Date: Thursday 29th March, 5pm-7pm

Susan Miles, who will be opening this session, will do a brief introduction. She has circulated a paper to members of the group. One extract:

“On 9th March this year, in the Radio 4 Feedback programme, the use of the word ‘populist’ was discussed. Listeners had complained that the BBC seemed to be using it as a synonym for ‘right-wing nationalist’ and treating it as a pejorative term. Katya Adler, the BBC Europe correspondent, denied this, insisting that she used it in the sense defined in the Oxford Online Dictionary as ‘appealing to ordinary people’, ‘of the people.’ I do not doubt her sincerity, but I am not sure that many listeners were convinced.”  

Venue: The Community Hub room, John Lewis, Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station.

The John Lewis Community Hub is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over the station (lift and escalator), immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

Anyone who wishes to receive Susan’s paper beforehand should contact  comments on the WMNEG website.





Planning for the Future: 1948 – Reflections on What Happened and Why is a paper written for the Black Countryman, the quarterly magazine of the Black Country Society.

*George Morran (right) has been reflecting on the Conurbation Report published in 1948 (Vol.51, No.1, 2017. His account is summarised below and published in full here.

The work on conurbation was supported financially and in kind by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, whose chair, Paul Cadbury, acted as Secretary. Conurbation was non-governmental and purely advisory.

It was produced by a group led by Dr. Raymond Priestley Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University, supported by a steering committee and advisory groups including businessmen, academics and local authority officials from across the West Midlands Region including the shires, Birmingham and the Black Country.

Thousands of new houses were built in the 50s and 60s. In the inner areas a large proportion of the new housing was built by the local district and borough councils for rent. They had the basic amenities which the older housing lacked. In the 60s a high proportion of this new-build was high rise especially around older town centres. The newer housing in the outer areas of the Black Country was in the main built by private developers at lower densities for sale with a greater emphasis on the visual appearance and environment. New single storey industrial estates appeared replacing older multi storey workshops. New industries anticipated by Conurbation did not materialise

1947: central government controls were introduced over new manufacturing development in the Black Country and other prosperous regions – repealed in 1984

They were intended to steer new development to the less well-developed areas. They discouraged new investment and modernisation of the existing industrial infrastructure and the replacement of obsolescent buildings; they hindered enterprise and strangled new ideas in red tape. The profitability of many companies was undermined leading to closures and takeovers.

David Smith – Something Will Turn Up: Britain’s Economy, Past, Present and Future (cover below)

During the 1950s and 60s the flight of residents, businesses, wealth and influence to the fringes and beyond from the inner areas continued. The owners of businesses who had previously lived locally no longer did so.

Conurbation had proposed that the railways be expanded but they were run down and lines closed. The proposed M6 and M5 motorways were well on the way to being built but little was done to improve regional and local roads. Much development along main roads had been blighted by the existence of improvement lines which would never be implemented.

By 1971 80% of the derelict land in the Black Country and most of the open space that existed in 1948 had been developed for housing and industry; the canals which were to have anchored much of the open space were closed, abandoned or left to decay, open to vandalism and abuse. Much of the traditional heavy industries had gone or were soon to close.

The so-called slums in and around the old townships had been cleared and replaced by new housing. Many historic cottages and other housing which were structurally sound or could have been upgraded were demolished because of their lack of modern amenities.

1948: The West Midlands Plan

The West Midlands Plan was produced by a team of town planners and academics led by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Professor of Town and Country Planning at University College, London University. The political and business elites were directly or indirectly involved; residents were not. There was very little if any public involvement – and an absence of any regional or local civic forums and pressure groups to challenge the established way of doing business and to offer any alternatives. Although it related to the whole of the West Midlands conurbation, it focused on the Black Country which the Plan identified as having the most challenges. Central to its proposals for the Black Country were the maintenance and further intensification of industry in the inner areas; the location of new housing in the peripheral areas and beyond, outside a statutory Green Belt including towns and villages in South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire.

1955: the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee

In 1955 the shire and urban local authorities set up the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee to produce, deliver and keep up-to-date an agreed regional plan to manage overspill from the urban to shire areas consistent with approved Development Plans with formal agreements for overspill to particular locations within and beyond the Green Belt. The agreements focused on new housing to be allocated for occupation by families moving from the Black Country and Birmingham. The Shire Counties also argued for the relocation of industry from the conurbation to balance the increase in population in the shires. Pressure for the peripheral development of the urban areas onto Green Belt land continued into the 1960s

1965: The Government set up a West Midlands Regional Planning Council

The Regional Council was supported by a Regional Board of Civil Servants and representatives of central and local government and business to make recommendations to Government on the economic and physical development of the whole West Midlands Region including the shire and conurbation areas. It identified substantial economic and population growth that needed to be accommodated in the region and proposed that New Towns should be developed based on Redditch and Dawley and that New Town Commissions be established responsible to the Government for bringing forward and delivering detailed plans. The Government accepted these recommendations.

1962: report issued by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England

It made proposals for the future of local government in the West Midlands Region abolishing the system of boroughs, county and district authorities and replacing it with five all-purpose county boroughs. This new system came into force on the first April 1966. The Royal Commission and the government thought that the new arrangement would strengthen the Black Country’s ability to respond to the challenges it faced. Less importance was attached to the local community identity or the social and economic links which existed between the Black Country and the adjoining areas of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

1966: a further Royal Commission was established to make recommendations on the future of local government across the West Midlands

It reported in 1969, proposing that a directly elected provincial council be established for the whole of the West Midlands Region to deal with strategic planning. In the Black Country the Commission proposed four all-purpose local authorities responsible for all planning matters together with responsibility for major services in particular education, and social services. The Commission also proposed that local community councils be established but district councils consistently blocked local campaigns for powers and representation to be made more local and took little or no action to encourage their establishment.

The Black Country Society responded to the Royal Commission

In its 1971 pamphlet it proposed that local government in the Black Country and the wider West Midlands region be built on directly elected community or town councils responsible for local services and providing a voice for local communities. It accepted that some public services needed to be provided across a larger area and proposed the establishment of a directly elected West Midlands Region body – a strong political voice which could engage with Westminster and Whitehall.

1974: The establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority

In 1973 the Conservative Government agreed a new round of reorganisation which led in April 1974 to the establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and including seven all purpose District Councils for Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

In the last 50 years many new challenges and opportunities have come along which have shaped what has happened to the Black Country more recently and its future prospects. That is another story.

*George Morran: BCS Member 1968 to Present and Committee member 1968-76. Formerly Director the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities and Assistant Chief Executive, Dudley MBC.






Five months after announcing a £2bn fund to build a new generation of council homes, the government has not released the money.

A country that works for everyone

Theresa May promised the state would get “back in the business” of building social housing to address the shortage in a speech at the Conservative party conference in October.

Actions belie words

Andy Bounds in the FT notes that despite this commitment to funding social housing, government regulations have merely required private developers to build or fund so-called affordable housing, with rents at 20% per cent below the market average.

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are delivering the homes our country needs and since 2010 we have built over 357,000 new affordable properties.

Paul Dennett, mayor of Salford, wrote. “We are concerned and frustrated that . . . we still being advised by Homes England and partner registered providers [housing associations] that the guidelines for the allocation of grants to build homes for social rent have not been published, and that no date has been set for when this funding will be made available”. The letter was addressed to Sajid Javid, secretary of state for housing, who has not yet replied.

Councils want to build social housing which would pay for itself over time through rental income and increased property value, but the government currently prevents them from using the proceeds of social housing sales to build replacement homes. It has also restricted councils from borrowing to build houses themselves, although some have used reserves for modest building programmes.

Mr Dennett said that across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, there are 84,000 people in temporary accommodation, with their rent paid for by local authorities: “Our housing bills are going through the roof. The government is making the right noises but we need action now.”

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are determined to do more and we are investing a further £9bn, including £2bn to help councils and housing associations build homes for social rent.”


When? And, if built, will they be alienated under the right to buy?





TUESDAY 13 MARCH from 6.00p.m at Locanta restaurant, Ludgate Hill, St Paul’s Square B3 1EH

All welcome

locanta (2).jpg

Enemy of the People?

Did your grandmother use phrases such as ‘Make do and mend’; or ‘waste not want not’?   In which case she was clearly an enemy of the people.  Why?  To quote Peter York FRSA, “this language is fundamentally anti-growth.   We all know that our future depends on us consuming like mad.  The engine of our economy is property prices and footfall in Next and M&S”. 

Yet on Tuesday our guest, Woody, (Planet Centred Forum), is proposing a 25% reduction in our CONSUMPTION as a counter balance to global population growth.

Woody’s “Population Equivalent” thesis weighs consumption against numbers.  He calculates that 25% of ‘Western’ consumption equates to the global average consumption of 3 billion people.

The thorny issue of population control is dealt with by comparing the environmental impact of different levels of CONSUMPTION rather than focussing simply on numbers.

All very well, but what about the economy? Join us on Tuesday evening at Locanta to find out.

General information on the web page  http://www.greendrinks.org, then go to  http://www.greendrinks.org/West%20Midlands/Birmingham

You don’t have to have a meal in order to join in, but if you do, it helps us to have an idea of meal numbers in advance.  Erkan, provides an excellent menu, plenty of choice, including vegan and vegetarian dishes.  Dishes can be tailored to individual tastes







An air pollution campaign mounted by Birmingham Friends of the Earth calls on the City Council to adopt a city-wide approach to tackling air pollution which is linked to 900 premature deaths a year in the city.

Birmingham City Council will have to implement a Clean Air Zone by 2020 and within the next few months, the Council’s plans for a Clean Air Zone will be released for public consultation. The city’s poor air quality needs to be taken seriously and we need the best possible plan in place to ensure that the health of everyone who lives, works and travels to Birmingham is protected.

The Clean Air Zone should be in place as soon as possible before the government’s deadline of the end of 2019, with much stronger commitments from national Government to help Birmingham and other local authorities to deliver cleaner air for all. Read more about Clean Air Zones in the government’s Clean Air Zone Framework publication.

BFOE is calling for a city-wide approach to tackling air pollution, with a wide-area Clean Air Zone including all vehicle types and other measures to support it such as improving the walking and cycling infrastructure and public transport. The campaign has gained support from hundreds of people across the city along with community groups and councillors.

On Tuesday 13 March at 12:15pm, come and join campaigners who will be gathering outside Birmingham City Council House to hand in their petition to Councillor John Cotton.

The councillor will then present the petition to the full council meeting later in the day.

The petition is calling for Birmingham City Council to:

  • Implement an enforceable Birmingham-wide clean air zone by 2020.
  • Ensure nitrogen dioxide levels meet or are below EU limits everywhere, all of the time.
  • Make certain that monitoring of all areas in Birmingham is regularly carried out and reported and this information is publicly available.

To support the campaign, sign the Birmingham Friends of the Earth petition here and join the petition hand in on Tuesday 13 March at 12:10pm outside the Council House.


See also: https://ourbirmingham.wordpress.com/2014-2017-birmingham-air-pollution-blogs/






 “The West Midlands is beginning to get its act together under its new metro mayor”: Will Hutton Observer 18th February

George Morran, Director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention and former Assistant Chief Executive of Dudley Metropolitan. Borough Council, comments: “Will Hutton’s praise for the West Midlands elected mayor and the Midlands Engine is misplaced”. He continues: “The mayor is constantly seeking publicity for policy developments for which he has no or limited responsibility. His budget proposals have not been supported and his capacity to make any real difference is compromised by the WM Combined Authority and District Councils”.

Deborah Cadman, the new Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, appears to have similar misgivings “I can’t deliver the half a million new jobs we are trying to do and that massive investment. I can’t do that directly, I have to do that through local government.” (WMCA)

Morran points out that, despite so called devolution deals, the real power remains with Government Ministers and Whitehall:

“The Mayor’s democratic accountability is very questionable given that his election was based on a very low turnout, combined with the media and business support. The geographical focus of the West Midlands Mayor and Combined Authority is an area which divides the West Midlands Metro from the adjoining shires, urban and rural, town and country which together make up the West Midlands Economic Region.

“The “Midlands Engine” is as important a symbolic rallying cry as the “northern powerhouse” but it is a totally anonymous entity. It lacks any local or regional democratic accountability. It is totally dependent on Government, Whitehall and big business. It does not reflect the very different traditions, economic and political focus of the West and the East. Its focus does make life simpler for Whitehall than having to deal with two regions. What we need is a focus on the local and the region rather than what suits Whitehall. We need radical reform as part of a new constitutional settlement for the West Midlands and the other English regions. This settlement must focus on improving economic prosperity, the wellbeing of residents, business, civic society and democratic representative government in the West Midlands and the other Regions.

“This new settlement must include the transfer of real power and democratically accountable government from London to the local and the region; the downsizing and refocusing of Westminster and Whitehall. The new local has to be really local and not based on the existing large local authorities imposed on us in the past by Westminster and Whitehall.” 

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, focuses on the limited powers and resources at the metro mayors’ disposal:

“As highlighted in the recent international mayoral summit organised by Centre for Cities (in partnership with Citi and Boston University’s Initiative on Cities), England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent compared to their counterparts in other countries. They have also faced delays in gaining the powers already promised to them by the government in their initial devolution deals. For example, Street has criticised the Department for Education for postponing the devolution of the adult education budget to the mayors, a key policy area they need control of to improve the economic performance of their city regions”.

Richard Hatcher (BATC) is campaigning for the reform of the WMCA based on the following three principles:

  • A critical challenge to the claims for the economic strategy of the WMCA, and for an alternative primed by government investment and based on meeting social priorities and the promotion of the green economy.
  • Defence and improvement of public services, the protection and improvement of jobs and conditions and the involvement of workers and service users in policy decisions.
  • A radical democratisation of the WMCA with the full participation of citizens, communities and employees at every level of policy making and implementation so that it is genuinely democratically accountable.

As George Morran wrote last year: The needs of the West Midlands and the other English Regions will only be realised if there is a real transfer of power and elected representation from Westminster to the regions and a far more localised local government underpinned by a more proportional voting system to ensure cross party and geographical support.








There is an important update about swimming timetables, lessons and prices from Karen Leach from the Moseley Road Baths Charitable Incorporated Organisation, which will be taking on the running of swimming facilities at the Baths from the start of April. 

Watch this space for further updates: http://www.friendsofmrb.co.uk/2018/02/important-update-for-swimmers-changes-in-april/

And Birmingham City Council has agreed (6 March) to grant the Moseley Road Baths Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), formed by Moseley Road Baths Action Group, a three-year licence to operate.

The council will retain responsibility for the maintenance of the building and the pool for three years and invest £100,000 in repair and maintenance over the next 12 months, in addition to the council grant of £100,000 to help with roof repairs agreed in June 2017.


Recruiting of volunteers for reception, cleaning and lifeguarding will start soon and everyone who has already shown interest is thanked and will be contacted shortly.

Karen ends: “Look forward to seeing you at the pool soon!”


For feedback or queries go to keepswimming@moseleyroadbaths.org.uk.




In Cologne

Statement by the British Kashmiri Women’s Council, We Engage & Birmingham Stop the War Coalition.

Our television screens are again filled with distressing images of injuries and pain for many Syrian people including children. In Eastern Ghouta Syrian and Russian jets are bombing causing many deaths, in Afrin province Turkey, a NATO member and western ally armed with British and American weapons, are killing numerous civilians in their illegal invasion of a sovereign country.

As the brief statement from the national Stop the War Coalition says, there is an urgent need for a ceasefire supported by the UN in Eastern Ghouta and a cessation of the military invasion and withdrawal by Turkey from the Syrian Afrin province.

But in the longer term the road to peace requires the ending of the intervention into Syria by American, Russian, British and Iranian military forces by which we would enable the Syria people alone to determine their own future.

Many MPs have condemned the Syrian and Russian bombing of Eastern Ghouta but at the same time supported British and American bombing of Syria and Iraq which has killed tens of thousands of civilians. Similarly many of these MPs supported the illegal invasion of Iraq (based on the lie of weapons of mass destruction) which involved hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and on some estimates more than a million deaths. The chaos in Iraq since the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003 including the rise of the death cult Islamic State is a product of that invasion which destroyed large parts of Iraqi infrastructure.


Saima BKWC; 07872694285

Syma We Engage; 07539538123 or

Stuart Birmingham Stop the War Coalition 0777 156 7496 ser14@btinternet.com




The photography of Janet Mendelsohn
Presented in association with Flatpack Film Festival
10 March – 28 April 2018

In the late 1960s American filmmaker and photographer Janet Mendelsohn spent several months documenting the everyday life of Balsall Heath, as part of her studies at the University of Birmingham. These images are a vivid record of the community at a time of rapid change, and many of the streets depicted were demolished soon afterwards. The exhibition visually explores a social housing crisis, poverty, migration and the experience of childhood in the area.

Building on a brief pop-up exhibition in summer 2015, Ort Gallery now present a selection of these amazing images in the neighbourhood where they were taken. The exhibition will be supported by a resource room exploring some of the stories behind the pictures, and a programme of events and screenings culminating in the 12th Flatpack Film Festival.

To accompany the exhibition we will run a series of events such as group discussions, film screenings, a ghost walk and more! Find all info here and join the Facebook event to be kept up to date!

This exhibition is made possible with strategic investment by the Arts Council England and support from Arts & Science Festival. Special thanks to the Cadbury Research Library.

Ort Gallery
500-504 Moseley Road
Balsall Heath
B12 9AH

Open Tuesday to Saturday 12-5pm





The loss of Eastside Park (above) to HS2 , ‘more of a square than a park’, strengthens the case for greening Smithfield. Photograph: John Newson. 

John Newson points out that Birmingham Friends of the Earth earlier responded to the council’s 2011 Big City Plan, proposing that the open space on the Smithfield site should have should have functions of stalls/market space which could be combined with trees and some green space. He comments: “A park, in the sense of extensive grass and flower beds may not be achievable, given the intensity of pedestrian footfall, which is likely, and indeed desirable.  Eastside Park is more of a square than a park”.

The CityPark4Brum  2015 petition was followed by the council’s Smithfield Master plan (March 2016)  which may be downloaded here, with the August ’17 memorandum. There was a new consultation which included a proposal for a new park on one part of the site.

The petition, masterminded by James Tucker, now has over 5000 signatures and will be resubmitted to the council and the metro mayor. As he points out, “Birmingham does not have a large park in its city centre – a glaring omission for the UK’s second city. However, we currently have a unique opportunity to address this . . . Birmingham Smithfield is less than 5 minutes’ walk from New Street station and the Bullring, an ideal location for a green park that could truly transform our city’s landscape”.

He feels that the space allocated for this new park is too small – smaller than the Cathedral Green and  wedged in between other buildings adding: “ Therefore the CityPark4Brum campaign is continuing and is now into its third year”.

The artist’s impression

Though one correspondent concedes, “Green space is always nice” he continues: “it might well become repositories for litter and poorly disposed of dog poo bags. Probably best if fenced off and excluding humans”.

Steve Beauchampé expresses no such misgivings, writing firmly in the Birmingham Press: “Birmingham needs a city centre park, not the thin strip of tree-lined greensward offered in the Smithfield development”.

He found Birmingham City Council’s vision of a future mixed use of retail, residential, offices, eateries, a brace of public squares and some undefined cultural activities, ”all very predictable” and had replied by posting on the Press website that they should abandon the masterplan and simply lay out a park, one where you could walk a dog, kick a ball around, sit on a bench, enjoy an ice cream in a tearoom.

The CityPark4Brum has had some influence, with BCC agreeing to incorporate a grass and tree-lined corridor (linear park, illustrated below) into their revised masterplan although Beauchampé notes that the total amount of greenery promised still appears to be very modest – ‘a truncated boulevard’. He continues:

“Apart from the grounds of St Philip’s Cathedral, and St Paul’s on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter, there is almost no usable green space in or near Birmingham city centre. Taken as a whole Birmingham probably has more parks than Venice has canals, but the central core and its immediate surrounds – where the population is rapidly increasing (and will continue so to do) – remains bereft of anything resembling a park.

“One need look no further than Birmingham’s geographical neighbours to realise how notable Birmingham’s lack of a gloriously unstructured and unregulated, egalitarian central zone park is: Coventry, (War Memorial Park) Solihull (Tudor Grange, Brueton and Malvern Parks), Walsall (Arboretum), West Bromwich (Dartmouth Park) and Wolverhampton (West Park) all boast large parks on the periphery of their centres, easily walkable from their respective retail and civic hearts”.

Warning that in a year or two there may simply be no parcels of land available on which to develop a central park, he foresees future generations looking at:

  • a plethora of apartments that they will not be able to afford to rent,
  • hotels that they will never need to stay in
  • offices that they will probably never be needed to work in
  • and nowhere to walk their dogs, kick their footballs
  • or relax with their friends.

Beauchampé points out that national and even international perceptions still imagine Birmingham as the motor city, an unattractive urban sprawl, full of underpasses, flyovers and rain-soaked concrete, concluding:

“A well-designed city park or green space would change perceptions of Birmingham in a way that 25-30 additional 25-30-storey high new buildings never could . . . potentially as ‘impactful’ on the city as staging the Commonwealth Games or the arrival of HS2: a gift that truly would keep on giving, day after day, decade after decade. A place for relaxation, exercise, for cultural and communal experiences, where the city can celebrate and commemorate and which can be enjoyed without cost by rich and poor, young and old.”