February Adjournment

I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention, and he is of course absolutely right; this green-belt land, although lying outside our boundaries, is very much part of our communities. For many of our constituents it is their back garden, it is their local environment and it supports local wildlife. It is so important to local quality of life for so many residents in the Black Country. The proposals for development of Ridgehill woods, at Lawnswood and on neighbouring land adjoining my constituency would be particularly harmful for many residents of the towns of Kingswinford, Wordsley and Wall Heath in Dudley South. The local green belt acts as the lungs of the west midlands and helps to protect air quality levels for our communities. Wordsley High Street, where my office is situated, has some of the worst air quality anywhere in the west midlands, and the proposal to build large housing developments on greenfield land barely half a mile down the road from that junction can only make an already terrible problem far, far worse.

Pursuing a policy of developing new housing on green-belt land such as this would also place significant additional pressure on local infrastructure and on already busy local public services, be they local road networks, schools or GPs. As I have said, although the building work would be in South Staffordshire district, the bulk of the impact of this development would lie with my constituents and with communities in Dudley South. Congestion on the A449 and A491 is already extremely heavy during peak times, and the extra housing on the edge of Wordsley and Kingswinford would only make that problem worse. Natural population growth and demographic changes on the western edge of Dudley borough have led to many services being at full capacity already. Again, those pressures will only get worse if there was development on the scale that has been suggested on green-belt land in South Staffordshire

Not only would this development have a negative impact on my constituents and on our communities, but it is unnecessary, as my hon. Friend has mentioned. There is no need to build housing on the green belt around Dudley metropolitan borough, and therefore there is no justification within the current national planning framework for releasing green-belt land in these areas. The substantial work that Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has done to remediate former industrial sites—work that has been replicated in other local authorities, in the Black Country and in Birmingham—means that we do have sufficient brownfield sites available to meet our housing need in the medium term. Andy Street has also worked across the west midlands conurbation, with the combined authority—all seven local authority leaders, of both major parties—to make many more brownfield sites available for housing. The £450 million midland metro tram extension, from Wednesbury through to Brierley Hill, connecting the western edge of the west midlands to Birmingham city centre and the main line national rail network, brings in yet more former industrial land and makes it suitable and attractive for housing development. So we need to be looking at how we can accelerate this land remediation and make better use of former industrial land, rather than looking at how we build on green-belt land, destroying so much of our natural environment, which, once it is gone, can never be restored.

Questions as to whether this development goes ahead will, of course, be down to South Staffordshire District Council, once the formal planning process is under way, but I ask the Government to reflect upon three very relevant issues during the recess. The first relates to how local communities in urban districts such as Dudley can properly have their views considered when planning decisions are being made in neighbouring areas that adjoin their own communities. Similarly, we should consider how urban councils such as Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council can have a more formal role in that planning process, going beyond the duty to co-operate.

The second issue I ask the Government to consider is how the impact of such development on services and infrastructure can be mitigated. National planning law already recognises that there is an infrastructure cost associated with large housing developments, and that is reflected in community infrastructure levy payments that are made by developers. If a development spans two local planning authorities, the infrastructure levy is split between those two authorities, to reflect the cost. However, the same is not the case where the physical development is in one local authority, but the bulk of the impact lies in a neighbouring planning authority. I ask the Government to reflect on that.

The third point is how we can make even better use of brownfield sites in Dudley, the wider Black Country and across the west midlands. I ask the new Treasury team to give the utmost consideration to the submission that the West Midlands Combined Authority, led by Andy Street, has made for £200 million for an urban transformation fund to allow development on brownfield sites, particularly challenging brownfield sites, that are not currently economically viable for market-based developers but which, with modest gap funding, could be brought back into use, benefiting all our communities and providing the extra housing that is needed, without posing a risk to the green belt.