Overspill? Councillor speaks out

Worfield and Rudge Parish Councillor, Lynne Tennant, has given us her permission to reproduce her powerful letter that she sent to her fellow Parish Councillors.

Dear Councillors,

Local Plan Review

Imagine the uproar if you saw the following headline in the Shropshire newspapers:-

Shropshire Council builds homes for Birmingham rate payers

If you think this is unbelievable then please read on.

Having attended various meetings concerning the Local Plan I have been concerned about the number of additional homes being planned. It has been assumed by those present at the meetings that the homes would be intended for local people but there would seem to be little evidence based information to back up the requirement for the number stated in the Plan, as well as any produced evidence to support building on green belt. However, if it was intended that Shropshire Council would fulfil a requirement to the Greater Birmingham area to take on part of their housing needs then the excess numbers in the Local Plan Review suddenly make perfect sense.

I can tell you that Birmingham has form for passing their overspill on to other authorities.  In the 1960’s/70’s Tamworth and Redditch areas both agreed to take some of Birmingham’s overspill.  What they had not expected was for Birmingham to place a large number of their problem families into both of the areas. The net result was to change both areas considerably and to change the social demographics beyond all recognition. The change created a great deal of problems for years. I would add that both areas are now included in the Greater Birmingham Region.

Many of you will have seen the press release in both the Shropshire Star and Express & Star on Friday 1st February, 2019 regarding the money given to Bromford Housing Association to build 1,400 homes by March 2024 – and about half of these will be built in Shropshire and the West Midlands.

Bromford has been made a ‘Strategic partner’ of Homes England. Bromford Housing Association are based in Wolverhampton and they operate in a number of areas within the Greater Birmingham region as well as further afield. Homes England is the Government Housing Accelerator sponsored by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. They expect to invest over £27billion over the next five years.

Homes England partners the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) of which both Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Council are signed up to as Non-Constituent Authorities (which means they have less voting rights).

For those interested in such items Homes England has produced a Strategic Plan 2018/19 – 2022/23 which details that it is the Government’s intention to deliver 300,000 new homes a year on average. The Strategic Plan is not too onerous to read but it does clearly detail its mission and objectives. Such as the fact that they are showing an interest in the Garden Towns and Villages programme. It also reveals that its mission “is to intervene in the market to ensure more homes are built in areas of greatest need”. In the Strategic Plan they maintain they will unlock public and private land where the market will not, to get more homes built where they are needed. Their key performance indicators include being measured by the number/type of houses built.

So far Adrian Cooper and Shropshire Council have not demonstrated that they have a great need for a Garden Village. One can only assume that they are following the money!

One of Homes England’s objectives is to intervene where landowners cannot collaborate effectively or where planning and technical challenges are beyond the appetite of the private sector. One of their priorities for 2018/20 will be to work collaboratively with local areas to identify and overcome barriers to growth, such as infrastructure and planning.

West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)
I have also been looking through the minutes of some of the Boards within WMCA. (As I said earlier Shrop. Council are involved with this group). The Investment Board minutes state that Telford & Wrekin Council has been funded £3.690m by the Board. In the Housing & Land Delivery Board minutes for October 2018 (item no. 26 Housing and Land Funding) it refers to this fund being to deliver 540 housing units and later in the minute it refers to the role of Telford and Wrekin in meeting the demands of the Greater Birmingham Housing Market Area.

In the Housing & Land Delivery Board minutes of 20th December, 2018 item 31 clearly refers to a question concerning the housing numbers provided by Non-Constituent Authorities counting towards the 215,000 target. The answer in the minute stated “that the housing target in the Housing Deal was a regional ambition. Any housing units included within relevant Local Plans could be counted towards the regional target but it would be for individual local authorities to plan for the distribution of such homes and oversee delivery of such units.”

I refer to my earlier statement that Telford & Wrekin Council and Shropshire Council are both included in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) as Non-Constituent Authorities. It would then follow that Telford & Wrekin and Shropshire Council have agreed to be involved in providing housing units in their respective areas for the use of Greater Birmingham. At this point I would refer the reader back to my second paragraph.

Clearly Shropshire Council is not being transparent in their dealings with the electorate and I am concerned to read in the Cabinet minutes of the meeting held on:- 12th December, 2018 – item no. 120 entitled Addressing Unmet Housing Need – Outline Business Case to Establish a Wholly Owned Local Housing Company.

Is this Shropshire Council’s way of being even more secretive. Apparently the initiative is to “aim to provide the right house in the right place to meet the needs of local people.” Does the word ‘local’ refer to those in the Greater Birmingham area or just the Shropshire Council area. Clearly if a local housing company is established then there will be no way of finding out what they are up to.

Conclusion
In my opinion Homes England has been given the power and authority required to try and meet the Government’s homes target. For this reason I think it is possible that the formal planning application process may be excluded. Adrian Cooper hopes to have a proposal Document to present before the Government Inspector by the end of 2019, (as detailed in item 3 of the minutes of the Extraordinary meeting), his decision will be final thereby excluding the need for a formal planning application. The consultation period, currently being undertaken (including the May 2019 consultation), is the “Support” or “Oppose” process usually carried out when a Planning Application is made. I hope I am
wrong.

Lynne Tennant – 3/2/2019