Campaigners have called on the Leader of Lichfield District Council to reject new home-building targets for the area.
Lichfield District Residents Alliance have made the plea as part of their bid to save areas of Lichfield and Burntwood – including green-belt land – from development.
They had originally campaigned against plans for 8,000 new houses, but now an independent inspector has suggested that a further 2,000 may need to be built.
David Woods, chairman of the Alliance, said:
“The reaction of David Smith, Lichfield District Council Leader, to the Inspector’s decision that the District should accept a total of 10,000 new houses between 2006 and 2026 is nothing short of breathtaking.
“He complains that the increase from the 8,000 the council originally accepted would mean having to build on greenfield land in open countryside, yet he conveniently forgets that the Council’s current proposals already involve building on greenbelt and greenfield land!”
The group has long disputed the figures and have claimed that far fewer new homes will actually be required.
Mr Woods added:
‘The Alliance has campaigned against the 8,000 target in support of the majority of residents. We should all bear in mind that only some 3,000 dwellings are needed to cater for natural growth in the plan period.
‘The District Council should never have accepted the 8,000 target in the first place. Other councils have successfully challenged such targets in the courts – and won. It’s not too late to avoid these externally imposed targets. Caroline Spelman, MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has contacted all Conservative controlled councils suggesting that they delay any housing development plans until after the general election. If elected, the Conservative party has pledged to abolish the regional planning machinery and revoke the housing targets.
“The solution is simple – Mr Smith and Lichfield District Council should reject the 8,000 and 10,000 targets, delay any future planning decisions until after the impending election, listen to what residents are saying and, irrespective of the outcome of the election, develop a future housing programme that meets the district’s needs whilst preserving our heritage.
“If they do not listen to, respect and fight for the views of Lichfield District people then they will be wholly to blame for the planning disaster that will result.”
However, Cllr Smith has admitted that he is shocked by the recommendation that the area requires 10,000 new homes.
“When future housing numbers were first discussed by the Government, as many as 16,000 new homes were being considered for the district. At the time we lobbied hard, and successfully reduced the number to 8,000 new homes. This constituted a 50 per cent reduction and a slow down in housing growth, when compared to recent years. Indeed 5,000 of these homes have already been built, or have planning permission, which means only a further 3,000 would be needed up until 2026.
“Like Lichfield District Residents’ Alliance, we are shocked by the recent independent inspector’s report that recommends an increase from 8,000 to 10,000 new homes for the district, and at the moment officers and councillors are preparing to respond strongly to these figures. This is something we have publicly stated, and as such I’m very surprised by the Alliance’s suggestion that we are preparing to accept this increased figure without a fight, as this could not be further from the truth.”
Cllr Smith also explained that the region is not yet in a position to mount a legal challenge to the targets. He explained:
“The Alliance is correct that other councils nationwide have successfully challenged housing numbers for their area through the courts. However, in the West Midlands we are not at this stage yet, as all housing numbers for the region are still only proposals. Only once they have been formally accepted by the Government, can any council that strongly opposes their figures, consider whether or not to challenge them through the courts.
“We are committed to developing the district in a positive way and have spent months talking to and listening to local residents’ views. We’ve worked hard to marry these views with leading guidance on building strong and sustainable communities with access to good shopping, local jobs and the right kinds of open spaces and infrastructure. It’s important to note that all of our plans are still at the proposal stage and that no final decisions have been made.”