Save Bridgnorth Green Belt

Concerned residents at Stanmore and Swancote have set up the “Save Bridgnorth Green Belt” Action Group, and launched a website, to urgently fight proposals by Shropshire Council to take an unprecedented area of land out of the Green Belt for a highly controversial housing estate and industrial development.  The proposed site lies on both sides of the Stanmore Straight: right up to the ancient trees on Hermitage Ridge, on the tight knit community of the Hobbins, on the beloved Country Park, and then down the open fields beside the A454 to Swancote.

Save Bridgnorth Green Belt campaigners are focused on urgently rallying support to encourage as many people as possible to complete the Council’s preferred site consultation questionnaire by 8th February. This is their first step in stopping the “unnecessary and unwanted” development.

Campaigners say that the Council’s justifications for removing hundreds of acres of open fields and woodland from the Green Belt are “misleading”. Official documents obtained by the group, plus research carried by the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England prove that the Council’s housing need figures are deliberately inflated. There is also evidence suggesting that the Council is using Bridgnorth Green Belt to “to support the growth aspirations of the West Midlands Combined Authority” – in other words, as overspill for residents Birmingham and the Black Country as part of a wider Greenbelt land-grab right across the East of the County.

The Campaign Group has found that residents in Bridgnorth, Stanmore and surrounds either don’t know about or haven’t yet fully grasped the scale or impact of the proposed development on the town, local communities and surrounding countryside. 

“A large-scale satellite development on precious Greenbelt land close to the market town of Bridgnorth is both incongruous and unnecessary; it can only be filled by massive inward migration from outside the area.  We have no infrastructure, no amenities (and no guarantees of any), and poor access to Bridgnorth,” said Sheila Edwards, Hobbins resident and the Group’s chairwoman.  “It is imperative, if people share our concerns, that they complete the Council’s preferred site consultation by 8th February – guidance on how to do that is on our website or you can get more information and a paper copy of the questionnaire from the library” she added. 

Despite the Council dressing up the proposal as a ‘Garden Village’, it is an entirely new settlement the same size as the existing High Town.  The massive site earmarked for development, includes plans for 850 houses in phase one, a further 900 houses in phase 2, as well as 118 acres of industrial development, which will increase the size and population of Bridgnorth by almost 40 per cent, swamp local infrastructure and do irreversible environmental damage to beautiful, open countryside, the group says.

The proposal not only means the loss of loss of fertile rolling green fields between Stanmore Straight and the coppice on Hermitage ridge (itself ancient woodland and one of the most distinctive natural features of Bridgnorth) but residents are particularly anxious about plans to build on the much-loved Country Park which is home to a wide range of wildlife including 3 species of bat, scarce species of hoverfly, newts, birds of prey, green cuckoos as well as extremely rare black poplar trees. 

Peter Wilson, local resident and group member said, “The impact on local residents and the Greenbelt, which is vital to protect the countryside, will be disastrous. But this isn’t just about Stanmore.  The impact on Bridgnorth town will also be enormous.  The infrastructure would be overwhelmed – doctors, schools, hospital, traffic, parking – and Shropshire Council admit there are no guarantees of any investment to address it.  We’re finding that people in Bridgnorth are simply unaware of the scale of the proposed changes the Council want to push through, and time is running out before the consultation closes.  We’re appealing to people to speak up now, before Bridgnorth and our countryside is ruined forever”.

The group is urging people to visit the website www.savebridgnorthgreenbelt.co.uk for more information and guidance on how to complete the consultation before 8th February.  Or if they do not have access to the internet, to get a copy of the Council’s questionnaire from the library.  Campaigners are also knocking on doors and spreading the word to Stanmore and Bridgnorth residents.

The Council’s proposed plans for Bridgnorth, and the questionnaire can be found at  https://shropshire.gov.uk/get-involved/local-plan-review-preferred-sites-consultation/s

Shropshire Council’s preferred site consultation for Bridgnorth can be found at https://shropshire.gov.uk/get-involved/local-plan-review-preferred-sites-consultation/

The public consultation questionnaire can be found at: https://shropshire.gov.uk/media/11274/04-preferred-sites-questionnaire-bridgnorth-place-plan-area.pdf or paper copies are available in the library

Background:

Shropshire Council say there are “exceptional circumstances” – supposedly ‘affordable homes for local people’ – to justify this huge development but haven’t produced any evidence.  They admit there are no local Bridgnorth figures.  They also admit that any new homes cannot be guaranteed for local residents.  Both Save Bridgnorth Greenbelt Campaign Group and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England have proof that the figures for housing need that Shropshire Council uses to justify planning changes are deliberately inflated.   There is also evidence suggesting that Council is using our Green Belt to “to support the growth aspirations of the West Midlands Combined Authority” – which means the development is earmarked as overspill for residents Birmingham and the Black Country.  It is worth noting that Shropshire Council, which has a projected deficit of almost £27m next year, stands to make millions out of this development.  Their planning strategy appears to be driven by their severe financial problems.  

The plan fails to explain why Bridgnorth needs 850 new homes (with 900 in phase 2) and doesn’t explain how the local needs in Stanmore or the wider needs of Bridgnorth (infrastructure, roads, schools, healthcare etc) will be met if this controversial plan goes ahead. 

This Local Plan forms part of a wider Green Belt land grab across East Shropshire: the council want to create an ‘economic corridor’ linking Stanmore/Bridgnorth with the M54 & West Mids.  The Save Bridgnorth Greenbelt Campaign does not believe this will benefit the area or local people, nor does it believe the Council’s ‘economic plan’ is sound. 

Shropshire Council has huge incentives to do this: they stand to make a fortune from the Government’s New Homes Bonus, the community infrastructure levy, and more council tax/business rates.  However, there is no guarantee that the money they would raise from new homes would be spent in Bridgnorth.  As recent developments in Shifnal and Broseley demonstrate, the Council have a habit of taking community infrastructure levy money and spending it elsewhere after damaging communities in the process.  It is also worth noting that the Shropshire Council community infrastructure levy fund is no longer accepting bids. 

At the recent public meeting in Bridgnorth, the Council’s planners could not and would not guarantee that proposed development will benefit Bridgnorth or Stanmore.  This unprecedent land grab, against the wishes of local people, does not take into consideration the needs of Bridgnorth, or the needs of Stanmore and surrounding areas, or the massive negative impact this will have on the landscape, wildlife, local communities or historic Bridgnorth. 

There is particular disquiet about the loss of the much-loved Stanmore Country Park – compulsorily purchased by the Council to safeguard the Green Belt – and the threat to ancient woodland that forms the coppice along Hermitage Ridge.

The Council claim that “entry level, key worker and employee housing” are key local priorities, and without this development Bridgnorth faces the loss of dedicated local employers with a long history of commitment to our town – there is no evidence for these claims, and as such they should be treated with extreme scepticism.  

 Housing Need: Reality vs Myth

The Office of National Statistics states that the projected population growth in Shropshire is 3.9% in the short term up to 2026 and 7.4% in the long term until 2041.  Applying this to Bridgnorth using the 2011 census information produces population increase figures of just under 500 and just under 900 respectively.  To quote ONS “Shropshire’s population growth is entirely fed by net in-migration from within the UK and overseas. Natural change alone (slight decline in births minus rising deaths) is projected to have an increasingly negative impact on population change in Shropshire.”

Using Shropshire Council’s own estimated figures of 12,900 in 2016 the figures are 500 and 950 respectively.  The probable increase in population is if all the proposed development takes place.  That is a population increase of 40% which alters completely the whole nature of the town.  It would indeed most probably be a large-scale dormitory.  At the time of the census, there were 5,900 dwellings in Bridgnorth.  If all this development took place, there would an additional 2,350 dwellings, also an increase of 40%.

Applying ONS figures produces the following figures for new dwellings required:  

 New Houses requiredNew Houses proposedIn excess of requirement
Shropshire9,75028,7502.94 times larger
Bridgnorth2781,5005.40 times larger

560 homes are already approved to build, mostly at Tasley, yet they are telling us we need thousands more. 500 properties equate to 1.8 x more properties than are required in Bridgnorth by 2041, this plan therefore does not meet in any way the requirement for “exceptional circumstances” for release of Green Belt land.

The Council claim there is need for an additional 28,750 dwellings in Shropshire over the next 20 years.  However, the Council stated in writing in December 2018 that they have an “aspirational strategy to exceed the objectively assessed housing need set against a significant increase in housing development in the County”.  They stated in November 2017 that the “objectively identified figure” is 25,500 dwellings.  CPRE calculate the figure to be around 24,500 using the method set out by the Government.  Even just using the Council figures shows the Council are exaggerating the “need” by 3,250 dwellings, or 12.7%.     

Campaigners are extremely concerned that judgement on planning issues may be being influenced by the need for the Council to generate more money.  They say a council should not wreck local communities and beautiful landscapes if generating cash is part of a hidden agenda.

The lack of democracy is also a huge concern.  Shropshire Council has repeatedly ridden roughshod over the views of Bridgnorth people – the Tasley chicken farm, the Smithfield shops and the recent Shipley quarry decision all faced unprecedented levels of local opposition but were pushed through anyway. 

The decision to approve these “preferred sites” currently under consideration for development was made by the Shropshire Council cabinet, the body that is responsible for policies, plans and strategies.  The cabinet is appointed by Councillor Peter Nutting, and there is not a single councillor from Bridgnorth or indeed from anywhere in the south or east at the table.  

In 2008 Philip Dunne, our local MP, said of the decision to press ahead with the unitary authority for Shropshire “Today is a dark day for democracy”.  Events seem to be proving him right.