It is with great disappointment that the reasonable and considered arguments of my fellow councillors, Cllr’s Barrie and Wood, and myself, were not listened today in the Council Chamber of Birmingham City Council. As acknowledged by all those present, and the Lord Mayor himself, my speech- representing the views, interests and a 10,000 strong petition- was met with heckles and fell on deaf ears.
We entered the chamber with a cross-party set of proposals- build on some of the 28,000 identified brownfield sites first, get the infrastructure in first so that residents are spared the misery of inadequate local services.
I left disappointed and crushed with how party politics had won the day.
10: Birmingham development Plan adoption.
10: Birmingham Development Plan Adoption: Amendment and Speech by Cllr Alex Yip
Amendment 3: In reference to the Policy GA5 Langley Sustainable Urban Extension, the council resolves:
A) That we as a council will not accept planning applications for building on any Sutton Coldfield green belt until 6,000 of the 38,490 2015 SHLAA identified sites for new houses on brownfield sites have been built first.
B) In the event of building going ahead on the green belt within Sutton Coldfield, that Birmingham City Council, in consultation with Sutton Coldfield Town Council, will set in place predetermined “triggers” that will ensure additional local services, including schools and doctors surgeries, are in situ before their need and not retrospectively.
“Thank you Lord Mayor. Council has been asked to consider a substantial document, of which one element is the proposal to build some 6,000 houses upon the city’s Green Belt land. I would like to say at the very outset that we on this side of the chamber agree that more houses need to be built. We accept that the city needs a development plan. We agree that the city is growing and housing needs to be available for those who seek it and that it does not become a constraint upon the city’s development.
It also should be clear to every one in this room that there are pockets of disused land, blights in all our wards across the city where houses could be built. These areas damage the image of our city, and are magnets for crime and antisocial behaviour. There are over 38,000 sites identified by the council’s own strategic housing availability assessment report 2015 in the city where houses can be built.
Crucially this number does not take into consideration site less than 0.6 of a hectare nor vacant housing in the city. So the true number will actually be a lot higher.
Our amendment pushes developers to regenerate these areas first, to use the land that they are just sitting on first, and these less profitable areas and more difficult areas first before turning to what we all know will be the vastly more profitable and easier to build natural fields and countryside.
The plan says that we will aim to build 51,000 houses by 2031 and need 81,000. Brilliant. Lets all go and do that! What then is the difference with those which concreting over our countryside being among the LAST 6,000 houses built? What I can guarantee is that if we approve this plan unamended, these houses will be among the first built, and we will likely never get around to regenerating these less profitable, blights on our city.
There are 38,000 sites available. In written question H2 submitted today, there are almost 5,000 units which have still not started nor completed their allocation over three years on. Some have planning permission over ten years old. Written question F3 there are over 9,000 empty properties in the city according to council tax figures.
If we constantly take the easy way out that is not leadership, that is an abdication of our duties to protect and direct the city’s future in its interests and for the protection of our environment. We need to use all the means at our disposal to encourage the regeneration of inner city areas. To encourage the completion of projects with planning permission, for Council to seek innovative ways to bring vacant housing stock back into use- 9,000 houses ready and available in the city. Bold leadership is not seeking the path of least resistance: it is about leading.
We need to make sure that the needs of our residents and the regeneration of the city is put above the profits and convenience of developers.
Our reasonable amendment seeks to do this and I seek the support of all parties in getting this passed. This is not a political issue but I fear that the vote will fall along party lines. We support the plan with these modest and considered amendments, fair and in the interests of the whole city. and I implore members in the chamber to consider their individual vote, not along party lines and whips, but along one of principle and democracy, of what they know to be right and wrong.
This issue embodies the very heart of what we have been sent here to do, which is the democratic representation of residents. Only a short few months ago Cllr Clancy was down the corridor in the banqueting suite proudly handing over the Sutton Coldfield Mayoral chains back to Sutton Coldfield. Was that for show or does it actually mean something? We have democratically elected representatives at all levels, parliamentary, city and local, in addition to campaigners and the overwhelming majority of 100,000 residents all overwhelming objecting to the immediate building, pleading for their voice to be heard through their elected representatives. The rejection of this amendment is a rejection of this democratic principle.
Colleagues may say that Sutton is a part of Birmingham and it needs to shoulder its fair share of projected housing growth.
I ask those here when was the last time that they have been into Walmley. How many have seen or walked the fields the plan is to churn up, last spoken to a Sutton resident, last driven on Springfield road, Webster way, stuck on a crawling road for half an hour getting only a few metres. Tried to book a doctors appointment there or tried to their child into a nursery school that isn’t miles way.
How then can you make a decision that will considerably alter that region. The infrastructure needs to be in place before these 6,000 houses, 12,000 cars, twenty thousand people, ,and the town council, as the locally elected representatives need to be consulted on this. Or was the decision here in this chamber to grant their powers meaningless?
Sutton is part of Birmingham. This amendment does not hide from that. It is saying let us build on the brownfield sites we all know exist in our own wards first those sites that need regeneration. It is saying lets get the infrastructure in first so that residents are spared the pressure of overwhelmed roads and services. It is saying that Sutton residents are also Birmingham residents too and you need to look after our interests too as well as those living next to abandoned factories, disused petrol stations, wasteland. They are Birmingham residents too. Let us make sure that the limited resources of our city are used to their very best.
Colleagues may also say in that this plan has been found sound by the Government and therefore should go ahead unamended. This is a ridiculous point to make. Just how it may be legal to get a divorce, it is still the decision of the individuals whether they want to and if it is the right thing for them to do. And let us be clear, these are the plans of a labour controlled council, and planning is a local issue not a governmental one. We are asking for our input to be accepted.
Regarding the third point our the amendment referring to Policy GA9: this plan document is a substantial item Lord Mayor, and we did not see fit to submit a further separate amendment on a slightly different issue, I am submitting this on the behalf of Cllr Deidre Alden whose ward this falls within. The two bullet points that we are seeking to amend currently implies that further development at Birmingham University and the potential move of the Children’s Hospital to the QE site next year, will both be unconditionally supported. However it is already abundantly clear that there is neither the infrastructure nor adequate parking facilities in place to support either facilities there and any further developments on these sites will be a step too far without these. Again Infrastructure needs to be in place for residents and also in this case patients and students before development. This is the right and logical way to do things and I hope that council can accept this point.
These plans to build on greenbelt land in Sutton Coldfield is an issue that affects the whole of Birmingham, the environment, the heritage that we have a duty to pass on to our children. Along with my fellow New Hall ward colleagues Cllrs Wood and Barrie, the ward that will be most profoundly affected by these plans, I am asking for common sense to carry the day, for democracy to carry the day, for the voice of residents to be heard, be it through a delay before building starts so we can consider the impact of Brexit, or for brownfield sites to be built first.
Lord Mayor, I implore colleagues to think hard before voting today. A vote for our amendment is not a vote against the plan: it is a vote to enhance it, for common sense, for the environment. It will however be a sad day for democracy if residents and these reasonable considerations are not heard.”