Absolutely everything you need to know:
Shropshire Council want to take an unprecedented area of land out of the Green Belt for a highly controversial housing estate and industrial development that will increase the size and population of the town by over 40% (if we include the already approved 560 houses at Tasley this is a total increase of 48%, in effect doubling the size of Bridgnorth). The proposed site lies on both sides of the Stanmore Straight: across high quality agricultural land, right up to the ancient trees on Hermitage Ridge, on the tight knit community of the Hobbins, on the beloved Country Park, from the back of the Industrial Estate to Hoccum, and down the open fields beside the A454 to Swancote.
The site compromises 410 acres of greenbelt, that’s bigger than Perton, bigger than High Town, it’s bigger than 310 football pitches!
We kicked off our campaign by urgently rallying support to encourage as many people as possible to complete the Council’s preferred site consultation questionnaire on the plans (the deadline passed on 8th February). Since then we’ve been gathering and collating vast amounts of information and wading through thousands of pages of documents, talking to experts, and lately we’ve delivered over 7,000 surveys, collating public opinion on the plans. Over the next few months this effort will culminate in a massive push – including a fundraising campaign – to engage the public, so they can have their say on the future of Bridgnorth. What happens next, is having analysed (but not yet published) the 3,500 county-wide consultation responses they received on their Local Plan Review, the council will then make a decision at Cabinet on 12th June to – most likely – move things forward to ‘master planning’. Then second stage public consultation on these plans should open in late 2019, with the plans going to the Government Inspector in early 2020. If we have any chance of winning this thing, we need to stop these plans well before that point. This is where you come in! We need you to get involved.
In a nutshell, there are three main issues with the Council’s plans:
- Technical flaws and impropriety – the way the Council is conducting itself, conflicts of interest, excessive secrecy, and the way they are failing to carry out a proper public consultation
- The plans themselves are ‘unsound’ and don’t stand up to scrutiny, and don’t meet the ‘exceptional circumstances’ for release of greenbelt land
- The huge negative impact this will have on Bridgnorth and surrounding countryside – infrastructure, character of the town, the environment etc.
Meanwhile, we have been urging the council to look again at the consultation process, which was confusing, hard to access, and ill conceived; it contravenes the rules, ‘The Gunning Principles’ on public consultation.
We are also working hard to keep this issue in the press, and putting pressure on the council to make plain the “exceptional circumstances” which they say justifies such a large release of greenbelt land. We’re also networking with businesses, councillors, the CPRE, and other national and local organisations, as well as other greenbelt groups in East Shropshire. The Bridgnorth plans form part of a wider strategy by the council to take land out of the greenbelt to build an unprecedented number of homes across the East of our county. Greenbelt groups across the area think these plans do not stand up to scrutiny. In March, our MP Philip Dunne, and Shifnal’s MP Mark Pritchard took these concerns to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. The Rt Hon Mark Pritchard went as far as calling the plans ‘environmental vandalism’ in a blistering attack on Shropshire planners.
The Council’s proposed plans for Bridgnorth can be found at https://shropshire.gov.uk/media/11273/04-preferred-sites-consultation-bridgnorth-place-plan-area.pdf
Bear in mind, to date, they are still unable to quantify, explain or evidence the ‘need’, or indeed the ‘exceptional circumstances’ for these plans. Indeed, both Michael Wood, County Cllr for Worfield, and Adrian Cooper, Head of Planning Policy, have said, ‘we can’t think where else to put it’.
Shropshire Council say there are “exceptional circumstances” – supposedly ‘affordable homes for local people’ – to justify this huge greenbelt 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. The National Planning Policy Framework, the national ‘rules’, say that:
“Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances. When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations”.
Despite relentless pressure to say what these very special circumstances are, in a report for Shropshire Council’s cabinet meeting on 12th June, at which the next stage for these plans will in all likelihood be waved through, all they’ve managed to come up with is:
“Further justification will be required to demonstrate the exceptional circumstances which justify the release of land from the Green Belt”.
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 overspill for residents of 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. Despite us pushing, they still cannot answer these questions.
This Local Plan forms part of a wider Green Belt land grab across East Shropshire: the council want to create an ‘economic corridor’ linking 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.
Infrastructure and Amenities:
At the public meeting in Bridgnorth in January, the Council’s planners could not and would not guarantee that the proposed development will benefit Bridgnorth or Stanmore – or guarantee that there was money for infrastructure. Bridgnorth just won’t cope! These plans won’t provide the sustainable resilient future Bridgnorth needs. Our town will double in size, with 2,350 more houses (including Tasley), an estimated 6,000 more people, 3,000 more cars but no infrastructure guarantees. Our schools, hospital, doctors, roads, services, parking will be overwhelmed.
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. Indeed, the Shropshire Wildlife trust wrote a devastating response to the Council, highlighting the appalling failures of their Sustainability Assessments for the site.
There is particular disquiet about the loss of the much-loved Stanmore Country Park – ironically, compulsorily purchased by the Council some years ago with £1.2m of public money, for ‘public use’ to safeguard the Green Belt – and the threat to ancient woodland that forms the coppice along Hermitage Ridge. Stanmore Country Park has had £8,500 invested over the last 5 years via Voluntary Group bidding activity for charitable monies. This has resulted in a 600m wheelchair friendly path, 6 noticeboards highlighting heritage and ecological value of the Park, Bat and Bird boxes with a resultant increase of species, 20 fruit trees in a community orchard and the planting of a rare Black Poplar avenue. In 2018, 57,626 people passed by the footfall counter through 1 of 8 entrance gates into the park. The Park fulfils a useful role in supporting available green space (which is below acceptable national average in Bridgnorth). The park is on level terrain and is suitable for disabled users. Open space which is level is in short supply in Shropshire and nationally. You can watch our video about the country park HERE
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.
The council have implied that the economy of Bridgnorth is failing, and therefore this greenbelt development is justified. Their chief planner, Adrian Cooper, even took the press, giving an extensive interview, saying these greenbelt homes were a “necessary evil”. You can read the article here: ‘Our towns must expand to thrive’: Shropshire Council says green belt homes are a necessary evil
In this quite extraordinary interview, Mr Cooper named three organisations as the source of these business claims – Bridgnorth and Shropshire Chambers of Commerce and the LEP, as well as once again naming local businesses. We had a right to reply in the Shropshire Star, in a story entitled, “Campaigners hit back over “devastating” housing plan claims” and in that story we said:
“It’s interesting that now he’s under pressure Mr Cooper tries to pull a rabbit out of the hat – local business. It is deplorable that Mr Cooper feels he can make comments which could affect local businesses, with a long track record of commitment and investment in this town, somehow implying they are threatening to relocate if we do not tear up our countryside. We’ve been talking to local businesses, many business people are amongst our supporters, and we haven’t found firms saying this.”
We’ve met with the businesses the council keep naming in public, and they are adamant that they are not lobbying for new homes, and indeed housing is not a factor in their future plans; their staff commute short distances from Telford, Wolverhampton and Kidderminster and this is not, and never has been, a problem. They are investing in their sites, are committed to Bridgnorth, and most assuredly have no plans to relocate.
Following the ‘necessary evil’ story, we also contacted the Bridgnorth Chamber of Commerce, Shropshire Chamber of Commerce, and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), all named by the Council. All three denied making any such representations to the council, and all three said they had not been contacted by any local businesses lobbying for new homes. The Shropshire Star contacted the council, asking them to comment, and they moved the goalposts once again, saying the claims were based on a 2015 ‘Bridgnorth Healthcheck’ document that had never been published, and was not part of the evidence base for the Local Plan Review. You can read about us catching the Council out in this rather embarrassing bit of misrepresentation which the Shropshire Star covered in a story entitled Bridgnorth campaigners demand to see evidence of need for 850 new homes
We said in that article:
“Now, the council is citing broader issues that apply anywhere in the county, there’s nothing unique to Bridgnorth, but we’re meant to believe that the destruction of our countryside and swamping of our town is justified by an unseen, unfinished economic plan; unseen, inadequate housing data and a secret ‘dodgy dossier’ of concerns the business community has never heard of. Any fair-minded council would put all evidence into the public domain to be properly scrutinised before consultation – it speaks volumes they can’t, or won’t, do that. People have completely lost faith in Shropshire planners, it’s quite clear their crackpot scheme for Bridgnorth has been pulled out of thin air.”
We’ve since got them to disclose the ‘Health Check’ by Freedom of Information request. Bridgnorth Chamber of Commerce also wrote to the newspaper to set the record straight, in an article entitled Bridgnorth Chamber chief denies backing for more homes
Steve Robbins, Chamber chief, went so far as to say:
“I would like to make it very clear that Bridgnorth Chamber of Commerce have not received any comments from its members or other businesses concerning a need for housing or additional employment land in the town. Furthermore, we are advised that Shropshire Chamber of Commerce and Trade, as our parent chamber, have received no such comments either, and neither chamber has made any representations to Shropshire Council on the matter, as alluded to by one of its officers. As chairman of Bridgnorth Chamber of Commerce I find myself frustrated by the inaccurate information emanating from this council, particularly where it promotes a negative impression of the chamber which works very hard for the town, its businesses and residents.”
Politics and Economics:
“You don’t get far in business without being able to tell the difference between a good deal and a bad deal. Shropshire Council’s plan for Stanmore is a very bad deal for Bridgnorth. The local economy is driven by tourism, and specialist engineering, there is simply no need to destroy the countryside for the town to thrive and grow … The Council’s arguments, particularly their economic justifications, simply do not hold water. My role will be to bring businesses together, and to let the council know that they cannot hide behind the claim that business is driving this development, it’s not. The plans simply won’t deliver on their promises; and will wreck a truly beautiful corner of our county in the process. I don’t think Bridgnorth deserves to be treated like that”.
It is also worth pointing out that Shropshire Council ran the Local Plan Review asking for public comment on these plans, before the economic plan for Bridgnorth has been published (at the time of writing, it is still not published!)
The Bridgnorth Journal, in an Editorial on 21st February 2019 called the council’s plans for Bridgnorth ‘grandiose’. It said,
“The elephant in the room here of course is Telford. It has plenty of room for both residential and industrial development and, as the fastest growing town in the Midlands, continues to welcome both. Yet we cannot factor it in to Shropshire’s plans because it is a different authority. So we are left with a situation where small towns like Bridgnorth and Shifnal could really begin to groan at the seams, while there is spare capacity just up the road. So much for integrated planning”.
It is also worth reading CPRE Shropshire Branch’s public questions to cabinet submitted on 20th March 2019. Charles Green asked the council why their Economic Growth Strategy, which is one of the main drivers of the Local Plan Review, was inflating employment land need at an additional 305Ha when calculations submitted by CPRE for the Local Plan Review, based on Shropshire Council’s own figures, indicate that only 141Ha might be needed. He also pointed out that the architects of the Economic Growth Strategy had admitted it has not been subject to any Sustainability Appraisal (which is ironic, since Shropshire Council have declared a ‘climate emergency’).
Mr Green went on to ask them for evidence for their claim that the Black Country had run out of land, going on to say:
“The Black Country figures are out of date, and Shropshire Council should not be contemplating the release of land for a need which has yet to be tested, particularly when the Black Country is currently engaged in a call for sites. Furthermore, the Government has just released the latest Housing Delivery Test figures. The West Midlands area as a whole has delivered 138% of its requirement over the last three years which is nearly 20,000 more than required. Shropshire and its nine neighbouring English Local Authorities have delivered 188%, which is over 15,000 more than required”.
Housing Need – Reality vs Myth:
Bridgnorth’s population has grown by just under 2,000 people (or 13%) since 1982. This is because Bridgnorth has an older population, and the ‘death rate’ cancels out much of the ‘birth rate’. 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. 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 for Bridgnorth’s current population of 12,900 in 2016, if we apply the ONS percentages above, the expected population increase figures for the town are 500 to 2026 and 950 to 2041 respectively. The probable increase in population, if all if all the proposed development takes place is approx 6,000 people. That is a population increase which alters completely the whole nature of the town. It would most probably be a large-scale dormitory, that can only be filled by massive inward migration from outside the area. 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, an increase of 40%.
Applying ONS figures produces the following figures for new dwellings required:
|New Houses required||New Houses proposed||In excess of requirement|
|Shropshire||9,750||28,750||2.94 times larger|
|Bridgnorth||278||1,500||5.40 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%. CPRE say if all this building goes ahead that means a population increase in the county of 75,000 people.
We are extremely concerned that judgement on planning issues may be being influenced by the need for the Council to generate more money. We say a council should not wreck local communities and beautiful landscapes if generating cash is part of a hidden agenda.
The land is owned by Hickman Estates (Stanmore), Apley Estates (Hermitage Farm) and Davies’ (Swancote Farms Ltd) – the latter land earmarked for development after 2036. We know from FOI requests that the Council approached the landowners, and not the other way around. Hickmans and Lord Hamilton – of Apley Estates – have commissioned Stansgate Planning Ltd, planning consultants, to argue their case and we have had receipt of almost 100 documents back and forth between them and Shropshire’s planning department, working together to hone their argument to get these plans through. Stansgate Planning were also instrumental in getting the Tasley development plans through (ironically because, they argued, it would protect the greenbelt elsewhere in Bridgnorth). It has taken since December 2018 to force the council to release these documents, some are still being withheld, because the council told us:
“It is crucial that we as a public authority have a safe space to enable us to formulate policy, debate live issues and reach decisions without being hindered by external comment and/or media involvement.”
Here’s Stansgate’s map:
Lord Hamilton also happens to be the President of Ludlow Conservatives (and therefore has a close relationship with the local candidate, Philip Dunne MP). Dunne, to date, has been cautiously supportive of our objections. Lord Hamilton is also a paid up member of the Country Landowners’ Association (CLA). The Shropshire branch of the CLA proudly says of their local networking efforts: “we have met with officers and councillors from Shropshire County Council to discuss issues such as the Community Infrastructure Levy, which amounts to a tax on new development”.
The Community Infrastructure Levy is a charge billed back to developers and landowners to ensure that plans benefit the local community, and offset the impact – it pays for roads, doctors, schools, green spaces etc.
It’s also worth pointing out that development land sells for well over £1m a hectare, and the landowners stand to make Euro Millions figures out of this development – the entire site is 166 hectares. We refer you also to (Conservative) Cllr Michael Wood’s remarks at a several parish council meetings, that, ‘we can’t think where else to put ‘it”. He’s also repeatedly directly named a local business as threatening to relocate if we don’t rubber stamp these plans (as discussed above, they firmly deny any involvement whatsoever in representations to the council on planning matters).
Invest in Shropshire
Invest in Shropshire is part of the Economic Growth Service of Shropshire Council. It’s the business facing department that gads about Europe with fancy brochures offering our greenbelt to foreign investors at overseas Development conferences. Mark Barrow, Director of Place (the man ultimately in charge of checking unwarranted development, planning, publicly owned assets like the Country Park, and economic growth for the county) went to the South of France touting Shropshire sites to the highest bidder. He even made a drone video of Bridgnorth (before public consultation on the site is complete):
This was covered in Shropshire Star, in a story entitled: Shropshire Council criticised for advertising land to developers
In that story, we said: “Shropshire Council is totally out of control. Seeking investment for Greenbelt sites on a junket in Cannes means they have pre-determined the future of these sites before the next round of consultation. That is not only undemocratic but supremely arrogant …Residents should not suffer the insult of finding the place they call home being peddled abroad in a real estate brochure or be forced to rely on freedom of information requests to get straight answers.”
- The County is driven by a highly pro-business Council and supported by a high-powered LEP.
- An established Business Board ensuring business views feed into decision-making across the County.
- Our fast efficient planning service ensures ideas can be turned into action rapidly and profitably.
Note that says ‘profitably’ and ‘rapidly’.
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 (recently overturned thanks to the hard slog of campaigners pushing it all the way to Judicial Review), the Astbury Hall development, the Smithfield shops and the recent Shipley quarry decision all faced unprecedented levels of local opposition but were pushed through, in some instances in surprising haste, anyway.
The decision to approve the “preferred sites” – including Bridgnorth – 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 – whose business qualification is he once ran a sports shop – and there is not a single councillor from Bridgnorth or indeed from anywhere in the south or east at the cabinet 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.
Time is running out for us to stop this madness, and we need your help. Come along to a public meeting:
11th June, 7pm, Worfield Village Hall
13th June, 7pm, Castle Hall Bridgnorth
or read what you can do to get involved HERE