It’s long been the Snapdragon mantra: ‘we go to these meetings so you don’t have to.’
Today, we found ourselves at a board meeting of the West Midlands Combined Authority – held at Warwick University. One item on the agenda shone out above the others: the recommendations of the Land Commission, which can be viewed in full here.
Introduced by Cllr Sean Coughlan, the portfolio holder for housing and land, it was billed as ‘grown up politicians having grown up conversations.’
We knew it was likely to be controversial, amongst a range of recommendations and ‘game-changers’ the Commission has proposed a non-statutory spatial strategy, the creation of ‘Action Zones’, a programme of brownfield remediation and a Green Belt review across the region *GASP*.
At Snapdragon Towers (located on Temple Row if you’re interested), we were already concerned. The report was released with little fanfare on the 9th February, it took until the following week for anyone to notice and even then it received no coverage in the press.
We sensed that there could be a reluctance to accept the report, especially when the recommendations of the Mental Health Commission received the immediate backing of the whole Combined Authority, including the Mayoral candidates.
The discussion looped around gypsy and traveller sites, but settled on the disappointment at the level of engagement with the district authorities that actually control planning – led by Cllr Michael Stokes of Rugby and representatives of Stratford-upon-Avon.
And, really, that was about it…
Indeed, it was made quite plain by those in attendance that the report was not a policy document. I.e. there will be no requirement for any local authority or LEP to act on the recommendations made by the Commission.
It was even agreed by Cllr Coughlan and others that further development of the final report will be undertaken in the future.
It often spells doom when substantive reports, taking many months to prepare and at some cost, are only ‘noted’ by a committee.
The political difficulties of the recommendations are plain. When the Green Belt is involved it is always emotive and a dangerous area of policy for politicians, and a spatial strategy – non-binding or otherwise – whiffs of a loss of sovereignty for councils.
So, will we hear about this report ever again?
At Snapdragon Midlands we are optimistic. Once the Mayor is in place we may see added impetus behind the recommendations of the Commission. Beverley Nielsen, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has already indicated some support for another look at the Green Belt question.
However, it is likely that parts of the report will be watered down, namely the strong rhetoric on Green belt land, and that other aspects will be the subject of careful and considered scrutiny.