Major proposals for two separate motorway services on greenbelt land in the West Midlands have been thrown out by planning chiefs.
Both sites sit close to the M42 in Solihull, with developer Applegreen behind plans in Shirley near junction four while Extra MSA Group is eyeing land in Catherine de Barnes between junctions five and six.
The two rival bids were debated and then at a rejected specially convened meeting of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s planning committee last night.
Last week officers recommended councillors approve the Catherine de Barnes scheme and throw out the Shirley project, much to the dismay of greenbelt campaigners and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.
Councillors made it clear at last night’s meeting they were deeply unhappy with both proposals which they said would mean the permanent loss of a large section of greenbelt.
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Following a three-hour debate, the committee voted unanimously to refuse permission at both locations.
Councillors felt neither project could justify the loss of a large piece of the so-called ‘Meriden Gap’ which is seen as a crucial barrier against urban sprawl.
Coun Jim Ryan told the meeting future generations “wouldn’t forgive” a decision to grant approval.
“If the applicant for Catherine de Barnes set out to find the worst site for a motorway service area then I congratulate them, they’ve found it,” he said.
“Nothing can mitigate the loss of so much greenbelt, habitats, hedgerows…..it’s just massive when you take it all into consideration.
“If this application was to go ahead, it would be a ghastly folly of destruction in this particular area.”
Coun David Cole said the valuable stretch of the Meriden Gap had been under “immense pressure” for decades and more was to come with HS2 and new housing schemes on the horizon.
He said: “We’ve been nibbling away at this little area for years.
“We’ve had the airport extension, we’ve had the railway station put in, we’ve had the NEC built and then the NEC extension and don’t forget the M42 itself – that ploughed through greenbelt land originally.”
Parish councils, community groups and ward councillors Bob Sleigh and Ken Meeson have all previously spoken out against the schemes.
Nick Roberts, a director with Applegreen, told the meeting: “There is a pressing need for a new motorway service area in order that motorists’ safety and welfare are delivered in accordance with national policy.”
Paul Bedwell, a planning consultant at Pegasus, said on behalf of Extra MSA: “Extra’s proposals for a new motorway service area represents the optimum location to address this need.”
Council planning officer Lawrence Osborne briefed the meeting on why officials had come down in favour of the Catherine de Barnes scheme and said there was “a gap” in the motorway network.
This had been a consideration when previous proposals were brought forward over a decade ago, he added, even though they were ultimately unsuccessful.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said today: “I am delighted that common sense has prevailed and the two service station plans for Solihull have been thrown out by planners.
“I have always believed that these plans would have been a gross and unnecessary intrusion on precious greenbelt land.”
Analysis, by Midlands Business Editor Tamlyn Jones
Are Solihull’s councillors right to protect the green belt? Well, possibly yes.
But were they right in kicking out so unceremoniously these two planning applications? Debatable.
The bottom line is that this part of the West Midlands has been the subject of applications for motorway services for many years, even the council’s planning officer said so.
We were writing about the Extra MSA scheme at Catherine de Barnes in 2015 and there is already a project under way to build a new M42 relief road on the northbound side past junction five.
In kicking these two particular cans down the road on this occasion, all councillors have done is delay the inevitable, with the strong economic arguments in favour of a new services weighing heavily against them.
A resubmission will come in the future – if not by these two developers at these two locations then by someone else, somewhere else.