Bradford Estates said he was “confused” at the suggestion it would be rejected.
In response to the latest delay in the process Lord Newport said: “While it would not be right for us to comment on the council’s cabinet process, we remain firm in our belief that the proposed development for land west of the A41 near junction 3 of the M54, represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a regionally important employment led scheme which could inject up to £390 million annually into the local economy and create up to 8,000 new full-time skilled jobs in Shropshire.
“This garden village-style development will secure the long-term future of the area, bringing vital jobs, affordable homes, upgraded road and rail infrastructure, training facilities and apprenticeships, schools and doctor surgeries, all delivered within a thoughtful green landscape masterplan and supported by renewable technologies with the aim of being zero carbon."
The plans have attracted fierce opposition from local MP Mark Pritchard, members of nearby Tong Parish Council, as well as campaign group Shifnal Matters.
Only last week Shifnal Matters said it did not believe financial considerations should be part of the application.
A spokesman said: “As the date for the final decision on the Junction 3 Tong development approaches, Shifnal Matters is appalled that Bradford Estates brings money to the forefront with the latest ploy, persuading Shropshire Council to allow precious green belt to be used for West Midlands’ housing and employment land shortfall.”