West Midlands Land Commission report endorses PBA study
By Cristina Howick, Partner – Planning
The West Midlands Land Commission delivered its final report to the West Midlands Combined Authority on 9th February. The Commission was set up to answer a single question: what should be done to increase the supply of development land, so the region can build more housing and create more jobs? Its answer endorses the evidence produced by PBA in a series of strategic studies: supply across the area falls far short of demand, and ‘planning as usual’ won’t close the gap. Hence the Commission calls for some big decisions, also in line with our earlier recommendations.
For housing, our Strategic Housing Needs Study found a gap of more than 37,000 homes between need to 2031 and the sites identified in Local Plans. This gap has only got larger. For employment, the study of Strategic Employment Sites that we produced jointly with JLL concluded that the planned supply of large industrial / logistics sites fell severely short of demand in the most popular locations –the M42 belt east of Birmingham, the area around Coventry and Rugby and the Black Country with southern Staffordshire.
We advised that brownfield land supply would not be enough to meet demand and need in full, partly because much of it is unviable to develop. Greenfield development would also be required, including in the Green Belt – where we found hundreds of hectares of land in highly accessible locations, close to well-served railway stations. Some of this land could be developed for sustainable urban extensions and new settlements, without causing urban sprawl or hurting the purposes of the Green Belt. But piecemeal releases would likely result in the wrong sites being chosen. Therefore, we recommended a comprehensive review of the Green Belt, to ensure that the most suitable sites were identified, regardless of which local authority area they were in.
The Land Commission report takes forward these findings. In relation to previously developed land it recommends a radically expanded programme of regeneration and remediation, supported by much increased public funding. This will not come cheap: earlier initiatives, like the RDA and Housing Market Pathfinders, have left behind a hard core of increasingly challenging brownfield sites. The report adds that brownfield sites are unlikely to provide enough developable land, and therefore there should also be a strategic review of the Green Belt, because local reviews risk a ‘piecemeal and unsustainable chipping away of the Green Belt’.
These are challenging recommendations, both for central and local government. Local authorities have stepped up to the plate: ahead of the Commission’s report they had already agreed to commission a study that would identify additional locations for housing growth. The study will include a strategic Green Belt review, unless if finds enough deliverable brownfield opportunities to meet demand. The central Government’s response is as yet unknown.