I notice that over the past few weeks some outrage seems to be abroad over supposed plans to build a housing estate or industrial park, near Shire Oak on Lanes Farm, between the farmhouse at Sandhills and the Chester Road; broadly the site of the old Brawn’s Wood.
There is no need to panic. This is not a solid plan, it’s an expression of half-hearted interest as part of a very long-term, unquestionably doomed planning policy document currently being consulted on by Walsall Council.
Sadly, the situation seems to be being exploited for political ends by the Aldridge North and Walsall Wood councillors, all of whom are Tory. An occasionally circulated free pamphlet from the local Conservative Party, ‘In Touch’, has been selectively delivered to some local homes in Shire Oak, dealing with the whole issue in unnecessarily sensationalist terms. One can only wonder what the gentlemen concerned might be trying to distract local attention from. I include scans of the sheet at the bottom of this post.
There is no planning application at the moment of any kind, and several historic attempts to build industrial units on the land were thrown out in the 1990s, every time refused by the council, then additionally defeated on appeal to higher authorities. The land is protected greenbelt, and the council’s own planning document for the site includes the description:
Site in Green Belt. Development of sites in the Green Belt would be contrary to the objective of the BCCS to develop brownfield sites first. Impact on highway network is also likely to be considerable.
Further, it notes:
Would need to demonstrate that there was insufficient land for the proposed uses elsewhere, before considering in more detail.
In other words, for development of the site to even be looked at, there would have to be nowhere else in the area suitable to develop for the purpose specified. In the case of housing, there are many brownfield sites in the borough, and specifically in Brownhills itself that merit redevelopment. There are a glut of unacted upon approved permissions for developments of housing throughout Walsall. The chances of getting to the stage where there are no alternative sites are very low indeed. Effectively, by that note alone, Walsall have pointed out that there’s not a chance, but are forced to consider the development’s chances of approval due to a process currently ongoing, that all councils have to undertake at the moment.
Walsall Council are currently consulting – and will be for a long time yet – on a planning and development strategy for the whole borough. This is called Walsall 2026, and gives a long term strategy for urban, rural and transport development. All councils have to produce these strategies, and Walsall is not unique. Lichfield District Council produced theirs, to some controversy, over 18 months ago. What these strategies do is frame a development plan as to where housing, commercial and transport – as well as leisure and greenspace – should be developed. The document produced is called the ‘Site Allocation Document’, and will be published probably in 2015, after which it will be audited.
This is a similar, but borough-wide equivalent to the 1980s Aldridge Brownhills Local Plan, probably one of the finest works of fiction ever published by a local authority.
The Site Allocation Document will be a wish list. It sets out options for change, the type of development that will be favoured in specific areas and so forth. It provides no funds or other drivers to develop anywhere, and is is not even legally binding, in that it can be ignored or contradicted if sufficient reason is given, just as the Aldridge Brownhills Local Plan was. Any applications submitted, even if the conformed to this strategy would still be considered on their own merits, as is normal.
Therefore, sites specified still have to undergo full and normal planning process before anything happens.
The reason the Lanes Farm site has come into contention is that part of this process involves asking landowners, residents and developers to suggest sites for consideration as part of the Local Development Framework. However daft, however unlikely, if a site is suggested, it has to be considered publicly as part of the process. It looks as if the landowner and the developer who were formerly rebuffed have tried to submit the side for consideration. It will fail.
In it’s response, Walsall has already effectively sidelined the suggestion.
It’s important that residents take part in these consultations, and engage. Not just to prevent erosion of the green belt, but to help shape strategy for future provision of social housing, transport and green space. Like it or not, we’re facing a housing crisis, and Brownhills (and Aldridge) have huge areas of brownfield, derelict sites that could be used to this end. We need to seriously consider and pressure the powers that be to increase the pace of redevelopment of places like the former Silver Court Gardens, not just to remove them as a blot on the landscape, but to revitalise our town. Getting involved in that conversation is important and necessary.
I’d be a lot more impressed with the incumbent councillors if they cut back on the alarmist rhetoric, explained the issue properly and didn’t attempt to cry ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre. One wonders what this is a mask for – with Walsall Council facing another huge round of budget cuts, the crisis in Social Care, the lingering thorny issue of the Aldridge bail hostel and flight of fancy over Oak Park all on a Tory watch, there’s plenty they might not want you to be noticing, but do pay attention to other issues you may find yourselves being distracted from.
Interestingly, the process should resolve in time for the next local election round. Only a cynic would suggest this to be anything other than sheer coincidence.
In the furore, Councillor Mike Flower – once the poster boy of Walsall Council social media, but now largely absent from the online community for unknown reasons – has set up a group on Facebook dedicated to ‘Protecting the green belt around Aldridge and Shire Oak’ which, at the time of writing this has 32 members – mostly invited in from the local Tory party, including Lichfield MP and sometime TV clown Michael Fabricant MP. My request to join under my usual Facebook identity has oddly been declined. I wonder why that might be? Thankfully, they don’t recognise the other one I use…
In the meantime, get involved with the process. It’s long term, and will be rumbling on for some time yet – indeed, the ‘call for sites’ is still open. This hasn’t been a secret, and there’s no conspiracy – Walsall have been trumpeting many aspects of this consultation for some time, and there’s plenty of opportunity still to give your feedback. I haven’t mentioned it directly here as there’s been (up to now) very little of direct concern.
Here are resources you can read and participate in:
- Read about the consultation on Walsall Council’s ‘Planning 2026’ blog
- You can ask direct questions from this page
- Here’s the formal planning page relating to the 2026 project
- The ‘Call for sites’ process is explained here
- Initial Council responses to the ‘Call for sites’ suggestions, including the implied dismissal of Lanes farm (it’s CFS 25, map on page 40, comment in table crossing pages 9 & 10).
- A leaflet detailing the Site Allocation Document process
- A wider breakdown of the stages and process, including timeline of Planning 2026
- Planning 2026 has an official Facbook Page
- Walsall Planning have a twatter account
People who follow this blog will know that I love the countryside, and indeed, one of my favourite views is of a lone tree on this site from the canal at Catshill. I’m not worried, as I’m certain any development here doesn’t stand a chance, for a number of reasons, relating not just to planning, but technically and commercially. Such a large development, should it ever get as far as a formal application would face a lengthy appeal process and could, conceivably, be driven to public enquiry. These are tremendous barriers to cross.
However, the consultation process is important and I urge readers to engage and take part.
Just for reference – The excellent Glum Councillors Tumbr and the superlative Harmonica Man
I for one hope that the area in question stays as farmland. I am convinced that beneath the soil there are remnants of our Bronze age ancestors. Many many years ago i found a Bronze age pin at the site that was Brawns wood. The name Catshill (very near by) is thought to be related to burial mounds which are in the area somewhere but long lost.
Mr lane will not allow any field walking or metal detecting on his land (he seems willing to allow it to be developed though) which could help establish if there has been occupation on the land, and the true beginning of Brownhills.
Walsall were very vociferous over previous attempts to develop here – admirably so. To be fair, they get a lot of stick (mainly because people don’t understand how limited the powers of Planning actually are) but they fought well and won over the Brownhills Business Park thing, and did stand up to both Asda (in Darlo) and Tesco (over Littleton Street) previously.
I’m not a huge fan of Walsall Council, but credit where it’s due.
i pathetic comment i know that i am about to make, so forgive me, but i cannot help but notice the map on the leaflet fails to show Ordnance survey copyright and licence number! a technical breach of the public sector mapping agreement… sorry just saying! the map boy in me makes me
Au contraire, Gazza (Bloody hell, I never thought I’d type those words together!) I reckon it was well spotted! I’s ask who, exactly, is breaching the copyright?
Recently, there has been a debate about grammar: “gazza” would do well to observe it.
On the main topic, I have been wondering about who would pick up on this first. Don’t be so complacent. The last time this showed up I gave evidence at the public inquiry (and I remember the first inquiry about this, too). If anyone thinks, in the face of land owning interests with oodles of money, that this is easily dismissed, think again. The promoters of this potential development will employ Mr Clever Bastard QC and the Council will have to spend a very large amount of money emloying their own specialist legal advice (they can’t afford QC) to oppose this. If you think this has no chance, think again! (If it turns out to be Jemermy Cahill QC, I mean no offence, but he will know what I mean – and may be relieved that I have retired!
Complacecny is your worst enemy!
always good to hear from you – you know I respect your knowledge and expertise in these matters immensely.
I think Walsall Planning did a cracking job against Ashtenne on the business park proposal on the former Brownhills Commercials site, and on a much flimsier case.
My point isn’t encouraging complacent – far from it, I’m urging people to engage – but not to panic. I still can’t see this being feasible and there’s still no application. As I pointed out, this has an awful long way to go. I think the analogy of crying ‘Fire!’ is correct.
I think opposition has to be measured, sensible, and targeted correctly.
Before that happens, the whole planning framework and local authority system is likely to change. No, I didn’t vote for that, either, but there you go.
Oh, by the way: Gazza’s grammar is normally excellent, but suspect he was hindered by his mobile. Knowing what a map geek he is, I think the desire to cry foul was probably stronger than the one to find a decent keyboard…
Apologies to Gazza!
Entirely right, but what I hoped to do was alert your followers to the danger that just ignoring this won’t make it go away; this is not so unusual an attitude – how many objected to the SSSI plan for Brownhills Common? And how many are complaining now?! The team that fought Ashtenne is well known to me. I know how strong they are and I am sure they will manage the examination of a boroughwide plan with the utmost skill. Nonetheless, public support will not go amiss. People power really can work.
Hmm, sort of. Except with the SSSI common thing, we’ve now got the potential decline of the common due to exactly this kind of panic, as the management scheme has been watered down.
Unfortunately, expert voices often aren’t loud enough to drown out the hue and cry. Hence my contention for a measured response – in both cases. Sadly, the whole common thing has become nothing but a pawn in anti-Walsall sentiment.
I was asked to sign the petition as ‘The council want to bulldoze the common to build homes for Bulgarians they’re bringing over.’
You can’t really fight that kind of daft once it sets in
Hi Bob good article
I imagine the gentlemen in question are trying to distract attention from everything else they’ve screwed up, you know, schools, children’s services, adult social care, roads, regeneration, [insert name here] district centre, job creatiion, that kind of thing.
Or maybe there is an evil developer lurking in the hinterland…
Mr Lane and his consultants have previously made two attempts at development plan inquiries to have Home Farm developed for employment uses. Last time they converted at least some of the Brownhills Local Committee by taking them to Cranfield University Business Park and promising something similar. Fat chance! They are now making a third attempt and it will be well-argued, heavily resourced and not easily dismissed. As I said, the professionals at the Council are more than capable of seeing this off, but the politicians could be a different matter.
The way to defeat this proposal is by presenting a compelling argument in the context of current planning policy on its own merits (or demerits), not by calling for some blanket ban on all development in the green belt, which is contrary to well-established national policy – a policy perpetuated in the current government’s National Planning Policy Framework.
Brownhills Common has the highest degree of protection from development that is available, being in green belt and a SSSI. This is the last place that anyone could succeed with a development proposal for house building.
Pingback: Driven to distraction | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog
Pingback: Winding Lanes | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog
Pingback: Not distracted at all | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog
Pingback: The Royal Oak – a new chapter unfolding? | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog
Pingback: Milking it | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog
Pingback: Walsall Wood Councillor Mike Flower to stand down at next election | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog