Archives for category: Birmingham

Birmingham Friends of the Earth’s building, The Warehouse, enters the final stage of its refurbishment project.

The building is really starting to look like the plans developed for the Share offer. Jericho has continued to reshape the building internally. New windows and doors have been installed on the ground floor which let in a lot more light than the old shutters.

Middle Bay has been cleared and is now the seating area for the Warehouse Cafe. A new kitchen has been installed for the Warehouse Café which is up and running again.

A lift has been installed and was officially opened. It will allow volunteers not previously able to access the top floor of the building, to do so. The ribbon cutting ceremony:

The new Meeting Room spaces will soon be finished and will be open for bookings. Existing tenants – businesses and community groups – will thrive in the improved building which will also offer opportunities to new businesses and community groups.

Shaz Rahman writes:

“The building looks dramatically different. I was amazed when I saw the new shop front for The Warehouse for the first time. What was once a dreary entrance, which had no appealing features, is now an inviting shop front. The glass makes the space look really large. We are really proud of what has been achieved at Birmingham Friends of the Earth. An incredible amount of time and effort went into the Community Share Offer, and even more time and effort has gone into implementing the building project. Internally the building is unrecognisable from what it was a year ago and so we thank our investors for helping to make this idea become a reality”.

 

 

 

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Will Cllr Ward, lauded for recent political manoeuvring, continue John Clancy’s good housing initiatives?

A Bournville reader has drawn attention to a Guardian article which says falling house prices are not disastrous, ever-rising house prices are a curse, because they are:

  • bad for social mobility,
  • bad for young people
  • and bad for the economy.

The author, Larry Elliott, adds that the billions spent pushing up property prices –  for example the latest move, Help to Buy – could be more productively invested elsewhere. He recommends making the tax system less biased and starting a mass public-sector housebuilding programme.

The extensive work on promoting affordable social and privately rented housing done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) may be seen here.

JRF’s written evidence, submitted to the Treasury in 2011, focussed on reform of housing taxation in the UK. Its recommendations included a tax and subsidy system, with new instruments targeted on housing supply intended for lower income households.

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Many readers will remember Pat Conaty, noted for his co-founding of the Aston Reinvestment Trust with Adrian Cadbury and the Debt Advice Centre at the Birmingham Settlement. He moved to Wales where he is promoting community housing and community land trusts (CLTs).

His work with others includes the building of a partnership between the Welsh government, co-op housing activists and non-profit housing developers to run a national demonstration project on CLTs and other forms of democratic housing including co-op rental, co-op shared equity, community self-build and co-housing.  He comments that such partnerships have long been established in Scandinavia where co-op housing is commonplace, continuing:

“As affordable housing both to own and to rent has vanished since 2010, community led-housing solutions have been emerging against the odds. Community Land Trusts in rural and urban areas, co-housing and student housing co-ops have been bootstrapped by activists . . .

“In Wales and South West England partnerships with government and local authorities and housing associations are showing how to develop effective public-social partnerships with local activists to increase the diversity of democratic housing provision and solutions”.

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The New Economics Foundation (NEF) advocates community-led housing on public land, as selling off public land to the highest bidder is making the housing crisis worse.  

Though the UK is facing a major housing affordability problem, the Government is continuing to pursue its policy of selling off land owned by Government departments, to stimulate the development of 160,000 new private homes by 2020. The NEF guide (above), by Alice Martin and Adrian Bua, aims to help groups to build community-led, affordable homes. It explains existing regulations, how to compete with private developers and provides an accessible guide to existing studies providing evidence of the benefits of community-led housing.

Surplus public land provides a resource which could kickstart community-led, affordable development, but all too often it is sold to the highest bidder, not community groups.

Legislation such as the ‘best consideration’ requirement (contract law) can be seen as a barrier to community-led housing, but the study shows how it can be challenged.

Community-led housing developments have individual and collective benefits. A few of these are listed below:

  • Wellbeing value for tenants: increased security and safety; reduced isolation; increased sense of self-worth and confidence (mainly through collective activities that build social capital);
  • Financial value for tenants: reduced expense of residential care provision;
  • Value to local authorities: reduced expense of residential care provision; reduced expense in social services and social care,
  • Benefits for the public purse;
  • Community building and social capital generation.

As Pat Conaty emphasises: “To expedite the potential they need more support and, most importantly, help to access sites”.

 

 

 

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Dr. Ian Maidment of Aston University has co-authored a significant piece of medical research published recently in the British Medical Journal: Anticholinergic drugs and risk of dementia: case-control study

It found that routine medicines, including common antidepressants, bladder drugs and anti-Parkinson’s medication (others noted on BBC report), taken by hundreds of thousands of people, increase their risk of dementia by up to a third.

These medicines account for tens of thousands of cases of dementia and doctors need to use them more sparingly.

This comprehensive study adds weight to the 2014 research findings, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, that cumulative anticholinergic use is associated with an increased risk for dementia.

Dr. Maidment said: “In the last 20 years the number of older individuals taking five or more medicines has quadrupled. Many of these medicines will have some anticholinergic activity and, in the light of today’s findings, we have to consider whether the risks of dementia outweigh the benefits from taking a cocktail of prescribed drugs.”

He added that the focus should be on “de-prescribing”, adding: “Doctors, nurses and pharmacists need to work with older people and their carers to ensure that they take medication only if the benefits clearly outweigh the harms.”

See the BBC News reports here.

Note also years of research findings on the effects of anticholinergic insecticides/pesticides on human health. See a free report in Toxicological Sciences, Volume 94 (OUP).

 

 

 

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A Kings Norton reader draws attention to the events of 2015, when a coalition of self-styled independents, united by the belief that democracy needs to be revived, were elected to Frome’s town council and continue to serve the town.

Frome councillors

Arlesey’s town council is now run by Independents for Arlesey, who won 14 of its 15 seats. Its founders were alerted to the flatpack democracy idea via Facebook and decided to shake up the politics of a Bedfordshire town that had got used to uncontested elections and a council run by old-school independents.

In Buckfastleigh in Devon, the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. “This isn’t an affluent community,” says the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett. “It’s a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” Fired up by the possibilities of localism and their experience of fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents resolved to stand for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”.

Conservatives lost all nine of the parish council’s seats in Alderley Edge in Cheshire to a new group called Alderley Edge First, which also took the village’s one seat on Cheshire East council. Its town council has been solidly Tory, but dissent was brewing – a result of such controversies as the council’s plan to replace long-established allotments with a car park. One newly elected councillor, Mike Dudley-Jones, said “our basic mantra is that there is no place for mainstream party politics at this level”.

Our Kings Norton reader sent a link to the Birmingham Post, which reported in February that a People Power Brum campaign aims to put local power in the hands of citizens by entering independent citizen candidates in this year’s city council elections, in an attempt to work outside the political party system.

Organiser Sunny Sangha said:

“Many people are disaffected with politics, at all levels. It’s telling that the usual turnout at Birmingham City Council elections is around 30%. We believe Birmingham is ready for this idea, and the challenge of scaling it to our own city of 1.1m people is really exciting.

If successful, Birmingham would really take its place as a global pioneer in a new form of people-powered politics.” 

 

 

 

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‘We Are Balsall Heath’ Street Festival on Sunday brought together the diverse communities of Balsall Heath.

The Moseley Road was closed until 7pm and people enjoyed artists performances, a food hub representing dishes from all communities, street stalls, open doors to community buildings, heritage trails, games and much more.

Photograph: John Newson

The organisers had stalls along the route – above: the Friends of Moseley Road Baths stall in front of Moseley Road Baths. 

 

 

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MELA social enterprise’s new ‘We Are’ neighbourhood campaign will start with ‘We Are Balsall Heath’ Street Festival on Sunday April 22 bringing together the diverse communities of Balsall Heath.

On Sunday 22nd April, Moseley Road will be closed between 8am and 7pm for the “We Are Balsall Heath” Mela. There will be 8 artist performances and installations, a food hub representing dishes from all communities, street stalls, open doors to community buildings, heritage trails, games and much more for a family fun day out. Please join us! https://www.facebook.com/weareBHMELA/

The organisers will have stalls all along the route and the Friends of MRB will be in front of Moseley Road Baths. From the stall Friends of MRB will be arranging some short tours of the building, bearing in mind that Pool 2 will in use until 1:30pm. The Gala Pool will still be out of bounds, unfortunately, but we can show you other unseen areas of the Grade II* listed building. Don’t forget that Moseley Road Baths has now reopened for swimming and is being run by a charity set up by volunteers from the local community.

On Sunday 22nd April there will be two Be Active sessions in the morning, both for public swimming – 10:00-11:00am and then 11:15-12:15 – so remember to bring your swimming costume to the Mela!

 

 

 

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The People’s Weapons Inspectors blockaded the gates of Anglo-French arms manufacturer Roxel in the West Midlands on 7 April. The company makes and supplies several countries with propulsion systems and related equipments for all types of rockets and tactical and cruise missiles for air, sea and ground forces. 

The protestors attempted to inspect the Hartlebury site because they believe it is supplying weapons components, including the Brimstone air-to-surface missile, to be used by the Saudi Arabian military in its war in Yemen.

Some protestors blocked the gates by locking their arms together inside fortified drainage pipes and one who entered the site despite the large police presence, aiming to question Roxel’s directors, said:

‘By licensing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the British government is escalating the conflict. ‘We felt compelled to act. We call upon the British government to refuse applications to licence further arms sales to Saudi Arabia.’

Wyre Forest Labour’s Stephen Brown, known for his voluntary work in Birmingham, visited the site during the protest and backed the group’s actions. He said:

“The protestors raised a very important issue that deserves wider attention. Labour has called for the U.K. Government to be held accountable as it is supplying arms and personnel helping the Saudis. We have seen civilian infrastructure hit resulting in thousands dead and injured including children. This is morally reprehensible and many view it as war crimes.”

 

Main source: http://www.kidderminstershuttle.co.uk/news/16152530.Anti_war_demonstrators_blockade_Hartlebury_rocket_factory/

 

 

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Vintage Trains runs Tyseley Locomotive Works (below) in Birmingham, restores and cares for its collection of historic steam engines and carriages, preserving traditional skills and ensuring steam locomotives from a bygone era remain in service for people to enjoy. The company has promoted express steam train excursions to destinations including York, Oxford and the Cotswolds for a number of years.

It launched the share offer in January intending to set up a train operating co-operative, in a move expected to create up to 11 full-time roles. The firm is now within touching distance of its first target of £800,000 which will allow it to establish itself as a train operating company and be in control of its own destiny. More than £600,000 has been raised by its share sale to date. Other funds to be raised will be used to invest in teaching traditional railway skills and to preserve the historic fleet of steam locomotives.

Curzon Street Station

Community share members will have voting rights, travel benefits on the company’s services and, after six years, members may also have the opportunity to receive interest payments on their shares and to withdraw their capital.

Adrian Shooter, the former chairman of Chiltern Railways who will chair the Vintage Trains operating company, said: “There is still time to get involved in this unique opportunity and own a piece of history whilst helping us to train young engineers, and continue the investment in our fleet of locomotives and carriages.”

Through the share offer and investment, Vintage Trains said it was hoping to boost Birmingham’s tourist economy through an increased programme of trips and additional services and will work to deliver a heritage gateway to the city, incorporating the grade I listed 1832 Curzon Street station and the 1906 Moor Street station terminus (above).

For the share offer see: http://www.vintagetrains.co.uk/offerinfo.aspx

 

 

 

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The rational case against metro mayors ably set out by local commentators, Richard Hatcher, George Morran and Steve Beauchampé, has been shattered for the writer by the media-feeding chaotic, emotion-led, vicious, counterproductive squabbling in the Labour & Conservative ranks.

Still, evidently, a tribal people, we appear to need the ‘high-profile leadership’ extolled by Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities , largest funders Gatsby Charitable Foundation (Lord Sainsbury) and  Catapult network, established by Innovate UK, a government agency. (see report cover right)

As yet, the announcements made by the West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street, respected even by most opponents of the post, with a business record seen as a guarantee of efficiency, are provoking little dissension.

Dan Jarvis, who is expected to win the Sheffield election becoming Britain’s seventh metro mayor, intends to continue to sit in the House of Commons to work for a better devolution deal and speak for the whole county. (map, regions in 2017)

His desire to stay in parliament while serving as a mayor is thought, by the author of FT View to reflect a recognition that the real authority and power of these positions is limited:

  • The six mayors have no say on how taxes are raised and spent.
  • Outside Greater Manchester, the mayors have little control over health policy.
  • Major spending decisions on transport policy are still taken by central government.

Days after taking office in Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s announcement of a new fund to tackle the region’s homelessness problem was backed by ‘a chunk’ of his own mayoral salary.

Andrew Carter points out that England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent, compared with their counterparts in other countries.

FT View describes this extra layer of government as yet merely creating cheerleaders, adding:

“Voices alone will not be enough to shift economic and political power to the regions. England’s mayors need more control. If the government is serious about devolution, the mayors need the powers to match that ambition”.

 

Could well-endowed, unsuborned metro mayors out-perform successive corporate-bound national governments?

 

 

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“Is it possible, for example, to have a city where potholes get fixed autonomously, before they become dangerous and expensive?”

In the Financial Times* Mark Miodownik, a professor of materials and society at University College London, asks this question. He reports on research which aims to create materials and engineering systems so complex that they can sense when they are damaged and are able to repair themselves. His article is summarised here.

The main drivers of such self-healing technology are economic and environmental.

The 20th century saw the invention of “smart” materials that could respond to changes in their environment. For example, shape memory alloys were discovered that respond to heat by changing shape. These are used in many walks of life, from windows that open automatically when a building gets too hot, to surgical operations where heat expands the shape of an implant so it fits exactly.

The aerospace industry has been developing self-healing composites to deal with microscopic cracks that grow in aircraft fuselages. Such self-healing materials improve safety, increase the lifespan of the aircraft and so reduce costs.

A drone, equipped with the ability to repair a leaky drain, could save millions on the repair and maintenance bill of cities These technologies work by incorporating microcapsules of liquid resin inside the material and by coating the reinforcing fibres inside the composite with a catalyst. If a crack forms, the microcapsules burst open and liquid resin flows into contact with the fibres. The catalyst then causes the resin to solidify rapidly and heal the crack. At present, this only works for micro-cracks because the capsules are so small.

Infrastructure is a major area for self-healing materials. In the UK alone, it is estimated that the repair and maintenance of structures costs £40bn a year and during these repairs the services provided by such infrastructure become unavailable. On rail and road networks, this leads to disruption, economic impact and pollution due to traffic jams.

A major project funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, led by Leeds University, with engineers from Southampton, Birmingham and Mark Miodownik’s institute at University College London all part of a research consortium.

See https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/how-potholes-roads-causing-more-13034551

Consider an alternative future, where information from a driverless vehicle that continually surveys the city infrastructure identifies the pothole at an early stage. The information of the size and shape of the nascent pothole is relayed to another autonomous vehicle, which is deployed at night when traffic flow is low. It locates the pothole, stops for a few minutes using hazard lights, and then uses a 3D printer to deliver tar to precisely repair the hole. Repairing it at an early stage saves money by preventing the congestion caused by road closure.

Leeds City Council is making the Yorkshire city a test-bed for the new technologies. The city is painfully aware of how much of its annual budget goes on repair and maintenance —tens of millions of pounds. It sees that creating autonomous repair systems that act as a metropolitan immune system will slash the bill drastically.

*https://www.ft.com/content/9870fa7a-314d-11e8-b5bf-23cb17fd1498, paywalled

 

 

 

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