SION SIMON – Labour’s candidate for the job of West Midlands Metro Mayor – has been slammed for his comments about building on Greenbelt land in Solihull.
Speaking at a debate between the candidates, Mr Simon said the borough’s fiercely protected Greenbelt should be built on to meet the region’s housing needs.
But his comments have come under fire from the borough’s two Conservative MPs – Julian Knight and Dame Caroline Spelman.
Talking about housing needs, statutory planning powers and then building on Greenbelt in Solihull, this is what he said:
“People want the new housing but they don’t want it built in their Greenbelt, they want it built in somebody else’s Greenbelt, and they want the land, but they don’t want to pay to clean up the dirty land.
“And let’s be honest.
“The most difficult conversation here is with Solihull.
“Solihull, which has the great bulk of the wealth and a huge pressure on land, and has very expensive land.
“There’s a huge resistance to building on the Greenbelt.
“There’s a huge resistance to ceding planning powers.
“There is a great reluctance to go down the road of a regional spatial plan.
“And yes, those will be difficult conversations and that will be a difficult process to mediate, but we might as well start having an honest conversation about it now.”
Mr Simon’s comments have drawn fierce criticism and a hands-off cry from the borough’s MPs.
Speaking exclusively to The Observer this week, Solihull Julian Knight said Mr Simon clearly has his eyed firmly set on destroying Solihull’s Greenbelt.
He added: “The message we need to give Birmingham as a town united is a loud resounding hands off Solihull’s Greenbelt.
“Of course, there is a need for new housing and Solihull is trying to meet that need, but brownfield sites should be used up first and I, as well as the residents of Solihull, do not want the Greenbelt concreted over so that Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry become one conurbation.
“I support Andy Street’s call for Brownfield first and ask residents to put political difference aside and stand up for our environment and the uniqueness of our lovely town and countryside.
“A vote for any other candidate let’s Birmingham Labour in through the back door and threatens our town’s environment.”
Dame Caroline Spelman, who has consistently backed new legislation to protect the Greenbelt and fought to protect the Meriden Gap for 20 years, said: “Solihull acknowledges it has a duty to co-operate with its neighbours to help meet demand for housing, and for that reason Solihull MBC recently consulted on a bespoke local plan to meet housing need – which includes additional provision to assist Birmingham and Coventry.
“Whilst I acknowledge the future West Midlands Mayor will have the power to remediate Brownfield land for the purpose of new house building – a responsibility which could help protect the Greenbelt – they do not have any planning powers or the power to pressure individual members of the Combined Authority into taking more than their fair share.
“Our borough council made it clear when we joined the West Midlands Combined Authority that Solihull is not there for the combined authority to ‘cherry pick’ in order to meet other local authorities housing deficit and I stand by that message.”
Dame Spelman added that Mr Simon had failed to acknowledge that Solihull has, in recent years, already sacrificed much of its Greenbelt in order to support strategically important regional and national infrastructure such as the NEC, the expansion of the runway at Birmingham Airport and the expansion of Jaguar LandRover.
This is on top of the planned construction of HS2 and remodelling of Junction 6 of the M42 in the coming months.