Provisional plans for a huge new Birmingham housing development have been criticised for their plans on transport, building design, heating technology and a desire to redesign the landscape. Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council’s planning and highways committee considered the outline planning application for the Langley development, next to Walmley, this week.
The development will see thousands of homes, schools, medical facilities and shops built in the coming years on what was the town’s former Sutton Coldfield green belt. The overarching application submitted by the Langley Sutton Coldfield Consortium in December sets out proposals for 5,500 homes, a secondary school, two to three primary schools and nursery facilities.
It will also see internal roads, cycling routes and footpaths, plus other facilities for the new community to be added on the edge of the town. The latest proposals from developers were considered by the town council’s planning consultants, Andrew Tucker and Keith Neil-Smith, who raised concerns on some of its detail at the authority’s planning meeting on Tuesday (May 3).
The experts urged the town council to ask for more detail on a number of issues and recommended key points are highlighted to help shape the controversial development, that previously was met with years of opposition. Among the key points raised was a need to request transport modelling now on whether northerly slip roads onto the A38 at the second junction at the top of the site are needed.
The experts also urged for a rethink on installing gas boilers to heat homes, suggesting installing them will be ‘illegal’ as the development progresses. And the developers were urged to plump for what designs they will go for instead of highlighting a number of options. Plus they should also work with the present landscape, rather than ‘re-profiling’ it to make building easier it was suggested.
A38 slip road plans
This application details nine strategic access points in and out of Langley – the most prominent being the A38 junctions, one to the south also connecting to Peddimore and including slip roads north and south, which is being built now. The second intended to serve the northern part of the development will only allow access south onto the A38 at present.
But the plan to carry out transport modelling later to see if northern slips are needed was criticised. The town council’s experts urged modelling to take place now and a decision made, rather than risk having to churn up the area a second time.
Mr Tucker said: “At the moment the proposal is just for south facing slip roads. Land is reserved for northern slip roads. They will only be provided if traffic modelling says they are required. Our advice is the slip roads should be considered from the outset rather more disruption later from retro-fitting if required.”
Phasing framework needed
Mr Tucker urged for there to be a legal framework and detailed phasing plan – what infrastructure has to be built at what stage, alongside homes – as ‘developers don’t like to spend money on off-site mitigation works unless and until they have to’. He said ‘at the moment we don’t have details on phasing’.
At present it looks like the development will start at the western and southern edges of the site near the existing roads, allowing homes to be built using existing infrastructure and money to be made from them used to invest in further development.
Transport issues were raised regarding a reliance on cars, and little detail on ‘green alternatives’. The city council’s policy is for rapid transit or sprint buses, although how these get in and out of Sutton’s town centre was not yet detailed. The current outline plan also lacked a park-and-ride facility, which was part of Birmingham City Council ’s supplementary planning document (SPD).
The plans for parking generally at Langley were also ‘in excess of what is required’, which led to concern the development will go against ‘green travel district’ aim – encouraging people out of cars. Another point raised was the plans for the primary access points ‘don’t accommodate cyclists’.
Building design issues
Mr Neil-Smith raised concerns on the design plans for site. He said: “All the way through there is reference to MADE (Design: West Midlands – architecture design review) for a high-quality development and buildings should be future-proofed.” But concerns were raised that the development will be higher density (but leading to more green space).
While a series of building designs are shown in the Design and Access Statement, no commitment is made as to what will happen at Langley, which Mr Neil-Smith said ‘doesn’t satisfy the requirement in the SPD’. He said they were ‘interesting but lacking in conclusions’.
He said there were plans for buildings of two to two-and-a-half storeys, occasionally three, up to 12.5 metres across much of the site, but wanted ‘more detail’. Cllr Leeford Allen said with buildings of two-and-a-half storeys or more ‘we are going to be in a concrete jungle. We are expecting nice houses to be built and what we are seeing here is not’.
‘Keep the undulations’ plea
He also highlighted a plan for ‘re-profiling’ the site to ‘make development simpler’. Which Cllr David Allan said went against what he would like to see. He said “The recontouring of the land totally loses the character. With any city or town the features are usually the hills. Lovely undulating land should be preserved.”
And a lack of a plan for allotments was raised by Mr Neil-Smith, with instead an ‘edible landscape’ such as hedgerows with berries and a ‘community orchard’ planned.
Heating for homes us ‘yesterday’s technology’
A topical point was raised on heating planned for homes on the site, with gas boilers proposed, which Mr Neil-Smith said would be ‘our-of-date’ when much of the homes would be built. Given the move to heat pumps and saving energy costs, he expected those plans to be ‘more adventurous’.
When questioned by Cllr Tony Briggs on why gas boilers were proposed, he said: “People like to do things the way they have always done them. There’s an in-built resistance to new technology. But heat pumps are not new, they are using them all around the country. Gas boilers will be yesterday’s technology in phases two and three of the development.” Cllr Allen added: “How can they come up with gas [boilers] now when there is no gas!’.
Council set out outline planning disputes
The council resolved to welcome the plans for the new community but to ask for more detail on phasing to integrate with the rest of the town; ask for modelling on northern A38 slips roads at the northern entry point and to ensure section 106 funding packages [a requirement developers pay for extra work off-site] are ‘comprehensive’.
The committee also requested more details on transport to ‘promotes the most sustainable forms of transport and reduces car dependency’; ‘early consideration’ of improvements to transport corridors in to Sutton town centre, ask to be included in green travel district discussions and ask for more details on building design as at present they are ‘not particularly indicative of a truly ‘exemplar’ development in design terms’.
It added reprofiling of the land should ‘respond to the character of the site’, insist on more details on phasing so fully function developments [with houses, schools, medical facilities and shops etc] are established in the core of the development at the ‘earliest opportunity’ and allotments should be added.
The outline planning application will be considered by Birmingham City Council’s planning committee, with Sutton’s planning committee a statutory consultee, meaning its views will be taken into account but are not binding.
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