Black Country councils spent £2 million on a housing scheme before scrapping it

Doctor Fiona Macmillan and Bobbi Owen

Dr. Fiona Macmillan and Bobbi Owen said they were glad Dudley Council had pulled out of the scheme

Black Country councils spent more than £2million on a major housing scheme before it was controversially scrapped, the BBC has learned.

The Draft Black Country Plan, which aimed to map future housing and employment needs by 2039, was jointly drawn up by four municipalities.

But Dudley Council’s withdrawal last month means separate, more expensive plans need to be drawn up.

“The whole thing went down the drain,” said Walsall Council leader Mike Bird.

The councils of Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Sandwell worked on the scheme in response to the government’s target of building 76,000 homes in the region.

But in October, the Dudley bosses backed down, citing public anger over the inclusion of greenbelt land, specifically two sites in Kingswinford and Wall Heath, which have subsequently been removed from future plans.

Neighboring councils say it has left them “no choice” but to draw up their own housing plans, but this is likely to increase costs and delay final proposals until 2025/2026.

“For outsiders looking in, it’s a total and utter waste of money and effort,” said Mr Bird, adding that it was a “great surprise to us that Dudley removed the site(s) they had” .

Green belt land in Walsall

Green belt land in Walsall could be affected by future housing plans, the council said

Walsall has been given a government target of 16,000 homes in the borough.

Sites that have already been consulted, including 30 acres of land next to the A452 at Aldridge, remain in the proposals for a new consultation period.

“We see it as an opportunity that Walsall is now — to some extent — in control of his own destiny, but for people to think the green belt argument is gone, it’s not,” added Bird.

The cost of the scheme was revealed following a freedom of information request by the BBC.

The figures show that local authorities received a £570,000 government grant in 2018 to support the preparation of the Black Country Plan.

In addition, Sandwell spent £472,000 on the scheme, Walsall Council £424,000, Wolverhampton Council £370,000 and Dudley £326,000.

“We will try to recover some of those costs from Dudley and our lawyers are reviewing that,” Bird said.

“Having said that, I’d like to think it’s not all wasted because we collected data in that process.”

Councilor Patrick Harley, Conservative Leader of Dudley

Councilor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, said there was no obligation to reimburse other councils

Councilor Patrick Harley, Conservative leader of Dudley, said the authority had no intention of compensating their neighbours.

“Good luck with that,” he said.

“We have asked that four Black Country authorities continue to work with you on a region-wide plan. Our request to remove two green belt sites was denied.

“We don’t believe we are obligated to pay any money to any local government.

“It’s the rest of the Black Country that’s out of sync with what people want and what the evidence tells us about protecting green space.”

Experts suggest that some of the land survey data collected since the project’s launch date in 2017 will be out of date while new public consultations will take place.

Dudley Council has warned it would need to find a further £500,000 to implement its own scheme.

While political relations may have soured with planning policies, thousands of people living near former industrial sites or greenbelt plots will face many months—if not years—of uncertainty.

More than 400 homes could be built beyond the Walsall Arboretum boundary.

Bobbi Owen, of Save our Greenbelt Walsall Arboretum, said: “It is short-sighted and downright criminal to limit the arboretum, destroy the wildlife corridors and deprive the people of the city of these views.”

Walsall Arboretum

Houses are said to have been built by Walsall Arboretum

The campaigner said many residents had not heard of the initial consultation process until they saw it on a bus.

“I was glad Dudley [Council] dared to listen to their inhabitants. We have lives outside the Black Country Plan or the new Walsall Local Plan.

“To keep people’s energy and passion for this number of years, they still don’t know if they can sell their house, it’s hard for people.”

Dr. Fiona Macmillan, from the user group Walsall Arboretum, said: “Delay is infuriating. If the houses are built, the whole vibe of the park would change dramatically and badly.

“What we would really like is a proper ecological study and that hasn’t really been done.”

With hundreds of potential housing sites across the Black Country, councils are coming under renewed pressure – to meet government targets, find affordable housing for their growing communities and maintain greenbelts. Something will have to give.

According to timetables from neighboring authorities, their new local housing plans will not be ready for approval until early 2026.

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