The Daily Telegraph story I commented on last night hinted that the ‘100,000 houses’ Midland New Town linked to HS2 would be in the Meriden Gap, which made no sense. There is no more sensitive and important piece of Green Belt in the country than that and that location is very badly placed in terms of impact on the national motorway network, proximity to Birmingham and likelihood of attracting commuter HS2 traffic as opposed to city to city. What is more the fact that it would build on half the Green Belt in Caroline Spelman’s constituency makes the idea ridiculous.
Many of us initially jumped to the conclusion that this was an upgrading to the rejected option of a 13,000 home new settlement in the Solihull Green Belt accepted by NLP as part of their proposals to increase housing planned in the West Midlands RSS in 2008.- most likely land near the NEC/Birmingham Airport. But that site simply does not scale to 100,000 houses. Swamping historic Hampden-in-Arden – unlikely.
So what landowner could have been lobbying/working with HS2?
There is a very obvious candidate. Stoneleigh Park.
The shift of the HS2 route took the route straight through rather than around Stoneleigh Park Exhibition ground.
The Royal Show is a dead duck and last year La Salle Investment management bought the site, and were not well pleased when the route realignment was announded, submitting evidence to the select committee.
However it is clear they turned a crisis into an opportunity.
HIGH Speed Two rail plans will not deter development at Stoneleigh Park despite the threat that the train line could cut straight through it.
LaSalle Investment Management, which took on a 150-year lease of the site last year, plans to invest £50 million over the next ten years to make the 1,000-acre agricultural business park a centre of excellence, with a roundabout at the park’s main entrance in Stoneleigh Road and a second entrance to handle traffic.
Andrew Bull, European director of LaSalle Investment Management, said this investment will be used to create “a leading science park and attract agricultural and equine businesses from around the world”.
He added: “We are committed to that investment with full knowledge of plans for HS2 and the Royal Agricultural Society of England, which is the ultimate owner of the estate, shares our confidence in developing and revitalising Stoneleigh Park regardless of HS2.
“We have had a good dialogue to date with HS2 and they acknowledge the value of inward investment and job creation at Stoneleigh Park and have been happy to work with us on mitigating any impacts that might deter that investment.
“We are in the middle of those discussions with HS2’s engineers about the options for mitigating the impact of a high speed line and welcome the decision to sink the line below ground level through Stoneleigh Park and the explicit assurance by HS2 that further mitigation along the route is possible.
“We continue to share the interest of local residents in a covered tunnel that would take the line under the park and are investigating the potential of this option to leave tenant businesses undisturbed.”
Cllr Michael Doody, county councillor for Stoneleigh, agreed that the investment plans should go ahead because even if HS2 was built it would not be for another 17 years.
He said: “I hope the line is never built as I’m for high speed trains but not the HS2 version.
“Even if it does go ahead though, you can’t expect people to just wait in limbo for years and not do anything.
“If the train line is built it will go right through the planned roundabout north of the showground, but the Government will have to compensate for this.”
He added: “I definitely agree with the invester’s choice to go ahead with its plans.”
So clearly La Salle has been speaking to Andrew McNaughton, the chief engineer of HS2.
Any planner worth their salt would have made the connection here between La Salle, Coventry’s campaign for a parkway station for HS2 and the previous RSS phase two revision plans for growth along a Coventry/Warwick corridor, in part to protect the more sensitive Meriden Gap.
Coventry’s revised core strategy is going nowhere, as it tries to meet housing need without any strategic review of Green Belt, and it was clear a landlowner promoted south of Coventry scheme, linked to the ‘growth agenda’ would have legs. Truth be told if I was a consultant advising them thats just what I would have said.
Its scale though could not approach 100,000 homes. You would need to retain clear gaps between Kenilworth, any Garden City and Royal Lemington Spa. Also the Stoneleigh Deer Park (now a golf club) could not be build on, though it would make an outstanding public park for any Garden City wrapping around it. Also 100,000 homes would compete with Coventry rather than being a complementary centre.
My view is that it would likely wrap around in an arc from Warwick Uni to the current site of Coventry Airport and that a design size of 60-70,000 would be more likely (that is without having done any capacity or impact studies).
It shouldnt be dismissed out of hand and Warwick and Coventry Core strategies would be forced to look at something like this if they are required to plan in full for household growth- though more likely 40,000 or so over 40 years to meet Coventry s and Warwick Districts Household Growth alone. It makes much more sense than the previous plan of urban extensions to the south of Coventry and North of Warwick, a plan that dealt with housing issues but not much else.
Also you can’t really blame the NPPF for this. Any landowner will opportunistically make use of whatever government initiative de Jour is available.
At a request of a freind im doing a GIS based quick desk study looking at the key constraints and possible footprint and will post this later today.
Clearly the Green Belt to the south of Warwick/Lemington would need to be extended to partially compensate.
I cannot stress more though that any uplift in land values should be used to fund the infrastructure and public services of a new settlement, in true Garden City spirit, and not to fund an infrastructure project meeting a national need which should be nationally paid for.
By the way I checked if La Salle had ever made political donations on the Electoral Commission database – they have not. I have not searched for large donations by directors or shareholders.