Black Country Plan Enters The Political Dead Zone
The long slow journey toward providing 1,300 acres of new commercial development land and 76,000 new homes in the Black Country has fallen into the hole called politics.
The Black Country Plan, in preparation since 2017, began the latest stage of public consultation earlier this month.
But the plan, which covers the council areas of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, represents a delicate balance. Dudley and Walsall are controlled by the Conservative party, Wolverhampton and Sandwell by Labour. None of them will win votes by supporting development.
This explains why the delicate compromise is already under attack from both sides in an area gripped by extreme parochialism and where the political balance is changing. At the May 2021 local elections Conservatives made advances in both Dudley and Walsall, adding to 2019 'Red Wall' general election gains throughout the region, whilst Labour is on the defensive.
Labour opposition councillors in Dudley have called for the consultation to be paused amidst confusion over which brownfield sites will be developed, the Birmingham Mail reported.
The Conservative leader of Dudley council has defended the plan, saying building on brownfield land helps deflect development away from greenfield sites and that, in any case, two other Labour councils support the plan.
Meanwhile, Mike Wood, the Conservative MP for Dudley South, is now also campaigning against the plan’s allocation of greenbelt land around Kingswinford. His colleague, Stuart Anderson, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South, is also opposing the green belt release in his area.
Consultation on the Black Country Plan ends on 11 October. A second round of consultation on a revised draft is due next summer, with a government inspector likely to consider the final document in summer 2023. This means scope for two more years of political skirmishing.
If approved in 2024, as the four councils hope, the plan will govern development in the area until 2038.