'Environmental vandalism': MP Mark Pritchard launches blistering attack on Shropshire planning authorities
Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard has accused Shropshire Council of wanting to 'concrete over the green belt' and Telford & Wrekin Council of 'environmental vandalism' in a blistering attack on planning policy in the county.
Mr Pritchard also said he wanted answers on the financial and commercial arrangements between the two councils, as well as Shropshire Council's relationship with the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Mr Pritchard delivered his withering attack during a debate with housing and communities minister Kit Malthouse in the House of Commons.
He said plans for more than 6,000 new homes in Tong, Shifnal and Albrighton would have devastating effects on the character of those communities, while brownfield sites in built-up areas of Telford went undeveloped.
Mr Pritchard told Mr Malthouse there were large numbers of people in his constituency who were concerned about the way precious green belt land was being swallowed up for housing and commercial development.
He also criticised plans – since withdrawn at the request of Telford & Wrekin Council – for a toilet roll factory in Shawbirch.
"Telford & Wrekin is a council that is proven it doesn't have any regard for the borough's ecological heritage," said Mr Pritchard.
"It has a total disregard for for the environment, it is complicit in what I would call environmental vandalism in the borough on a scale that is unprecedented.
"My constituents in The Wrekin are not saying they object to all housing, they are not Nimbys, but they do say that the number of new homes being proposed needs to be proportionate and sustainable, and built in the right places."
He said the site at Shawbirch was next to an Iron Age settlement, one of the oldest in the borough, and was also close to homes.
Better consultation was needed for major schemes, he said, adding that he had been told only 15 households were consulted before the Shawbirch proposals were presented.
He said when new housing was built on green belt sites, more needed to be done to ensure that householders in the area received a share of the economic benefits.
Mr Pritchard also called for the Government to toughen its policy on 'land banking', where developers secured planning permission to build on a site but delayed work for lengthy periods to keep house prices high.
He also attacked Shropshire Council over plans for a new 'garden village' in Tong, and said the council had one of the worst records in the country when it came to housing density for new developments.
"Shropshire Council wants to concrete over huge amounts of greenbelt in Shropshire. The council wants to build up to 3,000 houses on prime green belt land near the historic and beautiful village of Tong, one of the most beautiful villages in the Diocese of Lichfield, and arguably the most beautiful church in Shropshire," said Mr Pritchard.
To add insult to injury, there were also plans for 123 acres of employment land as part of the scheme, based on a fanciful claim that there was a shortage of employment land in the West Midlands, he added.
He said there was no support from the plan, either from the town council or from Tong Parish Council.
Mr Pritchard said he did not accept there was a shortage of employment land in the West Midlands, but if that were the case, there was plenty of land available on the industrial parks of Telford itself, or even in Wolverhampton.
"I don't accept that Tong, Shifnal or Albrighton should become the dumping ground for West Midlands housing and employment," he said.
Mr Pritchard said the public had a right to know what commercial and economic relationships existed between Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Council, and also between Telford & Wrekin Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority.
"I hope it doesn't take a Freedom of Information requests to elicit that material from those authorities," he said.
During the debate, Ludlow MP Philip Dunne also expressed concerns about the encroachment of development on the eastern fringes of Bridgnorth.
Mr Malthouse said the Government was committed to enabling the housing market to deliver at least 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, and every part of the country had a role to play in delivering these homes.
"Under the plan-making process, all local authorities have a duty to co-operate with their neighbours in seeking to allocate housing need most appropriately in their region or area," he said.
"Where those plans are put in place and there is co-operation about the allocation of housing, of course it should be completely transparent for local communities to see how their democratically elected representatives are disposing of the required housing need in their area."
He said Mr Pritchard was right to say local authorities had a duty to look at brownfield land before considering green-belt development.
"The green belt is a key feature of our natural heritage and fundamentally aims to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open," said Mr Malthouse.
Katherine Kynaston, assistant director for business and employment at Telford & Wrekin Council, said Mr Pritchard was entitled to his view, but insisted the council placed great importance on the borough’s ecological heritage. It had adopted a total of 16 local nature reserves covering 1,285 acres, nearly triple the minimum recommended standard, she added.
“It has also protected more than 200 sites as part of its Green Guarantee scheme, protecting these pieces of land, totalling 550 hectares, from development," said Mrs Kynaston.
"In 2018 the Council invested £52,000 to enhance these sites and in 2019 a further £50,000 of investment is planned."
Mrs Kynaston said Telford was a green borough, with 89 per cent of households in Telford and Wrekin were within 328 yards of accessible natural green space covering 4.94 acres or more.
“With regards to Shawbirch, the land in question is owned by the Government and was an allocated site for employment use by the Government many years ago," she added.