Shropshire Council is conducting a review of its local plan. Last December, it consulted on sites for future employment and housing developments. On Monday, it launched a new consultation on three huge sites is wants to see developed, and one site it is uncertain about. Two of the sites, RAF Cosford and Tern Hill Barracks, are being promoted by the Ministry of Defence. A third is the now redundant Ironbridge Power Station. The fourth site, on green belt land beside the M54 at Tong, has been put forward by Bradford Estates.
The proposals for Cosford and Tong would remove 550 hectares of land from the green belt. This is top of more than 120 hectares of land the council is already proposing to de-designate as green belt land east of Bridgnorth and Shifnal. In all, 670 hectares of green belt land could be lost, equivalent to half the land area of Ludlow.
The council’s Economic Growth Strategy identifies the need for a step change in Shropshire’s economy to reduce levels of commuting to other areas; retain employment and skills locally; increase productivity; and address housing affordability. The council has identified three preferred strategic sites for large scale development: Clive Barracks, Tern Hill; the former Ironbridge Power Station; and RAF Cosford. The council want to know people’s views on these sites and a fourth site on land north of Junction 3 of the M54 at Tong promoted by the landowner.
RAF Cosford is located wholly in the green belt. The site also houses the Cosford Air Museum and hosts the Cosford Air Show. Areas of the site are used by the West Midlands Air Ambulance and West Midlands Police. There is potential for increasing Cosford’s role as a centre of excellence for UK and international defence training; a specialist aviation academy; colocation of other MOD services; and expansion of the Air Museum. Shropshire Council says these potential plans are nationally significant and are a significant strategic opportunity for both Shropshire and the MOD.
The most controversial part of these plans is likely to be the removal of around 180 hectares from the green belt to make gaining planning permission easier. The entire Cosford site is classified as brownfield so it can be redeveloped even though it is in the green belt but there and proposals would have to pass more stringent tests than an application outside the green belt. National planning rules dictate that green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances. If the case is made for removing and accepted by a planning inspector get planning permission for the proposes expanded uses will be easier. However, it is not clear why around 40 hectares of open land northwest of the runway is being removed from the green belt. This area is essential to the character of the site. It would be difficult to conceive the air show taking place if even part of this space was developed.
Ironbridge power station closed in 2015. It is to be redeveloped by the Harworth Group which has been consulting on draft proposals for the site. The plan is for mixed-use development, including around 1,000 dwellings; around six hectares of employment land; a retirement village; the provision of local services and facilities within a village centre; leisure facilities; a nursery and primary school; a park and ride; a railway station; and significant areas of green infrastructure, including allotments and sports pitches. The re-opening of the railway line is being investigated.
This 72-hectare site is home to the Clive Barracks and the 1st (Regular) Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. Three years ago, the Ministry of Defence announced plans to relocate the regiment and sell the site for development. The indicative masterplan proposes a mixed-use redevelopment of the site to provide local facilities; around 5.75 hectares of employment land; around 750 homes; and extensive green infrastructure.
The most controversial scheme in the current consultation is to build around 3,500 homes in the green belt east of Shifnal. The scheme is promoted by landowner Bradford Estates under the rubric of J3@54. Bradford is proposing employment areas and housing development on garden village principles. It proposes a net increase in biodiversity and use of zero pollution, zero carbon and smart technologies to cut the contribution to climate change. Should this go ahead, around 370 hectares of green belt land will be lost.
Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard opposes the plans. And legal action is being mooted should Shropshire Council approve the area for development. Although the council is consulting on the scheme, it does not agree that the proposal from Bradford Estates has passed the exceptional circumstances test required to remove land from the green belt. This site is not required for housing under the Economic Growth Strategy for Shropshire but is being promoted by Bradford to meet unmet housing need in the Black Country.
It is unlikely that Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton will not have enough land for housing. The government has suggested that more than 36,400 homes are needed in the Black Country by 2026. All councils must maintain brownfield registers. The registers show that the four councils currently have 970 hectares of brownfield land available. That’s enough for more than 28,800 homes at the low density for 30 homes per hectare. Higher densities can be achieved and that’s the thrust of government policy. More brownfield sites are becoming available. The needs of the Black Country don’t have priority over those of Shropshire and the four councils might need to sacrifice some of their own green belt.