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Shropshire Council unveils blueprint for hundreds of jobs and houses at key sites

By Aimee Jones | Politics | Published:

Hundreds of high-skilled jobs and much-needed affordable housing could be created if Shropshire Council's blueprint for the county is adopted.

The authority has put forward three strategic sites at RAF Cosford, Ironbridge Power Station and Clive Barracks at Tern Hill, to be included in its new Local Plan.

Members of the cabinet will be asked to approve the major development sites at a meeting next week.

Adrian Cooper, Shropshire Council's planning and strategy manager, said: "The three strategic sites are not linked to existing towns and are at least 25 hectares which could be used for a range of different uses.

"We're not talking just housing or employment, but a mix with local facilities and services to be built in as well. Effectively they are new villages being proposed."

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has put forward an indicative masterplan for a mixed-use scheme at Clive Barracks, in Tern Hill, which would provide employment land and about 750 homes.

At RAF Cosford, the MOD has asked Shropshire Council to release a section of the Green Belt to expand its operations.

The owner of the former Ironbridge Power Station, Harworth, has also put forward initial plans for employment land and about 1,000 homes.

Controversial

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Mr Cooper said: "In terms of the local plan, we want to use these sites as an opportunity to get the maximum benefits for Shropshire.

"We don't want them to be left to mothball and become nothing but derelict sites. There is an opportunity here to make the best use of them and and see them developed in really positive ways which will obviously create jobs."

Councillors will also be asked to give their views on outline proposals to include the land at Junction 3 of the M54, near Tong, as a preferred site.

"Junction 3 is the biggest of all and most controversial," Mr Cooper said.

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"It is looking to do something that is not normally allowed by building on green belt land which has not been touched.

"And, unlike the other three, it would be designed to meet the development needs of a neighbouring authority. The Black Country can't meet its own development needs so it has asked us, along with other authorities, if we can help.

"This makes it very unique but we need more information to be able to come up with justification for it."

But Mr Cooper said it would have huge benefits for the county.

"The main driver for Shropshire is not housing or jobs, but if this scheme results in 50 hectares on the M54, that would undoubtedly be beneficial to our economy. It would be of international significance."

The council hopes to be in a position to adopt the new plan, which will have to go through a government planning enquiry, by the middle of 2021.

It is expected planning applications will follow shortly after.

Sites ripe for development

The locations have been known for some time but now the council is preparing to ask the public for its views on the plans at Tern Hill Barracks, Ironbridge Power Station, RAF Cosford, and land off Junction Three of the M54.

All of the proposals have been selected as ‘preferred sites’ by the council, apart from the land off the M54, where the authority says more evidence is needed to justify its support. The Tern Hill plans would see the creation of about 750 homes, combined with some commercial land.

It is a similar situation at the power station where new site owner Harworth wants to build what would effectively be a new village or town on the outskirts of Ironbridge.

For RAF Cosford the developments are focused on the Ministry of Defence site rather than any public or housing expansion. For the M54 plan, the current details outline a new village of up to 3,000 homes and about 50 hectares of employment land.

The council says the plans will allow for development of the economy and housing opportunities, but some have already expressed concern about the scale of the bids.

RAF Cosford: Famous airbase with global reputation

RAF Cosford

Earlier this year the former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson spoke of RAF Cosford’s importance to British defence, and the MoD is taking actions to safeguard the site’s future.

The RAF base is to be included as one of Shropshire Council’s ‘strategic sites’ for development in the coming years, after the MoD asked the council to release some of its green belt land in the area for an intensification of their use of the existing site.

Plans for development of the site could see as many as 1,500 jobs created as well as the creation of a new aviation academy, and a £40 million investment in the already hugely popular RAF Cosford Museum.

Speaking on a visit to RAF Cosford before his sacking as Defence Minister, Mr Williamson said: “Without places like RAF Cosford we wouldn’t have the ability to arm the military. It plays a huge role in keeping Britain safe.

Prosperity

“The other part of it is that it brings a lot in the way of prosperity and jobs to Shropshire, south Staffordshire and the West Midlands.”

The council report on plans for RAF Cosford, which will now go out to for the public to express their views, outlines how it could expand.

It states: “The Cosford site is expected to act as a centre of excellence for both UK and International Defence Training and is intended to host the relocation of the School of Technical Training from MoD St Athan. While detailed information on any potential moves and associated users is currently restricted due to the sensitivity of this information, RAF Cosford’s future role within the Defence College of Technical Training (DCTT) is expected to generate about an additional 1,500 staff and students using the existing site, although this number could potentially increase even further.”

It also outlines the museum and academy opportunities.

It states: “In addition to the MoD use of the site, the RAF Museum Cosford has outlined plans for a £40 million investment programme over 10 years to intensify and expand the museum site. Furthermore, the creation of a specialist aviation academy has recently been announced by the Aviation Skills Partnership in collaboration with Midlands Engine, the RAF, Air Cadets and Telford College. This is a major initiative to address demand for trained entrants to the aviation Industry across all jobs, roles and skills in accordance with the Government’s Green Paper Aviation 2050: The Future of UK Aviation. It also further elevates the importance of this location for UK aviation and potentially creates hundreds of new jobs at the site.”

It adds: “These proposals will require the development of new buildings on MoD-owned land south of the railway line.”

Tong: Land near village with convenient motorway links

The village of Tong

The case of proposals for a huge scale development on green land off Junction 3 of the M54 is slightly different to the others included in the council consultation.

When first revealed the plans indicated plans to create around 10,000 homes on land owned by the Bradford Estates near to Tong.

The proposal has since been scaled back considerably and now focuses on around 3,000 homes, as well as a 50-hectare business site – with a focus on taking advantage of the proximity to the Midlands.

However, unlike the other three strategic sites, which Shropshire Council supports in principle, the authority says “evidence and justification” is needed for the Bradford Estates proposal to be given ‘preferred’ status.

The details on the current plans show the creation of a site north of the M54 and to the west of the A41 Newport Road – the other side of the road from the village of Tong.

Shortfall

According to the council report on the plans one of the factors in considering the development is a request from the Black Country to provide space for housing and business that it cannot find.

The report states: “The latest evidence indicates that the Black Country cannot accommodate its identified development needs within its urban area. The Black Country authorities estimate that there will be a shortfall of around 300ha of employment land, with a particular need for additional high quality, accessible sites capable of accommodating national investment requirements.

"Similarly, even by increasing densities and looking to other sources of urban land supply, the latest evidence also suggests that there will be a significant housing shortfall of at least 22,000 homes in the Black Country. The options available to the Black Country to meet this need, including through Green Belt release within the Black Country and nearby authorities are currently being investigated by the Black Country Authorities."

The report describes the plan as a “once in a generation” opportunity, which would be “a significant positive growth opportunity for Shropshire”.

Despite that the council says that given the scale of plans “there are a number of significant issues which need further consideration”. They include the impact on existing infrastructure, communities and environmental assets, and the justification for the release of Green Belt land. Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard previously warned: “These housing numbers are completely over the top and disproportionate.”

Clive Barracks: Base is preparing to close

Clive Barracks

The Ministry of Defence’s announcement that the Royal Irish Regiment would be leaving its Tern Hill base left many wondering about the future of the site and the impact on the surrounding community.

What has emerged is a plan to create a new settlement on the brownfield site, that could be made up of 750 new homes and include a significant section of land for commercial buildings.

Work on any development would not begin until after the MoD leaves the site in 2025, but by including the barracks the council has shown its support for the project. The current proposals have been in the pipeline since 2016 with the MoD and its consultants working closely with local councils, the local community and other stakeholders as part of a ‘task force’ led by North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson.

The council’s report on the proposal states: “This indicative masterplan illustrates the mixed-use redevelopment of the site to provide local services and facilities; about 5.75ha of employment land; about 750 homes; and extensive green infrastructure, as part of a new settlement. Continued engagement through the ‘task force’ will help to refine and finalise proposals for the site.”

Potential

The report also outlines how the development could link with the HS2 rail link – if it goes ahead. It states: “The site is located on the A41 strategic growth corridor. The site also has potential to benefit from improved connectivity from the new HS2 rail link and Crewe Hub Station.”

Mr Paterson has said that the re-development of the Tern Hill Barracks was a bitter-sweet opportunity for the area. The former Northern Ireland minister said: “It will be very sad to see the Royal Irish go as they have become a major part of the economy and part of the heart of the local community.

“However, the closure of the barracks gives us the opportunity to develop a very large site that sits on the strategic road network. It could be very big and bring long-term benefits to north Shropshire in terms of growing the economy. That is why I set up the Tern Hill Task Force which has been meeting regularly to look at the way forward as the Royal Irish prepare to leave.”

If the development of the site eventually gains support it is still expected that only around 450 of the intended 750 would be built by 2036.

Ironbridge Power Station: Gorge at the heart of industrial revolution

Ironbridge Power Station

It is one of the county’s most recognisable sights, with the 205-metre-high cooling towers becoming a part of the landscape, but Ironbridge Power Station could see huge changes over the coming years.

As has been widely reported the power station, which stopped generating electricity in 2015, has been sold to a development firm called Harworth.

The organisation wants to build about 1,000 homes on the site, with businesses, leisure facilities, a school, and a village centre – effectively creating a new settlement on the outskirts of Ironbridge.

It could also see the re-opening of the railway line, with the potential for the creation of a new station. The plans have gone on display to the public in Ironbridge but will now go out for assessment by the wider population of the county.

By including the site in its consultation Shropshire Council has shown its support for the principle of the development.

In its consultation the authority said: “Shropshire Council considers that emerging proposals for the mixed-use redevelopment of the former Ironbridge Power Station site present an opportunity to support the local economy, create jobs, provide housing and to sympathetically remediate the site and as such represent a sustainable option for its future use.”

Impact

One anomaly in the proposal is that the council is responsible for the site, and whether the plan goes ahead is up to the Shropshire authority, although it is arguably likely to have more of an impact on Ironbridge which is under the control of Telford & Wrekin Council.

There have also been concerns over the scale of proposals and the impact on the World Heritage Site of Ironbridge, as well as the potential strain on local health services.

Speaking after the most recent consultation on the plans Telford & Wrekin Councillor for the Ironbridge Gorge, and cabinet member for visitor economy and the World Heritage Site, Carolyn Healy, said: “Most people in the gorge are pragmatic and recognise the site is a disused power station. It will need demolition.

“But because of the sheer scale of the development, you’re doubling the size of our community, and that will have an impact. People are understandably worried about what that impact will be.”

Aimee Jones

By Aimee Jones
@aimeejones_star

Senior reporter based at the Shropshire Star's Shrewsbury office, covering Shrewsbury, North Shropshire and South Shropshire.

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