City Planning Matters

Our annual meeting with officers of the District Council this year took place on 23rd January and saw one of the chief planners, Steve Hill together with Principal Policy Officer Maria Bailey, join us to talk about the review of the Regional Spatial strategy and the Birmingham Road retail development. Firstly, Maria explained that the West Midlands Regional Assembly is reviewing parts of the Regional Strategy, specifically that dealing with housing. Currently out for consultation are three options for the scale of housing development in the West Midlands between 2001 and 2026. Just carrying on with the existing assumptions about the scale of housing needed means that 381,000 houses are needed. The second option, prepared by the Assembly in consultation with County Councils suggests that 491,000 are needed. The grimmest scenario, based on the Government's thinking about population growth and the fact that more and more of us are living on our own, is for 575,000 new houses.

These are big figures and they mean that Lichfield District Council would have to find room for a minimum of 6,500 and a maximum of 16,000 new homes over the 25 years from 2001. Some have already been built between 2001 and the present time, but nevertheless a substantial amount of land for new housing would be required if these figures were approved. Green Belt land would almost certainly be lost. The officers, like the audience, were bemused by the fact that Lichfield appears to be under pressure to take a higher proportion of new development than our neighbours at Burton on Trent (15,000) and Cannock (7,000). Perhaps, it was thought, this is an outcome of the Barker Report on the planning system. Might the sentiment be "build the houses where people want to live"?

The Consultation also looks at the provision of additional employment land, some transport issues like car parking and the management of the Region's waste This first phase of consultation is due to close on 5th March and your chairman assured the audience that the Civic Society would be forwarding comments of concern to the Regional Assembly.

We then moved on to hear about the restart of work on the District Council's Plan, the Local Development Framework, which stalled when the key elements (the "core strategy") were rejected as unsound. Further research and updating is being undertaken with a view to a public consultation exercise in October, when the direction of the Regional Assembly's thinking on new housing will be clearer.

Finally, there was an update on progress with the Birmingham Road development. Meetings continue with Harrisons and visits to Winchester and Canterbury are planned, two historic cities where new retail development has taken place. Steve Hill also gave us an assurance that the Council would consult key bodies such as the Civic Society on those planning conditions attached to the permission which deal with important topics such as design and the type of materials.

Roger Hockney
January 2007