GREEN belt campaigners have been left shocked to find Dudley Council has been looking to spend taxpayers' cash on commissioning a video production company to deliver a "sensitive and difficult" message about possible development of fields and woods on the edge of the borough.

Councillors and MPs across Dudley have been quick to tell residents they favour a brownfield first policy and that building on the green belt will be a last resort.

But the News has discovered video production companies have been asked via the council's tendering website to submit bids to create a video to help the local authority to "deliver a really sensitive and difficult public consultation which potentially includes developing areas of greenbelt land in the Black Country".

Interested companies have been invited to express interest in the six-month contract, due to start on March 13, to create a video about the Black Country Plan which council chiefs said would be "at the heart of a wider campaign to ensure the public understand the plan and the identified needs".

Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of the council, however, has said he was "not aware of this tender document" and he added: "As soon as I found out about it today I ordered for it to be scrapped.

“Nothing will happen on this moving forwards without further consultation between myself and the leaders of the other three Black Country authorities.

“Our position on this has always been clear – the green belt is not up for development.

“I was very surprised to find out we were commissioning this. There have been extensive public meetings and discussions already, and we have a very good communications department who have shown they are capable of doing excellent video work.

“So I fail to see the need to go out to an outside company like this.”

Norton resident Mark Binnersley, co chairman of Dudley Green Party and founder of the Save Clent View Road Fields campaign, said: "Dudley Council's plan to commission a video that explains the need to potentially build on the green belt gives a disturbing insight into what is really going on behind the scenes.

"It gives the impression that our local authorities are doing the bidding of big property developers rather than serving the public. 

"Additionally, I'm sure many hard-pressed council taxpayers will be furious that public funds are being spent on promoting the destruction of the green belt. And after this episode, people responding to consultations later this year will have good grounds to suspect the process is a sham. The upset our councils are causing to local communities over this is totally unacceptable."

Cllr Harley stressed just last month that Dudley has a "brownfield first approach" and he added: "As much as the Black Country Plan is about identifying needs and ensuring we provide enough homes for people of all levels of income, having the plan will also give councils the power to protect our precious green spaces, as far as we possibly can."

All local authorities are required to have an up-to-date 15-year plan to meet future development needs and the aspirations of communities. The current plan lasts until 2026 and Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton councils are currently developing the Black Country Plan to 2038.

As part of the process, evidence has been collated and published online at which includes an assessment of green belt sites across Dudley with risk of harm ratings given for each parcel of land - if they were to be developed.

The draft Black Country Plan, previously known as the Black Country Core Strategy, is due to go out for public consultation later this year.

Once adopted, it will outline where new homes and businesses should be built in the four Black Country boroughs up to 2038.

All councils have stressed that no sites have been selected yet.