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Draft Local Plan Review


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2. Borough Portrait

Overview of the Borough

21. Solihull Metropolitan Borough is located on the southern edge of the West Midlands conurbation, between Birmingham and the Black Country to the west and Coventry to the east.  It is bound to the north by the rural area of North Warwickshire and to the south, by rural Bromsgrove, Stratford and Warwick. The Borough is renowned for its key economic assets and strategic transport infrastructure both of regional and national significance; its attractive environment and quality of life; aspirational housing and excellent schools.  All of which mean that Solihull is a desirable place in which to live, work and invest.  Together, these elements combine to establish Solihull's character of 'town in country' living up to the Borough's motto: "Urbs in Rure".

22. Solihull is part of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), a partnership led by key businesses and Local Authorities to drive sustainable growth and job creation.  Solihull is also a constituent member of the newly formed West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).  The Combined Authority has four priorities relating to economic growth, addressing the skills deficit, provision of a fully integrated rail and rapid transport network, and housing.

23. Solihull is at the heart of the national rail and motorway network with direct rail services to London, Birmingham and the north along the West Coast and Chiltern Mainlines and has excellent access to other regions in the UK through the M42, which links the Borough to the M6 at the northern boundary of the Borough and the M40 to the south. This strategic transport infrastructure, together with Birmingham Airport, has ensured the Borough is the principal national and international gateway to the GBSLEP area and the wider West Midlands area.

Historical Development

24. The development of Solihull was highly influenced by the arrival of the railway stations and the 20th Century expansion of Birmingham south-eastwards. The area now known as Solihull Borough was predominantly rural with small historic towns and villages of medieval origin or earlier at Solihull, Meriden, Berkswell, Barston, Hampton-in-Arden, Knowle and Bickenhill until the end of the 19th Century, when Birmingham began to expand into rural Olton, with houses overlooking Olton Mere. Shirley originally developed from a scattered heathland settlement serving the road from Birmingham to Winchester via Oxford. Development of the Grand Union and Stratford-Upon-Avon canals and the railways also occurred during the Georgian and early Victorian periods, respectively.

25. The Rural Area once formed part of a huge area of wood pasture and ancient farm lands known as Arden and evidence of previous woodland, commons and heaths are often shown in local place names. There were also a number of manor houses and halls associated with large parks situated within the Rural Area, for example, parkland associated with Berkswell Hall was once part of a medieval deer park. Much of the woodland has now been cleared and the landscape character is predominantly agricultural, characterised by a variety of fieldscapes from older, irregular piecemeal enclosure to larger planned enclosure and very large post-war fields.

26. Large settlement expansion from Birmingham into Solihull occurred between 1900 and 1955, particularly during the inter-war period. This resulted in the development of huge semi-detached housing estates at Lyndon, Olton, Elmdon and Shirley stretching towards Solihull and, to a lesser degree, at Castle Bromwich. Detached housing development was more predominant around Solihull. Small settlement expansion also occurred in the Rural Area at Hampton-in-Arden, Marston Green, Hockley Heath, Meriden and on part of Balsall Common. During the inter-war period, large industrial areas relating to the automotive industry developed, such as the Land Rover motor works and the early example of a research and development campus at Shirley, latterly owned by TRW. Birmingham Airport was also developed at this time, opening in 1939 as a municipal airport.

27. After 1945, there was a huge wave of predominantly terraced and multi-storey residential development in the north-west part of the Borough from Castle Bromwich southwards. Residential development at Kingshurst was followed in the 1960s by overspill development from Birmingham into Smiths Wood and Chelmsley Wood. At the same time, Dorridge was 'created' by the expansion of Knowle south and westwards and development around Dorridge railway station. Development at Shirley, Olton, Lyndon and Elmdon towards Solihull continued and by 1955, Solihull had become joined to Birmingham.

28. Since the mid 20th Century, most residential development has occurred at Monkspath and Hillfield, Balsall Common, Cheswick Green, Meriden, Knowle and Dorridge, and most recently, since the late 1990s, at Dickens Heath. Most large scale commercial development occurred at the National Exhibition Centre in the 1970s, Birmingham Business Park since the late 1980s, Blythe Valley Park since the late 1990s, and more recently, the Touchwood Shopping Centre in Solihull Town Centre.

The Borough Now

29. The Borough is home to several major economic assets including Birmingham Airport, the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham and Blythe Valley Business Parks, Jaguar Land Rover and Solihull Town Centre. The formation of the WMCA and the forthcoming development of a high speed rail interchange provide further opportunities for significant inward investment, development and employment growth within this area and enhance its role as a regional and nationally significant economic hub.

30. The regional and national impact and role of Solihull's strategic economic assets is significant – supporting an estimated 100,000 jobs and £5.1bn GDP in 2012[7]  – with 50% of the Borough's workforce commuting in, it plays a vital role in the regional economy and labour market.  Other illustrations of the Borough's economic success include:

  • Total employment in Solihull increased by just over 6% between in 2015 (+6,500) in excess of the England (2%) and West Midlands averages (1.5%). This was driven by a 12% increase in the number of full time private sector employees (+7,300);
  • Over the five years 2010-2015 Solihull had the fastest growing labour market outside of London;
  • The Borough also ranked 12th out of 152 upper tier Local Authorities in England for private sector employment growth over this period (BRES 2015);
  • At a broad sector level 2015 saw particularly strong employment growth in manufacturing (+1,300, +12%), transport & communications (+1,100, +14%), as well as across all financial, professional and business services;
  • The strength of Solihull's automotive industry is evident by the fact that this manufacturing sub-sector added alone added nearly 1,200 jobs to total Borough employment in 2015;
  • The significant influence of the Airport on the Borough's labour market is reflected in strong employment growth in the air transport (+200 jobs) and transport warehousing (+300 jobs) sub-sectors in 2015.

31. Around two thirds of Solihull's 17,800 hectares is countryside and designated Green Belt, which separates the West Midlands conurbation from surrounding settlements. The vital strategic gap between Birmingham/Solihull and Coventry is known as the Meriden Gap. This area is predominantly rural, characterised by a series of settlements, historic villages, hamlets, scattered farmsteads and dwellings set within attractive countryside.  This area has been under increasing pressure to accommodate development and infrastructure.

32. These factors combine to make Solihull a highly sought after living environment and, as a result, house prices and land values across most of the Borough are substantially above the regional average.

33. The Borough has a number of distinct areas and these are described in more detail under the following headings:

  • UK Central[8]  Hub and Key Economic Assets
  • North Solihull Regeneration Area
  • Mature Suburbs
  • Solihull Town Centre
  • Rural Area
    • Knowle, Dorridge, Bentley Heath and Hockley Heath
    • Catherine de Barnes, Hampton-in-Arden and Meriden
    • Balsall Common, Berkswell, Barston, Temple Balsall and Chadwick End
    • Dickens Heath, Tidbury Green, Cheswick Green and Blythe Valley Park

UK Central Hub and Key Economic Assets

34. There are four UK Central economic opportunity zones:

  • Zone 1 – The UKC Hub which includes Birmingham Airport, National Exhibition Centre, Jaguar Land Rover, Birmingham Business Park and the site of the HS2 Interchange (known as Arden Cross)
  • Zone 2  - North Solihull
  • Zone 3 – Solihull Town Centre
  • Zone 4 – Blythe Valley Park

35. These strategic assets, and their collective impact and potential for inward investment to the wider area, are known as "UK Central" – the brand and vision for unlocking their long term economic potential for the Borough as a whole; with Solihull continuing to perform its critical role as a major economic contributor to the region and to the UK as a whole.

36. From 2017 onwards construction will begin on a high speed rail station interchange in the heart of the UK Central Hub on land adjacent to the NEC. It is anticipated that HS2 will be operational from 2026, at which point the journey time from London to UK Central Hub will be less than 40 minutes.

37. The potential of UK Central, to generate further economic and employment growth for the region as a whole is on a nationally significant scale – over 100,000 jobs and £15bn GDP in the West Midlands by 2040 – jobs and growth that are critical to Solihull, its neighbours and to the rebalancing of the national economy.  A strategic masterplan produced in 2013 identified that to realise this potential Solihull not only needed to enable appropriate growth of the existing strategic economic assets; but integrate HS2 within its plans and within future development.  This should then be underpinned with new investment in connectivity and transport infrastructure; thus enabling wider access to the new employment opportunities which would be created.  Access not only for Borough residents, but across the WMCA area.

38. The WMCA Investment Prospectus 2016 recognises the once in a generation opportunity that the HS2 rail link offers to drive economic growth and prosperity, and the significance of UK Central, particularly the Hub Area around the Interchange station.

Birmingham Airport

39. Birmingham Airport is the principal international gateway into the Region and has a major role in the national airport's infrastructure.  It is a key economic growth driver, particularly regarding the knowledge economy, high value-added sectors and overseas inward investment and international trade. The development of new routes to the Far East, America, India and China enabled by the main runway extension, completed in 2014, enhance the Airport's capacity to contribute to local and regional economic growth as a key component of UKC. The HS2 Station will improve the accessibility and attractiveness of the Airport from further afield, particularly London and the South-East.

National Exhibition Centre (NEC)

40. The continued success of the NEC is important to the local and regional economy and is the UK's largest exhibitions centre. The role of the NEC has evolved from its early exhibition centre beginnings in the 1970's to become a major events, tourism and leisure venue, serving both business and leisure markets and contributing significantly to Solihull's and the Region's visitor economy.  The opening of Resorts World (a £150 million mixed use leisure development) in 2015 is a demonstration of the evolving role that the NEC plays, and the Local Plan Review should provide a framework to allow the complex to take advantage of future opportunities.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR)

41. Jaguar Land Rover is one of the West Midlands', and UK's, most important businesses and a key driver of economic recovery, as an advanced manufacturing firm developing leading technologies including in low emissions vehicles. The Lode Lane plant in Solihull currently provides about 7,300 jobs and is set to increase to more than 9,000 following substantial new investment in the plant, demonstrating the company's commitment to Solihull.

42. Part of the area beyond the north east of the existing plant has recently been developed to provide a 14ha vehicle despatch area which opened in 2015.  The Council considered that there were very special circumstances for allowing this development in the Green Belt.  This was to support the operational needs of this internationally significant company that needs to remain competitive in the global vehicles market in order to continue to support significant numbers of jobs in the Region that rely on the success of JLR.

Birmingham and Blythe Valley Business Parks

43. Birmingham and Blythe Valley Business Parks have successfully attracted new investment to Solihull and the Region in accordance with their original role of helping to modernise and diversify the Region's economy by attracting knowledge based employment and combatting decline in the Region's manufacturing base. Birmingham Business Park is well placed near North Solihull and the NEC to encourage new growth and investment linked to North Solihull regeneration. Blythe Valley Business Park is competitive with the south-east and M4 corridor and is capable of developing new facilities to promote and support innovation and entrepreneurism.

44. These two high quality, managed business parks have a key role in Solihull's success in attracting business investment in high value added sectors including ICT, business and professional services, creative industries, construction and engineering. It is important that these high quality sites continue to attract knowledge economy investment to Solihull and the Region, thereby underpinning economic recovery and growth.  This includes further realising the potential of Blythe Valley Business Park as a location for innovation uses and new enterprise. There is also potential for Birmingham Business Park to play a greater role in linking investment and employment opportunities to the North Solihull Regeneration Area.

45. To reinvigorate these sites, the range of acceptable uses on them was broadened under the Solihull Local Plan in response to changed market conditions. There is growing competition from town and city centre locations as occupiers realise the benefits to employees of access to a range of facilities and to public transport. Better facilities will be needed if they are to continue to secure appropriate investment.

North Solihull Regeneration Area

46. The Regeneration Area covers three wards (Chelmsley Wood, Kingshurst & Fordbridge, and Smith's Wood) to the north of the A45, as well as some adjoining neighbourhoods in the north of Bickenhill ward.  A large proportion of local neighbourhoods are in the 10% most deprived in the country, with some in the bottom 5%. The area has a younger population than the rest of the Borough, an above average proportion of single person and lone parent households and far more people living in socially rented housing. Car ownership is the lowest in the Borough and is significantly lower than the national average. There are frequent bus services to Birmingham, although public transport access to many of south Solihull's key employment sites is less good. This is particularly significant as there are few jobs located in North Solihull itself with very limited commercial and employment space having been created as part of the initial development of the area, limited access to jobs, together with below average working age qualification levels have been major causes of high unemployment, and below average incomes in North Solihull. Poor health is also an issue, with life expectancy lower than the rest of the Borough and proportionally far more working age people not working due to ill health.

47. The area has a distinctive urban form characterised by its 1960s 'Radburn' open plan housing estates arranged around parking courtyards, small green spaces and precinct shopping areas. Pedestrian and car access is often separated so that dual carriageways, subways and footpaths are common. A consequence of this is poorly overlooked amenity areas and pedestrian routes, which exacerbate anti-social behaviour and fear of crime, and a resultant poor quality environment. However, the area has several significant environmental assets including the River Cole and its wider landscaped setting, woodlands, nature reserves and parks, which provide opportunities for enhancement.

48. The area is subject to one of the largest regeneration programmes in England which has, since its inception in 2005, delivered more than 1,350 new homes on over 30 different sites, such as the award winning Burtons Farm Park. This renewal programme has been facilitated by the demolition of a large amount of unsuitable housing stock including five tower blocks. A large proportion of the new homes have been built for social rent, with the remainder made available for home ownership. This has introduced greater choice into the North Solihull housing market.  Alongside housing renewal, regeneration has delivered vibrant new schools and colleges as well as new parks, improved green space and play facilities. A new supermarket and improvements to Chelmsley Wood Town Centre have been delivered along with new village centres at North Arran Way and at Chelmunds Cross, which includes a new Enterprise Centre for start-up businesses and a new health centre. There has been an improvement in educational attainment in North Solihull's schools relative to those in the rest of the Borough since the SLP was adopted in 2013, although there remains a significant gap.

Mature Suburbs

49. The area contains the popular residential suburbs of Castle Bromwich, Marston Green, Olton, Elmdon, Lyndon, Solihull, Shirley, Monkspath and Hillfield. These areas benefit from good schools, strong local centres and are relatively affluent. The more historic parts of the Mature Suburbs are found in Castle Bromwich, Olton, Solihull and Shirley. These mature areas are characterised by Victorian and Edwardian development, the canal and railway network, a tighter urban grain, extensive gardens and parks. More modern housing estates are characterised by an open plan, cul-de-sac layout with on-plot parking and a predominance of detached and semi-detached properties. Given the popularity of residential areas within the Mature Suburbs, house prices are high and there is a severe lack of affordable housing for first time buyers and those wishing to downsize.

50. However, the overall affluence of the Mature Suburbs masks some local variations, with pockets of deprivation evident in parts of Shirley, Elmdon, Olton and Lyndon. Whilst health is generally good across the area, the population is increasingly ageing, which has implications for the type and tenure of housing required and a greater need for specialist housing and health care.

51. The Mature Suburbs are home to a variety of employment opportunities including ZF TRW and other businesses located in the Solihull and Fore Business Parks, as well as in the established Cranmore and Monkspath area. The area benefits from lower unemployment than the Borough average. The area contains the strategic transport infrastructure of the A34 Stratford Road and the A41 Warwick Road; principal routes into Birmingham, and two railway lines, with stations at Shirley, Olton, Solihull, Widney Manor and Marston Green. Excellent connectivity to strategic road networks has resulted in traffic congestion at key destinations such as Solihull and Shirley Town Centres. In the case of Shirley this was contributing to its decline as a shopping destination. The completion of the mixed-use Parkgate development and public realm improvements are the first stage of a revitalisation programme for Shirley which will include the redevelopment of the former Powergen site.

Solihull Town Centre

52. Solihull Town Centre is a strong, vibrant and regionally important Centre containing a wide variety of shops, businesses and civic services. It is enriched by its attractive historic core of St. Alphege church, the Square and the High Street. To the north and south, the more modern retail developments of the 1960s precinct style Mell Square and the early 21st Century Touchwood development broaden the Centre's offer. Whilst the Centre continues to thrive, accessibility to and from the train and bus interchange is poor, traffic congestion affects key routes to the Centre and there is insufficient diversity of offer in the evenings. Parts of the town centre are looking dated and key gateways into Solihull and linkages to the surrounding parks could be improved.

53. Recent improvements to the town centre include the Solihull Gateway, facilitating better traffic flow and bus access, as well as some refurbishment and development of the Mell Square shopping area. In 2016 Waitrose opened a new store in the town centre.  An extension to the Touchwood shopping centre due to begin construction in 2017 will further enhance Solihull's retail and leisure offer.

Rural Areas

54. The Rural Area generally has a high quality built and natural environment, characterised by its Arden landscape setting, attractive countryside, important green corridors such as its canals and rivers and its rich biodiversity. The predominant land use is agriculture, which contrasts with the urban character of the remainder of the Borough and most of the Rural Area is protected by Green Belt. There is a wide variety of villages within the area, from the larger settlements of Knowle, Dorridge and Balsall Common, which have expanded significantly in recent times, to the smaller, historic villages of Hampton-in-Arden, Berkswell, Meriden and Barston hamlets and farmsteads which have grown more organically, and the modern, critically acclaimed new village of Dickens Heath.

55. Generally communities within the Rural Area are affluent and occupy attractive residential environments. The level of car ownership is higher than the Borough and national average at 1.62 cars per household. However, some local rural deprivation is evident in those neighbourhoods where social housing predominates. The Rural Area generally suffers from poor public transport connectivity. Schools perform well within the area but there is a severe shortage of affordable housing and an increasingly ageing population, above the national average, which could create service delivery difficulties. The rural communities are mainly commuter settlements and there is a continued threat of loss of key services and facilities.

56. The Rural Area is also important for sand and gravel aggregates at Berkswell and Meriden quarries. The area also has significant coal reserves. There are waste facilities in the Rural Area but much of the amount of waste arising in the Borough is managed outside of Solihull. Much of the rural employment is focused in the agricultural sector; however, there are some examples of successful farm diversification.

Knowle, Dorridge, Bentley Heath and Hockley Heath

57. The historic medieval core of Knowle is centred on the High Street and the church of St John the Baptist, St Lawrence and St Anne, at the junction of two historic routes, and is protected by Conservation Area designation. Similarly, development from the later Victorian and Edwardian periods around and near to Dorridge railway station benefit from Conservation Area status. The area experienced significant post-war development and there is no obvious settlement boundary between Knowle, Dorridge and Bentley Heath.  The dated shopping parade at Dorridge has recently been redeveloped to provide up-dated modern facilities and a new public realm that enhances the centre as a whole.

58. Hockley Heath is separated from Knowle and Dorridge and has a sense of remoteness. The village is largely inter and post-war ribbon development along the A34 Stratford Road but has the characteristics of a semi-rural village. The Stratford-Upon-Avon canal provides a linear heritage asset with a village wharf. The area is affluent, has a high quality residential environment and good, popular schools.

Catherine de Barnes, Hampton-in-Arden and Meriden

59. These three small villages are located at key intervals along the B4102 Hampton Road and are separated by attractive countryside. Both Hampton-in-Arden and Meriden have historic medieval cores which are protected by Conservation Area designation and have grown organically over time. Hampton Conservation Area is centred on the main High Street, Hampton Manor and the church of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew. At Meriden there are two; one focused on the green at the heart of the village and another around St. Lawrence's church at Meriden Hill, which has spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. Catherine de Barnes, on the other hand, is a smaller village with a more modern feel and which benefits from a canalside setting. The sub-area is generally affluent with some deprivation experienced in Meriden, which has a distinct rural feel to it and strong links to the surrounding farmland and quarries.

Balsall Common, Berkswell, Barston, Temple Balsall and Chadwick End

60. Balsall Common is a large post-war suburban commuter village bisected by A452 Kenilworth Road. The settlement is characterised by popular, low density residential areas with an open plan, cul-de-sac style layout and good schools. The village has a thriving local centre astride the A452 with a good range of shops, facilities and services, although there are some opportunities to improve the Centre. Berkswell railway station to the north-east of the village provides access to London, Birmingham and Coventry via the West Coast mainline.

61. The remainder of the sub-area is distinctly rural with a series of remote historic villages, hamlets, scattered farmsteads and cottages. The historic settlements of Berkswell, Barston and Temple Balsall are of medieval or earlier origin and Walsal End has houses dating from the 17th Century. All are protected by Conservation Area designation. This part of the Rural Area is characterised by the River Blythe, the wider Arden landscape and distinctive fieldscapes and is a popular area for recreational walking, being home to part of the Heart of England Way and a network of footpaths. Chadwick End has some 19th Century cottages, a public house and village hall with a community post office.

Dickens Heath, Tidbury Green, Cheswick Green and Blythe Valley Park

62. This area consists of distinct villages set within and separated by attractive countryside and Green Belt, which gives each village a sense of remoteness. Tidbury Green comprises predominantly inter-war linear development along key roads and Cheswick Green consists almost entirely of post-war development characterised by cul-de-sac, open plan layouts. The modern, multi-award winning village of Dickens Heath was 'created' in the late 1990s and, guided by an architect-led masterplan.  It has since undergone rapid expansion with a variety of architectural styles of development and a Village Centre. Whilst housing densities are higher around the Village Centre, the area has an attractive, mature woodland and canalside setting, with a few early cottages adding sporadic visual interest. There is a railway station close to Dickens Heath at Whitlocks End. Blythe Valley Park comprises a modern campus style commercial development within an attractive parkland setting. There are several award winning signature buildings providing a contemporary and sustainable working environment. As a whole, the sub-area suffers from poor public transport provision with limited bus services between settlements, which perpetuates travel by private car.

Borough Wide Key Statistics

63. The table below sets out some key statistics for the Borough.

Key Statistic

Solihull

West Midlands

National Average

Area of Borough

17,828 (ha)



Percentage of Borough that is Green Belt

67%



Population (mid 2015)

210,400

-

-

% Population Aged 65+ (mid 2015)

21%

18%

18%

Households (2014)

86,962

-

-

% Single Person Households (2011)

29%

30%

30%

% Social Rented Households (2011)

15%

19%

18%

Car Ownership – average per household (2011)

1.34

1.20

1.16

Travel to work by public transport (% working residents 2011)

14%

10%

17%

Unemployment Claimant Rate (2016)

1.7%

2.3%

1.7%

Average House Price (2015)

£284,316

£196,751

£271,964

[7] M42 Economic Gateway Masterplan Report (ARUP et al 2013)

[8] UKC was formally known as M42 Economic Gateway.  It includes the collection of key economic assets principally located around and between junctions 4 and 6 of the M42.

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