Winding Lanes

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Lanes Farm sits on the very frontier between the West Midlands conurbation and the rolling Staffordshire countryside.

Here’s a really interesting piece written for the Brownhills Blog by Andy Dennis. Andy is a fine writer, and as regular readers will know well, a man of considerable intelligence with a vast experience of planning. Andy worked in Walsall Council’s planning department for a very long time, and his knowledge of the system, law and just how everything works is encyclopaedic.

Here, Andy writes clearly and articulately of the planning history of the Lanes Farm/Sandhills site in light of current angst over a mooted further development. I’m still of the opinion that we’re being trolled for other reasons, but Andy raises some excellent points.

I don’t agree with his conclusion about the potato field, and I personally feel there is enough brownfield land to accommodate enough development without stealing our greenbelt, I’ll say here and now; but Andy’s points are excellent, reasoned and worthy of thought, discussion and considered debate. Please do comment here, or if you prefer, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

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The avenue off the Lichfield Road, past the lodge to Home Farm and Limekins is beautiful, and most locals know it. Sadly, it’s not a right of way.

Andy wrote:

When I began working for Walsall Council in 1982 there was in progress a review of the West Midlands County Structure Plan. I had a walk-on part, perhaps little more than ‘man in lift’, but its consequences would dog my career on and off for many years.

Among the key issues was a shortage across the region of high quality employment land. It was considered that there was a need for large, readily developed sites to attract major employers to the region, which at the time suffered very high unemployment and great swathes of obsolete industrial property on derelict sites. Such sites were in piecemeal ownerships and too difficult to develop, so new greenfield land was needed outside the built up areas. These new “premium” sites were to have high quality access and a search was carried out. Sites were identified at Basset’s Pole and along the M54 north of Wolverhampton. The only possible place in the Walsall sector was Sandhills, which, as well as having good access via the A461 and A5, would soon have a new motorway to its advantage.

Starting in 1987 the Council was required to produce a Unitary Development Plan (UDP) and, by means to which I was not important enough to know about, it was decided to include Sandhills as a premium industrial site for consultation. Naturally, this was not liked by all, and among others, Councillor Gamble knocked on doors and encouraged people to object. A residents action group was formed and more than 400 objections were received, including one from me. Working for the local authority should not impinge on one’s democratic rights!

As a result the Council dropped the proposal from the draft UDP. The owner, Mr Lane, and his representatives provided courtesy of St. Modwen Developments objected to its withdrawal and a public inquiry was held. A young barrister, name of Jeremy Cahill, was given something of a runaround by the the Director of Engineering & Town Planning, Geoff Marsh. Mr Cahill would be back!

The upshot was that, following adoption of the UDP in 1995, Sandhills as a potential development site lay dormant for several years until a review of the UDP commenced in 1998. This time St Modwen objected to Sandhills not being included for development as a high quality employment site. They argued that Walsall was unable to meet its obligation to allocate sufficient land for high quality employment uses in accordance with regional and national policy. They presented ambitious drawings and even took members of the local committee to see Cranfield University Business Park, telling them that this was the sort of thing they proposed for Sandhills. Absolutely marvellous if they could pull it of, but this really was too far-fetched.

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Might night fall finally on one of my favourite views? I honestly still have huge doubts about that.

Again a public inquiry was held in 1993. This time yours truly was in the hot seat. This time Mr Cahill had QC after his name and a reputation as one of the finest planning barristers in the land. To no avail. Following adoption of the UDP in 2005 Sandhills returned to its dormant state. But now the smoke is rising again and it won’t be long before sparks begin to fly and tremors are felt in the northern wastes.

The Council is consulting on a Site Allocations Document (with the unfortunate abbreviation SAD). This will decide where, and, to some extent, when various types of development will be permitted over the next 15 years or so. An early stage was to invite people to put forward land that they think would be suitable for development and Sandhills has been put forward for both housing (ref HO 105) and industry (IN 405). Oddly, it is not proposed to remove the site from the green belt. The Council has decided not to reject the site at this stage, so it is there for people to support or object to.

Here is a link to the SAD. Navigation is quite straightforward, so I won’t at this stage attempt more links.

Because of this range of options, Sandhills also appears in the Choices section (ref CH 34) and people are asked to comment on which option is the most appropriate.

I imagine the promoters of development will argue on one hand that the Council is still unable to meet requirements for industrial land, especially of high quality, and on the other that here is a precious opportunity to effect a massive step up in the quality of housing and local service provision within a high quality environment that exists nowhere else and only a fool would pass it up. These arguments can be made very powerfully and it truly is a fool who would dismiss either as pie in the sky.

Housing: There is a requirement for about 12,000 homes in Walsall during 2006-26. Some have been built, some already have planning permission or are otherwise committed, but there is a balance of about 2,700 to be found on new sites. On my quick reading (and experience) there appears to be no need to eat into the green belt to find them, but that does not mean that some will not find the idea appealing.

Industry: There is an issue with high quality industrial land in Walsall, the Black Country and across the West Midlands. However, the Council has succeeded twice in arguing that other opportunities exist and that losing the open nature of Home Farm would be too high a price to pay.

Green Belt: This is the ‘as you were’ option; another dormant period.

The current consultation on the Issues & Options stage of the SAD ends on 3 June 2013, so there is not much time for thumb-twiddling. There will be further opportunities to comment, but if you feel strongly about this issue you should get stuck in now.

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Unlike Andy, I’m quite fond of the potatoes. And I’d miss the view of St. James from Lichfield Road. Some of my best friends are potatoes…

When I first heard about this, still thinking in some kind of residual planner mode, I thought it should be resisted vigorously, but now that I ask myself whether either option would upset me to any great degree I find that they would not. On the plus side it might bring jobs to the area or it might bring more residents who want to use things in Brownhills. On the downside it might spoil the view from a short stretch of canalside that I visit infrequently, but it might, with careful design, make it more interesting than a large potato field. I care much more about the heath!

Obviously, there are other proposals to consider and there might be something proposed near to you that you like or dislike. However, don’t just complain to your mates in the pub or at the bus stop and don’t just say you like or don’t like it; say why it’s right or wrong and what you want the Council, or ultimately a government inspector, to do about it.

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20 Responses to Winding Lanes

  1. Edwina says:

    At the end of the day they (the council) will do almost what they want, haven’t you already explained the planning criteria in recent chronicles! Consultation is a load of codswallop as the M6 toll shows – the cheapest route was through Aldridge, but heyho. I care deeply about the heathland in our area and if they tell me that’s all to the good to manage it properly then I believe them. But to say there are no other sites for industry and houses in our conurbation other than Sandhills, tosh tosh and tosh – get off your backsides and go have a look – its there…..so leave Sandhills alone. If its green belt then it should be “hands off at all costs” we’re losing green belt land all around the country, except for where the toffs live, try and built somewhere around there – then you would really see the sparks fly…. By the way has anyone said what kind of industry they are thinking of bringing to our area? Whatever it is wont help Brownhills or its people.

    • Andy Dennis says:

      As you say, consultation is [usually] a load of codswallop. There has been much academic study more than 50 years to my knowledge (see A Ladder of Citizen Participation by Sherry R Arnstein, 1968 – you can’t miss it on Google), but you get what you deserve. Local councils are required by law to consult on many different things. They try very hard. Really, they do! But it’s hard going and dispiriting. And very expensive and labour intensive. So why bother? Why not simply do the absolute minimum with the least fuss and then, when nobody takes any notice, carry on regardless?

      Cynical? You bet! But there is only one group of people that can change this, and it’s you.

      • Well said, Andy. Participation rates are very low in such things.
        It’s the same as the whole electoral process thing – so many people never take an interest unless if starts to affect them directly.
        Depressing.
        Cheers
        Bob

  2. Edwina

    Please, read the article again. The whole thing is about how the Council actually successfully fought development on the site. I know there’s an ongoing narrative in Brownhills that everything Walsall do is bad, but it isn’t. Just bits of it.

    They didn’t want development at Sandhills, and still don’t.

    I don’t think you’ve quite got your head around the idea that commercial companies – or individuals – generally are the ones seeking planning permission. The council is supposed to be arbiter of the process. The problem is, planning committees are steadily losing their power (caused by government interference) to resist.

    The M6 Toll was nothing to do with any council, and the idea that the bogus Orange Route was cheaper is an odd one. I’ve covered this before – read the article at
    http://brownhillsbob.com/2012/10/12/divide-and-conquer/
    for a reasonable dissection of that. The M6 Toll was utterly outside the control of any council and was a government project, analysed at public enquiries.

    Nobody has said there are no other sites for housing or industry, quite the reverse in fact. What they’re saying is the site should be used /only if/ no other sites are available. Clearly, there are loads.

    As to the heathland, I’ve spent most of the weekend riding over some of the best heathland in the UK – Chasewater, Gentleshaw Common and Cannock Chase. It’s managed. It’s brilliant, and bursting with life. Manage away.

    Best wishes

    Bob

  3. Rob says:

    Just had another look at your link to the M6 Toll article.
    Interestingly, you state that the Orange Route was unfeasible because, among other things, it went through a working quary.
    As it happens, the actual construction went through at least two working quarries and one very large former landfill site, so that was no reason for it to be discounted.

    • Hi Rob

      You’re wrong, there about the quarries. It went through Moneymore, in the ‘dead band’ between Hints Quarry West and the A38. The area, although owned at the time by ARC Western, was never excavated. This can be seen clearly on Google Earth, where only the Washery is still functioning, accessed by an over bridge. money more was the site of the protest, of course.

      Its slip roads did cut through the former quarry at Wharf Lane, although such realignment of the landscape was needed to accommodate the junction there, it did prove useful in reality, reducing the reed for too much spoil displacement and operating as a borrow quarry during the early construction. A description of that can be found in the official documentation.

      Landfill site wasn’t an issue due to the nature of the construction.

      The orange route would have gone straight through Vigo-Utopia (at the time still a functioning marl pit) and Highfields South. To make that lot stable, being so deep would have been a hard task, let alone the wet band of Jockey Meadows.

      Best wishes
      Bob

  4. Rob says:

    A 2002 image is of little relevance as we’d completed the main muckshift/earthworks by then,

  5. Rob says:

    Sorry, should have clicked “reply” again.
    Just like to add that I’m suspicious of the 2002 date for the GE image.
    It shows a metalled road, a stage of construction which didn’t commence until early 2003.
    2002 would have been at formation level /2nd stage profiling as works were concentrated on over/under structures following earthworks completion.

    • Hi Rob

      Reply? You’re probably better this way, stops it being squashed to the right…

      I think it may be from 2003. Google Earth is notoriously dicky about content dates. That doesn’t surprise me, and what you’re saying makes sense. Their claimed 2007 image was dated wrong – something very specific was captured and they claimed it was 6 months later. Maybe they list copyright dates/publication dates as origin.

      Wish I’d been more on the ball and taken pictures of stuff that was lost at the time though.

      Cheers
      Bob

      • Rob says:

        Agree with you there.
        Hard to imagine how the local road layout between Burntwood and Brownhills used to be beforehand. Whether you use the Toll or not I think the accomodation works have benefitted the locality.
        Anyhow, seems I’ve unintentionally hi-jacked this thread and I’m up at five in the morning, so I’ll bid you good-night.

        • Hi Rob
          Yes, in many ways. ironically, I think Chasewater and particularly the railway benefited. Some road layouts worked better afterward, too, and I don’t think the A5 bypass from Mile Oak to Weeford would have happened without it.
          There are few changes that don’t bring some good, although I still feel sad for the loss of the end of Bulmoor Lane.
          You’ve not hijacked it. It’s here for discussion, and it’s valid.

          Cheers
          Bob

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