Draft Black Country Plan
4 Infrastructure & Delivery
4.1 A key role of the Black Country Plan is to plan for the growth required for a sustainable and prosperous Black Country. The Black Country is planning to accommodate 47,837 new houses and 355 hectares of new employment land up to 2039. Ensuring effective delivery of this amount of development will require strong collaborative working, both between the local authorities and jointly with public, private and third sector partners, involving a robust process of infrastructure planning and delivery.
4.2 The provision of appropriate infrastructure in a timely manner underpins the transformational and regeneration strategy of the BCP and these policies are intended to ensure the delivery of all spatial priorities.
4.3 The National Planning Policy Framework highlights that advanced, high quality and reliable communications infrastructure is essential for economic growth and social well-being. It requires planning policies and decisions to support the expansion of electronic communications networks, including next generation mobile technology (such as 5G) and full fibre broadband connections. The expansion of these networks in the Black Country will support the vision and spatial strategy of the Plan by supporting economic growth and sustainable development.
4.4 Physical and social infrastructure is necessary to enable and support the growth required over the Plan period. New housing and economic development will put pressure on existing services and utilities but may also create opportunities to provide robust and innovative infrastructure solutions.
4.5 The BCP is supported by an Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP), which draws upon a range of evidence including transport modelling, a Utilities Infrastructure Capacity Study, a Water Cycle Study, and a Viability and Delivery Study. This evidence underpins the BCP by identifying infrastructure investment required to support development, potential constraints to delivery and the key delivery mechanisms and partners. Masterplans will be produced to support the delivery of some Strategic Allocations.
4.6 The BCP adopts a brownfield-first approach to maximise delivery of development within the urban area; however, poor ground conditions that are a legacy of the Black Country's mining and industrial past are a significant constraint, in both physical and financial terms. Therefore, tackling significant and structural delivery constraints are a priority for interventions, as they affect much of the development land supply in the urban area. The BCA are working in partnership to ensure that brownfield land is prioritised for development and intervention, in particular through partnership with the West Midlands Combined Authority and Black Country LEP.
4.7 Where valuable mineral resources are present, and it is viable to extract them as part of a remediation scheme, this may also help offset the costs.
4.8 The BCP also allocates sites on the fringe of the urban area, which have been removed from the green belt. Most of these sites are greenfield and will be easier and quicker to deliver than sites within the urban area. However, some of these sites are significant in size and need to be supported by a range of new infrastructure, such as schools, shops and improved local transport infrastructure.
Transport and Access to Residential Services
4.9 Parts of the Black Country's existing highway infrastructure, and the motorway network, suffer from congestion. Detailed transport modelling work is ongoing, and this evidence will be available to inform the Publication BCP. Assuming that proposals for improved public transport, walking and cycling are delivered, it is not anticipated that the development of new housing and employment land will have a significant additional impact.
4.10 Most new housing development in the urban area will enjoy good accessibility, including to sustainable modes of transport, centres of employment, schools, shops, health facilities and other residential services. This should help to reduce the requirement for additional travel and will also help mitigate the impact of development. New development on sites removed from the green belt will require careful consideration in terms of the sustainability and transport improvements that may be required on and off site.
4.11 Infrastructure investment will be required to support development, including: -
- public open space,
- transport provision,
- school places,
- health facilities,
- affordable housing,
- sustainable drainage systems,
- wastewater treatment
- waste management.
These requirements are relatively limited in terms of both cost and extent and are unlikely to prevent development from going ahead, as evidenced by the Viability and Delivery Study.
4.12 Major changes may be required to the way that the Black Country is powered over the Plan period, together with an increasing reliance on digital solutions. Where gaps in service provision exist, service providers are aware of them and will work to address them.
4.13 The detailed spatial aspects of implementation and delivery for the four Strategic Centres will be set out within the additional Development Plan Documents (DPDs) identified in each authority's Local Development Scheme.
4.14 As identified in the Economic Development Needs Assessment (EDNA), the Black Country comprises a clearly defined functional economic market area (FEMA) with strong employment and labour market links to a hinterland with Birmingham and South Staffordshire districts in particular. It is a fast-growing functional economy and has the capacity to deliver significant growth, given the diversity, resilience and concentration of key national sectors located in the area. However, skills challenges are holding it back.
4.15 Economic development strategies including the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) and Local Industrial Strategy seek to address these challenges to accelerate the growth of the local economy and there are major investment plans in the Black Country – including for the transport infrastructure crucial to meeting the ambitions in the West Midlands Strategic Economic Plans.
4.16 Key plans include:
- HS2 with its wider links into the region
- Wolverhampton railway station and Metro interchange.
- Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Rapid Transport
4.17 Considerable investment is taking place in the Black Country including working with the West Midlands Combined Authority. Some key projects that will take place over the life of the BCP include:
- West Midlands interchange at Four Ashes
- Expansion of I54
- DY5 Dudley enterprise zone
- Dudley and West Bromwich town centres - regeneration and investment activity
- Springfield Campus 2 Wolverhampton
- M54 - M6/ M6 toll link improving east-west connections to the north of the Black Country
4.18 Many of these projects are/ will benefit from funds such as:
- Brownfield Housing Fund
- Local Growth Fund
- Urban transport investment (five-year) transport settlements
- Midlands Rail Hub proposals
4.19 Other infrastructure likely to impact the Black Country before and during the plan period are:
- The rollout of a fast-charging network for electric vehicles, ensuring that drivers will never be further than 30 miles from a rapid charging station;
- 5G rollout.
4.20 Planning obligations currently deliver local infrastructure improvements necessary to mitigate the impact of development on the local area. Examples include affordable housing provision, access improvements, open space and residential services.
4.21 Financial viability has always impacted on the extent of planning obligations that can be secured in the Black Country, particularly in areas suffering from poor ground conditions. The BCP will be introducing requirements for sustainable design and to adapt to and mitigate against climate change. Viability impacts will vary according to the size, type and location of the sites involved. It is expected that greenfield sites and most brownfield sites will be able to sustain the full range of planning obligations required, as evidenced by the Viability and Delivery Study.
4.22 The Community Infrastructure Levy provides opportunities for local authorities to generate contributions for local and sub-regional infrastructure through a levy on a wide range of developments. This can present opportunities to provide a range of infrastructure currently beyond the scope of planning obligations. Sandwell MBC and Dudley MBC have both adopted CIL charging regimes,
4.23 The following policy sets out how the BCA will secure infrastructure provision from future planned development. It also sets out the requirement for viability evidence where, in exceptional circumstances, proposals are unable to comply with the policies of the BCP.
Policy DEL1 – Infrastructure Provision
- All new developments should be supported by the necessary on and off-site infrastructure to serve its needs, mitigate its impacts on the environment and the local community and ensure that it is sustainable and contributes to the proper planning of the wider area.
- Unless material circumstances or considerations indicate otherwise, development proposals will only be permitted if all necessary infrastructure improvements, mitigation measures and sustainable design requirements and proposals are provided and /or can be phased to support the requirements of the proposed development. These will be secured through planning obligations, the Community Infrastructure Levy, planning conditions or other relevant means or mechanisms, to an appropriate timetable that is prioritised, resourced, managed, delivered and co-ordinated across the sub-region, where appropriate.
- The BCA will set out in Development Plan Documents, Infrastructure Delivery Plans, Supplementary Planning Documents, and where appropriate, masterplans:
- The infrastructure that is to be provided or supported;
- The prioritisation of and resources for infrastructure provision;
- The scale and form of obligation or levy to be applied to each type of infrastructure;
- Guidance for integration with adjoining local authority areas;
- The procedure for maintenance payments and charges for preparing agreements;
- The defined circumstances and procedure for negotiation regarding infrastructure provision.
- The BCP has been subject to a Viability Assessment to ensure the policies are deliverable. In the exceptional circumstances where site-specific issues generate viability concerns, applicants should discuss these with the relevant Council at the earliest possible stage in the development process.
- Proposals that are unable to comply with BCP policies on viability grounds must be accompanied by a detailed Financial Viability Assessment.
4.24 The scale of growth proposed in the Black Country Plan will have significant impacts on the local environment and the capacity of a range of infrastructure and facilities. It is important that the appropriate investment takes place to ensure, future development is sustainable. The definition of infrastructure in this context is wide, including: -
- affordable housing;
- renewable energy;
- publicly accessible open space;
- sustainable drainage;
- sport and recreational facilities;
- air quality mitigation measures; and
- residential services;
for which overall targets and standards are set in the BCP. There will also be locally specified requirements, such as crime prevention measures, and cross-boundary requirements, such as waste water management. Impacts on the environment can include loss of open space or wildlife habitat, which must be mitigated.
4.25 These requirements are set out in the appropriate sections of the BCP and in other Development Plan Documents and Supplementary Planning Documents for the BCA. Policy requirements set out in the BCP have been subject to a proportionate assessment of viability to ensure that those requirements are realistic, and the cost of meeting the needs of relevant policies will not undermine the deliverability of the Plan.
4.26 Each development proposal must address its own impacts through on-site and off-site provision or enhancements, secured through planning obligations or other relevant means.
4.27 Where the combined impact of several developments creates the need for infrastructure, it may be necessary for developer contributions to be pooled to allow the infrastructure to be secured in a fair and equitable way. Pooling may take place both between developments and also between local authorities where there is a cross-authority impact.
- Black Country Utilities Infrastructure Capacity Study (2019)
- Black Country Viability and Delivery Study (2021)
- Infrastructure Funding Statements for the Black Country Authorities
- Through DPDs and SPDs for various types of infrastructure and planning obligations.
- Investment will be sought through negotiations as part of the Development Management process.
Issues and Options - Responses
4.28 Respondents had divided views on the level of detail needed on proposed urban extensions in the plan but there was overall agreement to address infrastructure requirements and to review the needs of each area based on its size and location.
4.29 For both housing and industry, consideration needs to be given to providing sites in areas with good, sustainable public transport links to meet communities' needs.
Balance between employment land and housing
4.30 New housing and employment developments on previously developed land not allocated for these uses can make an important and positive contribution towards meeting future development needs. The following policy sets out the approach for assessing windfall employment and housing developments, ensuring they are located in suitable and sustainable locations. Such development proposals will also need to consider the Plan's other relevant development management policies, such as HW1 – Health and Wellbeing and ENV9 – Design Quality.
Policy DEL2 – Balance between employment land and housing
- Development of housing or employment (E(g) (ii) (iii), B2 or B8 class uses) on previously developed land that is not allocated for these uses ("windfall sites") will be permitted where the proposal accords with other BCP and local plan policies and strategic priorities, and subject to meeting all the following criteria:
- They are in sustainable locations that are suitable for the proposed use;
- They demonstrate a comprehensive approach, by making best use of available land and infrastructure;
- Incremental development will only be allowed where it would not prejudice the master-planning of the wider area;
- Proposals for new development must take account of existing adjacent activities where the proposed development could have an adverse effect on or be affected by neighbouring uses. Mitigation of the impact of noise and other potential nuisances will need to be demonstrated.
4.31 Locating the right development in the right place ensures that proposals are sustainable, have a positive relationship with the surrounding area and uses and integrate well with and complement the character of their location.
4.32 Policies HOU1 and EMP1 allocate sites for residential and employment uses based on the anticipated availability of land for development at the time of the preparation of the Plan. However, there will always be windfall sites put forward for development in areas where it is not currently anticipated, and it is important that such development is brought forward in a comprehensive way.
4.33 Existing businesses wanting to grow should not have unreasonable restrictions put on them because of a change in nearby land uses since they were established. Therefore, new developments will need to reflect the 'agent of change' principle by proving that the person or business responsible for the proposed new development / change is responsible for managing the impact of that change in relation to noise and other potential nuisances generated by existing land uses in the vicinity. Similarly, where an existing business or community facility could have a significant adverse effect on new development (including changes of use) in its vicinity, the applicant will need to provide mitigation before the development has been completed.
- Black Country Employment Area Review (BEAR)
- Through the Development Management process.
Issues and Options Consultation Responses
4.34 There were no consultation responses referring to this issue.
Promotion of Fibre to the Premises and 5G Networks
4.35 Planning policy can play an important role in helping to address the key digital connectivity infrastructure needs of the Black Country. The following policy sets out proposals for ensuring the provision of full fibre broadband connectivity is considered in all new major development proposals. It also sets out the approach for supporting and assessing 5G Network infrastructure proposals.
Policy DEL3 – Promotion of Fibre to the Premises and 5G Networks
Fibre to the Premise
- Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) is essential infrastructure and is vital to the delivery of sustainable development. All major developments that provide ten or more new homes or more than 1,000 sqm of non-residential floorspace will be required to deliver FTTP capacity / infrastructure to all individual properties. This requirement will only be reduced where it can be clearly demonstrated that it is not practical or viable to deliver FTTP.
- Where FTTP cannot be delivered, non-Next Generation Access technologies that can provide speeds in excess of 30MB per second should be provided as an alternative.
- All eligible proposals should be supported by an FTTP Statement that details how FTTP will be provided to serve the development and confirms that FTTP will be available at first occupation.
- Any proposals for infrastructure to support the delivery of 5G networks will be supported in principle, subject to meeting the requirements of other local policies and national guidance.
- Proposals should be sensitively sited and designed to minimise impacts on the environment, amenity, and character of the surrounding area. Proposals should not have an adverse impact on areas of ecological interest, areas of landscape importance, heritage assets or conservation areas. Proposals should demonstrate that proper regard has been given to location and landscaping requirements, including the potential for innovative solutions complementary to the immediate surroundings.
- Operators proposing 5G network infrastructure are strongly recommended to enter into early discussions with the relevant local planning authority.
Fibre to the Premises
4.36 Full fibre broadband is the future of connectivity and increases speeds from the 30 MB available for superfast broadband to 1000 MB (1GB). Currently full fibre coverage is very low across the Black Country – 0.6% in Dudley, 0.7% in Wolverhampton, 2.1% in Sandwell and 8.1% in Walsall, compared to 11.5% across England. Full fibre is required to meet future demands for connectivity, as highlighted by a 50% increase in demand each year, and to recognise the wider economic, health and service delivery benefits.
4.37 At the local level, the availability, reliability and speed of broadband provision is a key consideration for house buyers and many view it to be as essential as more traditional utilities. Similarly, it is also a key concern in the public health and business sectors. However, despite the obvious benefits to developers and end-users, full fibre is not always provided in new residential and commercial properties.
4.38 Planning policy can play a role in helping to achieve the necessary transformation in broadband connectivity. The NPPF clearly recognises this and supports the delivery of advanced, high quality communications infrastructure and the expansion of high-speed broadband where possible.
4.39 The Black Country authorities are committed to supporting the rollout of digital infrastructure for the future. Wolverhampton's Digital Infrastructure Strategy supports both the rollout of full fibre broadband and wireless connectivity including 5G. The BCA have each nominated a Digital Infrastructure Champion and Co-ordinator to drive this agenda forward and are working together as part of the WM5G Digital Forum to support the rollout of future proofed digital infrastructure.
4.40 Currently most properties in the Black Country are connected to superfast broadband (fibre to the cabinet and copper to the premises with speeds up to 30 MB) but the future is full fibre (fibre to the premises with speeds up to 1GB). Fibre to the premises (FTTP) is recognised by the Government as a Next Generation Access (NGA) technology and as a priority for investment. While superfast speeds can be achieved on current generation copper networks, it is widely accepted that NGA technologies should be prioritised.
4.41 The Government has committed to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025 and it is the aspiration of the Black Country authorities to support rollout of full fibre across the Black Country as soon as possible. As part of the WM5G work, an options appraisal case is being pulled together around full fibre. By seeking FTTP, the BCA are aiming to provide a futureproof solution for broadband delivery within the Black Country. Adopting this approach will prevent the need for fibre retrofitting programmes in the future, which have significant cost implications and cause considerable disruption through road works.
4.42 To help deliver this aspiration, Policy DEL3 requires developers to ensure FTTP is available at every new property on all major developments, except in the limited cases where this is not practical or viable. Both on sites within the urban area and on green belt release sites, the cost of installing FTTP in the build phase of new developments is neutral or relatively small. On larger sites (around 25 or more homes) the provider will generally meet the cost voluntarily, with a contribution requested on smaller sites. Any costs to the developer could be balanced by increased sales values generated by fast and reliable broadband being available. The Viability and Delivery Study has concluded that FTTP is not costly for developers to provide and is unlikely to affect development viability.
4.43 By implementing this policy approach, the Black Country authorities are seeking to ensure that future developments remain at the forefront of advances in broadband technology, allowing the Black Country to be a market leader and remain an attractive location for businesses and residents alike.
4.44 Where it is considered that delivery of FTTP is not viable or practical, evidence should be provided to demonstrate that a departure from policy is justified. Such evidence could include issues of viability, the ability to undertake the physical work required to install it and proximity to the nearest breakout point on the fibre network. There may also be circumstances where the operators themselves have concluded that servicing the site is not practical. Where a FTTP solution is not deemed possible, provision of technologies capable of providing speeds in excess of 30MB should be delivered instead.
4.45 The intention of Policy DEL3 is not to require developers to deliver FTTP solutions themselves. Instead, it focuses on the need to conduct early dialogue with telecom providers in order to best understand what their infrastructure specifications are and how these can be accommodated as part of the new development. The involvement of multiple telecoms providers at build stage will minimise the impact later.
4.46 To facilitate this, any application for a qualifying development should be supported by an "FTTP Statement", which provides details of dialogue with the telecom operators, explains how FTTP will be provided to serve the development and confirms that this process will be completed upon occupation of the first property on the development. Conditions will then be applied to any subsequent permission to ensure that FTTP will be secured as envisaged by the statement. For outline applications, the statement may be more limited on specific details relating to the imminent implementation of FTTP and provide a commitment to supply these details later, including how and when the telecom operators will be consulted.
4.47 5G is mobile internet, which is as fast as fibre, with speeds up to 1GB – five to ten times faster than current home broadband connectivity. 5G benefits include huge capacity, with the ability to connect thousands of users and devices at the same time at consistently ultrafast speeds and ultra-reliable, secure, and low latency, which will be transformational for industry. The demand for mobile data in the UK is growing rapidly, and as households and businesses become increasingly reliant on mobile connectivity, the infrastructure must be in place to ensure supply does not become a constraint on future demand.
4.48 The Government wants to be a world leader in 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity, and for communities to benefit from investment in this new technology. The NPPF expects planning policies and decisions to support the expansion of next generation mobile technology such as 5G. The West Midlands has been selected as the UK's first multi-city 5G test bed, paving the way for the future rollout of 5G across the UK, making the region the first in the UK ready to trial new 5G applications and services at scale.
4.49 To deploy 5G and improve coverage in partial "not-spots" (a place where wireless internet, especially broadband, services are not available), mobile network operators will need to strengthen existing sites to accommodate additional equipment. To extend coverage into total not-spots or to add capacity in areas of high demand, mobile network operators will also need to identify and develop new sites. Masts will need to be higher than at present to accommodate 5G, which may impact on local amenity and character in some areas. Mobile Network Operators are encouraged to have early discussions with planning authorities and to communicate and consult with local communities, especially in the case of new sites, to ensure that the best sites are selected for 5G infrastructure and that equipment is sympathetically designed and camouflaged where appropriate, in line with principles set out in the NPPF and relevant local planning policies.
4.50 Where larger developments are planned, developers can consider the incorporation of potential sites for telecoms equipment to ensure 5G coverage.
- Black Country Utilities Infrastructure Capacity Study (2019)
- Black Country Digital Infrastructure Evidence Base (2021)
- Tackling Health Inequalities – Digital Inclusion, Black Country & West Birmingham Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (2021)
- Development management processes
Issues and Options Consultation Responses
4.51 There were no consultation responses referring to this issue.
DEL1 – DEL3
Delivery of sufficient infrastructure to support new development
Annual Infrastructure Funding Statements produced for the BCA
 Residential services refer to four priority services identified under Policy HOU2: Housing Density, Type and Accessibility and relates to access to employment, health services, fresh food retailing, and education services by sustainable transport means.
 Next Generation Access Networks: wired access networks that consist wholly or in part of optical elements, and which are capable of delivering broadband access services with enhanced characteristics (such as higher throughput) as compared to those provided over already existing copper networks.' Commission Recommendation 2010/572/EU of 20 September 2010 on regulated access to Next Generation Access Networks (NGA)