Friday, 12 August 2016

Devolution & The Birmingham Shortfall 2

I wrote this last year about 'Devolution & The Birmingham Shortfall':

The Birmingham Development Plan (BDP) will ultimately establish the scale of housing need as the first step towards achieving an effective mechanism between LPAs in the housing market area, but ultimately that mechanism will not be able to go much further than a commitment on behalf of neighbouring LPAs to either review already adopted plans or have regard to the Birmingham shortfall and the ongoing Duty-to-Cooperate in the preparation of new plans, plus of course a commitment by Birmingham City Council itself to review the BDP if the expected rate of progress is not being achieved.

Let’s have a look at what’s changed.

The BDP has not been adopted (it remains on hold following DCLG intervention) and an agreement has not yet been reached on the distribution of the shortfall across Birmingham’s neighbours. This was expected (though discussions between LPAs are being held behind closed doors so it's diffcult to know) by the end of July, but may now be the ‘end of summer’ according to Solihull councillor Ken Hawkins.

The practical implications of these delays were illustrated by a decision at Lichfield Borough Council in June. With a recently adopted Core Strategy (CS) in place Lichfield was faced with a choice between identifying allocations pursuant to the CS with a commitment to an early review of it once the situation with Birmingham is clearer; or review the CS now, either partially or fully, to deal with both the allocations and Birmingham’s housing need. Lichfield is likely to accommodate ‘thousands’ of the Birmingham shortfall according to Ken Hawkins. The Council went with the first option.

What else has changed? Well even with these issues still outstanding the clouds of the next housebuilding storm might have appeared on the horizon. The nascent West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has published a Strategic Economic Plan ("to complement and support" the SEPs of the SEPs of areas three LEPs) and it’s economic vision assumes “a higher level of housebuilding than is currently provided for in development plans, or is being delivered across the area’s two strategic housing market areas.”

Tens of thousands of new jobs is clearly a laudable target and evidence to Government that the WMCA will be suitably ambitious in it’s outlook, but one can imagine the delight in the town halls of places like Lichfield at the prospect of the tens of thousands more people that these jobs will generate.

For those hoping that the West Midlands Mayor will be able to knit together this patchwork quilt of planning, economic and political priorities…

…the comments of West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson might extinguish any flames of optimism. He claims the limited powers proposed “have been framed to protect the control of council leaders rather than empower an elected mayor to tackle the issues that the people of the West Midlands will be voting on in 2017.”

Sion Simon MEP, Labour’s mayoral candidate, kicked off his campaign with a commitment to build 3,000 affordable homes a year, which is also a laudable (and uncontentious) target. It would have been something for his campaign to have kicked off with a commitment to deal with the Birmingham shortfall, the alignment of sub-regional housing and economic strategies, and a broaching of the dreaded ‘G’ word, but this is clearly not yet within the mayoral gift and, to be fair, unlikely to be a massive vote-winner...

Until those issues are political priorities for council leaders they can hardly be blamed for focusing on their local priorities and on their local plans, which means from a planning point of view that in the absence of a sub-regional framework that we are likely to lurch from early review to early review, with constant debates about who should be taking what and from whom.

Oh. Something else has changed since last year. The Resolution Foundation has reported that the proportion of the West Midlands population who own their own home has fallen from 70.5% in 2005 to 59.3% today.

Let’s pick this up again next year…

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