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Top priority now has to be housing.

There are legitimate fears over the future of England's green belt.

Across the country nearly half a million homes are planned for green belt sites - a figure which is rising by tens of thousands each year as local authorities struggle to meet housing demands.

For years developers have faced criticism for insisting building on the green belt is the only way to create affordable housing.

But in reality, it is entirely understandable why many are put off by the vast expense of bringing brownfield sites back into use.

The key pressure here is one of limited supply coming nowhere near to meeting an escalating demand.

Here in the West Midlands, we have a ready made solution - but it will not come cheap.

The region is home to some of the biggest brownfield sites in the land.

These are former industrial areas crying out for development, with many of the sites having been derelict for years.

The problem is that to develop these plots costs a fortune, and for decades the cash has simply not been there.

Cash-strapped local authorities have not been able to devote funds to housing needs during a time when adult and youth services have been stripped, along with bin collections, libraries and numerous other services.

In recent years there have been signs the situation is improving. Ministers, finally recognising the housing shortage for the crisis it is, have opened the purse strings and provided funding for brownfield remediation.

However, the work done so far is nowhere near enough.

For the West Midlands to meet its potential, housing must be an absolute priority over the next 15 to 20 years.

In basic terms, there is little point in training up a skilled workforce in hi-tech jobs if there is nowhere for them to live.

Developing on green belt land is not the solution.

Once the green belt is gone, it is gone for good - and it is not as if we have enough of it across this region to give away.

Our town planners must face up to one indisputable fact when they are considering how to bridge the housing shortfall. Bringing our old industrial sites back into use is a necessity rather than a need.

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Publication:Express and Star (Wolverhampton, England)
Date:Jun 17, 2019
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