You have heard a lot and will hear a lot concerning strategic planning for Greater Manchester, London and the Cambridge-MK-Oxford, corridor on this blog, but lets not neglect the Midlands.
In simple terms the problem.
Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry cannot meet their needs within their boundaries.
They are seeking other nearby authorities to take this overspill.
Some areas are resisting bitterly.
Thereis of course not yet any agreed mechanism to agree the sharing of this overspill, and the institutional arrangements for LEPs, joint planning, MoUs etc. in the region are so complex and byzantine they arnt even worth explaining. It is a good example of institutional dysfunction.
In the past age of strategic planning the focus was to study major towns spread around the region as the focus for overspill as they were the ‘most sustainable’,. You might call this the ‘constellation’ approach. some weight in this but mispecifies the main problem. In terms of overspill from the Black Country and Brum. say, how can development 3 miles from the edge of Stafford and from its railway station but more sustainable then say a new garden village next to Penkridge station or net to Bromsgrove Station? In the long term we know that commuter focussed developments become much more self contained over time (take Reddich for example), but this is an argument for allocating housing in large amounts in defined locations, with their own high quality public transport systems, and large amount of employment alongside. Developments of a scale such as Telford, Reddich or Daventry (an expansion town to a very small market town not a new town) for example.
In seems to me the Midlands needs to make the seem kind of paradigm shift we are seeing elsewhere in the country from constellation planning to corridor planning , where we plan in an integrated way innovation cluster as nodes along high frequency high capacity public transport corridors.
Seen in this way – where are the corridiors?
Of course around Birmingham they span the clockface and each will have a role, but we are missing the main chance, the main economic corridor in the country runs between the east and west midlands along the M6, the M1, the WCML and the Midlands Mainline and soon HS2. Along this corridor has been the major jobs growth, especially in logistics and modern manufacturing.
Seen in this way the historic split between west midlands and east midlands regional planning is a mistake, an historical anachronism. The major strategic planning problem in the area is a structural one. Access to jobs in the ‘Trent Triangle’ is almost entirely car orientated (with the notable exception of Hams Hall). And there are major employment clusters such as Magna Park where there are closed rail lines (more than one) adjoining.
It seems to me the Midlands needs the same kind of bold thinking on transport corridors and growth locations that Transport for the North is putting together. The focus should be on the Trent Triangle between Brum, Rugby/Cobentry, Leicester and Burton on Trent /Derby. An area which is in many ways the lyncpin of England. Here there is huge potential for joined up thinking and focused investment on very high capacity/high frequency rail services (London Overground /East West Rail style) and a few new strategic rail links- especially for railfreight. The vast increase in WCML capacity brought on by HS2 relly unlocks the potential of this area. There is also need for bold thinking on whether a strategic road network designed to encourage junction hopping is fit for purpose.
Much of the pressure to find a solution to the Brum overspill issue will focus around Birmingham /Solihull arguments, especially around growth around the NEC with the coming of HS2 to Birmingham International. The truth is though that the NEC area has excellent national transport connections but terrible local ones. And growth, for example, south of the A45, could be just car oriented sprawl encouraging junction hopping along the M42. Their is potential for growth here but it needs to be carefully though through, for example growth in a high density transit orientated corridor between Solihul town centre, Land Rover and the NEC/Birmingham Business Park along the Damson Parkway (with dedicated lanes for a BRT), protecting the vast majority of the Green Belt within the M42 as a result.
Not to neglect the ‘Northern Gateway’ area between Crewe and Stoke on Trent, but really this is and should be considered as part of Northern Powerhouse strategic planning. Again lets not be hidebound by old regional planning divisions.