By Christian Barnett – Local Democracy Reporter
Controversial plans to use an historic green space in the city for new homes could soon be reignited if it is accepted into the council’s key housing strategy.
Middle Battenhall Farm in Worcester – a site already marred by controversy after plans for 200 homes were rejected in 2016 following a two-year battle between the developer, the city council’s planning committee and campaigners – could see more homes in the coming years if the site is demmed suitable enough to be included into the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP).
A review of the SWDP – the council’s prime planning strategy which sets out the city’s housing needs and which areas can be developed on – has already begun and landowners across the city, including the owner of Middle Battenhall Farm, answered a call for potential developments spots.
Councillor Louise Griffiths, who represents Battenhall on the city council, said it would be “catastrophic” if the land was handed over for houses in the future and hopes the reaction to build on Middle Battenhall this time around will garner as strong reaction as it did before.
She said: “It would be a huge loss of green space but more than that is the fact we just don’t have the infrastructure to support that number of homes and families.
“Bus services have been cut, particularly along London Road, there are issues with the local hospital and we don’t have enough schools.
“Red Hill is expanding at the moment but even with that it still would not be able to cope. I have not heard anything about a new school being built anywhere nearby and that really needs to be looked at before we even think about building more homes.
“I’m not against development. We do need new homes in the city, particularly young people who need to be able to buy and afford homes. We need affordable housing and more social housing.
“With no public transport and no public infrastructure it would be bad for the local community and bad for the towns and cities.”
The South Worcestershire Development Plan was adopted in February 2016 and covers overall housing, employment and infrastructure needs across the three district councils – Worcester City, Wychavon and Malvern Hills.
Following changes to national legislation requiring authorities to update housing need plans every five years, the three councils have agreed to extend the plan until 2041 which means each council will again have to consult and decide on where the new homes could be built.
A six-week consultation was launched on November 5 and will last until December 17. The updated SWDP is likely to be published in November 2020 adopted by the end of 2021.
Developer Miller Homes ditched controversial attempts to build 200 homes on the site after a long battle with campaigners and the city council. Cllr Alan Amos, planning chairman at the time of the decision, called it a “major victory”.
In the current SWDP, which was being compiled during the first planning process, Middle Battenhall Farm was left untouched as a ‘green lung’ for the south of the city.
The council’s planning committee twice ignored officer advice by refusing to accept the home bid, with the firm then appealing to inspectors on the grounds of non-determination.
A lengthy and costly legal battle could have taken place between the council and the developer after an appeal was lodged but Miller Homes dramatically pulled out citing the newly-adopted SWDP as the reason for dropping its argument.
The plan recorded more than 1,000 public objections.
A Worcester City Council spokesman said: “Middle Battenhall Farm is one of many sites put forward by landowners and developers as potential future locations for housing or employment.
“These sites have not been proposed for development by the local councils.
“As part of the next stage of the SWDP review, planning officers will be examining each of these locations to assess how suitable they are and some will be included as proposed development sites in the next stage of the review in 2019.
“There will be a further consultation on those proposals, when residents and other interested can have their say on the sites that have been put forward.”