WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

The next meeting, on Thursday 26th July, will be held at the John Lewis Community Hub, from 5 to 7pm.

After a round the table exchange, during which each person gives his or her news, Alan Clawley’s draft manifesto of some 18 years ago will be discussed. The manifesto can be found here.

A programme for the current year will then be planned.

The John Lewis Community Hub is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station (lift and escalator), immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

 

 

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Tudor Grange House, described in The Victorian as ‘a significant Jacobean style house’, was built in 1887 for Alfred Lovekin, a Birmingham silversmith (background here). It was ‘impressive at the outset and made more so by the 1901 alterations for Sir Alfred Bird’, son of the creator of Bird’s baking and custard powder. Its wood panelling, ornamental ceilings, antique glass and tapestry works led to its listing in 2008 (further detail here).

The house was put on the market by Solihull College in 2016 because it was not being ‘fully utilised by the College and has become too costly to maintain’.

Felix Nobes in the Solihull Observer reported on plans for change of use and alterations submitted by the developer, Octopus Healthcare, to convert Tudor Grange House into a home for the elderly, with 64-bed care home and 44 assisted living units. These were unanimously approved by Solihull borough council’s planning committee, according to the Coventry Telegraph (30th April).

The planning report states that many of the works proposed would preserve and even enhance the ‘designated heritage asset’. It concluded that certain aspects of the scheme – perhaps a reference to the building of additional standalone units and the loss of two ‘veteran trees’ – would cause ‘less than substantial harm’. Elliot Brown took a series of photographs showing trees on the site, including this one:

The comprehensive report by Solihull’s Head of Development Management comments: “In this instance, whilst the loss of the two veteran trees is considered significant, it is considered that this harm would be clearly outweighed by the numerous benefits as set out in this report”.

A separate planning application will go through council with regard to the building’s heritage and listed building consent.

 

 

 

 

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The Times reports that housing developments in Birmingham have benefited from billions of pounds of new investment attracted by the prospect of HS2, the high-speed rail line that is planned to connect London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds from 2026.

But there is a ‘chronic lack of funding for social housing’ (New Economics Foundation, NEF)

NEF summarises the city planners’ focus on redeveloping the city centre in recent years, at the expense of building much needed affordable housing to replenish its depleting stock. In 2015 Birmingham sold more than twice as many council houses as it was building. NEF continues:

“Decades of central government’s neglect of housing policy, a chronic lack of funding for social housing and gentrification have meant that Birmingham is becoming a harder place to live for low income people and families. In central areas like Aston and Nechells, rent and house prices are increasing: residents are living in overcrowded homes and flats and paying through the nose to do so”.

Though the council has identified 38% of the city’s overall housing requirement as being for affordable housing . . .

NEF asserted that the housing crisis in Birmingham is underpinned by a lack of land for affordable housing in the city, exacerbated by the Government’s current policy of selling off public land. It added that last year its research found scores of sites for sale in Birmingham to plug holes in the budgets for public services, offered by the Department for Health and public bodies including the Local Authority. No reference was given and an online search failed to find the source.

It reported that in Aston, Nechells and the Frankley and Northfield areas, individuals have set up groups with their friends, family and neighbours to start building a community-led response to the housing crisis, developing relationships with housing and planning experts in their city and beyond.

Meanwhile,  the latest NatWest Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index report shows the region as the best performing part of the UK in terms of activity

For the more prosperous, Birmingham’s property market is ‘booming’, according to Britain’s biggest mortgage provider, the Halifax and the data firm IHS Markit. Its associate director said the West Midlands stood out from a market that was cooling because of “affordability constraints” as it had also been buoyed by strong economic growth, with business surveys showing the region as the best performing part of the UK in terms of activity”.

As the “ Drift from the capital”  chart (above) showed in FT Money (July 7), the English city that attracts those who leave London is Birmingham. Richard Batley, Emeritus Professor, University of Birmingham, writes: “Those leaving London are heading for Birmingham. A fair comparison of the metropolitan regions would show that the growth of house prices, net foreign immigration, the proportion of the population claiming benefits and “cultural offerings” per 100,000 residents would all move in Birmingham’s favour”.

But in Birmingham and routinely elsewhere, developers are exploiting loopholes in planning regulations to avoid providing affordable housing

Earlier in July, the Mail reported the findings of an editorial partnership between Birmingham Live and HuffPost UK. Figures they obtained in a Freedom of Information request show that of the 4,768 houses approved for development in 2016/17, just 425 approved were lower cost housing. House builders are being allowed to sidestep rules on affordable housing if they can show that providing discounted homes would stop the development making a profit.

2012 graphic drawing on Shelter and the Resolution Foundation figures here.

Meanwhile city residents on lower incomes can’t even get on ‘the first rung of the housing ladder’ or afford rents in the private sector, and those who manage to get on the social housing list face many years’ delay.

 

 

 

 

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Alan was trained as an architect and lived in Birmingham for several decades, providing technical support to a wide variety of community projects. He was a member of the Green Party, founder and secretary of Friends of Central Library and chairman of West Midlands Economics Group (WMNEG).

The writer first met him at meetings of Birmingham Green Party in the 80s and later both attended the 1994 gathering organised by George Heron (left), a supporter of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) George circulated all the NEF supporters living in the West Midlands and an inaugural meeting was held in which the constitution of an unincorporated voluntary association was adopted.

Since the structure of the NEF did not allow for branches as such, it was agreed that WMNEG would be independent of the NEF but share its values and interests. A management committee planned the programme of activities and George was its chairman until he moved to Manchester in 1997. Paul Baptie took the chair for a short period followed by Alan Clawley. A website was created and contact with supporters was maintained by email.

Trawling through her documents the writer found several records of work not mentioned in the widely appreciated tributes by Steve Beauchampé and Neil Elkes. A summary follows.

Read on here.

 

 

 

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The Heritage Lottery Fund Schedule of Decisions has recorded a grant given to a two year project which will work with local communities to establish heritage fruit and nut tree sites in Stirchley, Birmingham.  The project is a partnership between Food Forest brum and Lets Grow Together.

It will engage the local community with the history of traditional fruit and nut trees and encourage involvement in the creation and management of urban orchards, nut groves and forest gardens.

Felipe Molina, one of five directors of Spring to Life which applied for this funding, has been involved in the development of Food Forest Brum and Mother Gardens projects.

He spoke about this project at Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum Meeting on 11th June, at Stirchley Community Church, Hazelwell Street (above).

 

 

 

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Woodbrooke

Islam, like other Faiths, calls for stewardship of the Earth. What can we learn from Islam and its teachings on the environment and environmental justice?

“And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto God they will be gathered” (Hold Quran 6:38)

Each week there will be video, audio and written materials for you to engage with, and forums for you to share reflections and ask questions.

There will be two live Q&A’s. If you can’t join these discussions live, they will be recorded for you to watch at your convenience.

This course is intended for anyone, of any faith or none.

Start Date: 20th August 2018 12:00 am

End Date: 30th September 2018 11:59 pm

£38.00

More information here: https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/item/islam-and-the-environment/

 

 

 

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After the leader of Birmingham City Council welcomed the 2018 Local Government Association Conference to Birmingham (ICC, 3-5 July) Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, spoke.

An extract from his keynote speech, published on the Local Government website

 I know that the state of Council finances keeps many of us up at night. Making the bottom line work for you will continue to be a priority for the LGA’s lobbying.

The money local government has for vital day-to-day services is running out fast. There is also huge uncertainty about how local services are going to be funded beyond 2020.

Councils can no longer be expected to run our local services on a shoestring. We must shout from the roof tops for local government to be put back on a sustainable financial footing.

We’ve protected government for a long time by making sure all the cuts thrown our way were implemented in a way that shielded our residents as much as possible.

But if austerity is coming to an end, then, as we were in the front of the queue when it started, we must also be at the front of the queue for more money when it ends. Only with adequate funding and the right powers can Councils help the Government tackle the challenges facing our nation.

Lord Porter (left) added that the cap on council tax also needs to be lifted: “Let us be clear, every penny in local taxation collected locally must be kept by local government and spent on our public services”.

Stroud District Council is the first council in Gloucestershire to lose its revenue support grant from the Government – a grant that has been paid in some form or another to all local councils for more than 50 years. In 2019/20 it must pay back £549,000, due to a ‘tariff adjustment’. This will be the largest sum paid by any Gloucestershire council and marks a new relationship between central and local government.

In July the FT pointed out that between 2015 and 2020, the Revenue Support Grant will have shrunk 77p in the pound, the Local Government Association the UK government plans to slash their core funding 77%. Almost half of all councils — 168 — will no longer receive any core central government funding in the 2019/20 budgetary year, according to the LGA, adding:

“The LGA says it is impossible to cut any further. It estimates a £5.8bn funding gap in 2020 — even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes”. 

 

 

 

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In a report published this week, the  Centre for Cities, noting that many high streets are full of boarded-up shops, advises local authorities to ‘reimagine’ the space for offices, homes and leisure:

“These places should focus on making their city centres better places to live, work and play in. For example, taking steps to repurpose surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland, will create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in — which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes”.

Centre for Cities describes Birmingham as having a strong city centre but low-skilled suburbs

When true socialist Theresa Stewart became leader of Birmingham council in 1993, acting on her belief that the council should spend its money on education, housing and social services, she backed The Living over the Shop (LOTS) project.

It was set up in 1989 to demonstrate the feasibility of using vacant space above shops and offices and ways in which wasted space can be brought back into use, usually for affordable rented housing and creating a range of employment opportunities. It was estimated that at least 250,000 homes could be created from these vacant areas. This would repopulate urban areas that were often empty and desolate during evenings and at weekends.

Though young occupiers were keen to buy into the new wave of urban living and these flats above shops were, on average, 20% cheaper than equivalent sized homes in buildings without ground floor retail premises, families wanted facilities like schools, play areas, doctors’ surgeries and green spaces. Parking was often a problem.

Home reports that overall, 1 in 7 shops in Britain are now vacant. The internet has acquired a massive slice of our regular spending, supermarkets offer a widening range of products, out of town centres have sprung up and shops are now open for more days each week and more hours every day.


In some cities, such as Sheffield and Bradford, over a quarter of shops are empty in areas where the demand for shop premises will never rebound. Home says that, “With the constant cry of a major housing shortage in this country, it seems obvious that …… these shops should be converted into homes. They generally have good ground floor access that is ideal for any wheelchair users and for babies still in prams and offer a challenge to architects to use the infrastructure of the buildings in a more imaginative way”.

More proactive planning procedures are needed in order to convert these spaces to much-needed housing. Local Development Orders can change the designated uses of buildings. Home continues:

“Shop properties could then provide up to 420,000 new homes in Britain. A double success story by any standards and successes in the housing market are rare finds these days!”

 

 

 

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WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

Thursday 28th June, 5pm-7pm

Political round up: local elections results.

Exchange and discussion following round-the-table news from all present.

 

Venue: The Community Hub room, Level 4, 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.

 

 

 

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UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé.

The governments long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.

That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.

.bham airport logo

Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.

Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious: the first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!

So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.

But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.

Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (its already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead. 

The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.

But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East. This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.

In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.

How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the worlds fifth largest economy.

 

Steve Beauchampé

June 7th 2018

First published on http://thebirminghampress.com/2018/06/airport-2018/ 

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