Archives for category: Community action

 

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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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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CoStar reports that through Rothschild & Co (condor.enquiries@rothschild.com), Network Rail has begun to sell its commercial estate and most of this property is located in railway arches.

They will be sold as leasehold with Network Rail retaining the freehold to ensure maintenance access rights continue. Project Condor is expected to raise more than £1bn and Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive said: “This deal will bring more investment into the commercial estate for the benefit of the local communities and it will help fund a better railway. I hope to see areas around the railway positively transformed with new and refurbished shops, amenities, and extra facilities for local people and passengers.”

A mailing from the New Economics Foundation recalls that in 2015 Network Rail struck a bargain with chancellor George Osborne: “give us the funds we need for infrastructure upgrades, and we’ll sell off a big chunk of our assets. The railway arches are one of those assets”.

Around 80% of the property is located in London, with much of the rest in Manchester and Birmingham. Occupiers of railway arches include restaurants, bars, offices, retail, leisure operators, breweries, car washes, gyms and healthcare centres.

We were unable to contact Tom Maher, co-founder of Birmingham’s Original Patty Men, who serves locally sourced longhorn beef burgers – and more – to appreciative customers in one of Digbeth’s railway bridge arches (above) in Shaw’s Passage.  Last year the Mail described its expansion plans to expand into the premises on the right, retaining the outdoor seating area in the space between the bar and restaurant with a bakery at the back.

Will the OPM be adversely affected? We hope not.

Network Rail’s sale is expected to attract attention from private equity and sovereign wealth funds who would find the average rents – at around £8 to £9 per sq ft – rather low, but CoStar reports that Network Rail has met stern resistance from small business owners, notably in Hackney, E1, and Brixton, SW9.


Supported by the New Economics Foundation and the East End Trades Guild, a group of arches tenants from around the country (three above and many more pictures here) has formed Guardians of the Arches to oppose the sale and seek a viable settlement for the future.

They are organising an open letter to Chris Grayling asking him to halt the sale and meet them to talk about the future of the arches. Thousands have signed this letter in just the first few days, and the group are planning a lobby of parliamentarians in June. Readers may sign as suggested below.

The NEF article ends: “Like many public asset sales, it makes little sense no matter how you look at it. In financial terms, selling off the asset means Network Rail – and by extension the public – will no longer benefit from the steady annual rental yields generated by the portfolio. And it’s no excuse to say there’s no other way of funding infrastructure improvements. The Government is currently able to borrow at historically low interest rates, but instead they are forcing public bodies to sell income-generating assets to fund investment”. 

 Click here to sign the Guardians’ letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

 

 

 

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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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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 West Midlands New Economics blog draws attention to a message from Nancy Platts, a Labour Party councillor, who has worked for London Fire Brigade, Daycare Trust and Consumer Focus. 

She points out that under the proposed new boundaries, the problem of ‘electoral bias’ means the Conservatives will only need a lead of 1.6% per cent to win a majority (less than they won by in 2017) – while Labour will need a lead of more than 8%.

One of the main reasons for this is a total lack of proportionality: under first-past-the-post, seats do not match votes – it is where those votes are cast that really matters. Huge Labour majorities do not equal more representation: instead, millions of votes are thrown on the electoral scrapheap. ‘Losing big and winning small’ is rewarded.

Westminster’s voting system splits the left vote, but projections by the Electoral Reform Society show Labour would now be Westminster’s largest party under the preferential STV system (used for local elections in Scotland).

A new report on the benefits of the case for fair votes makes clear that the experience of councils in Scotland as well as governments across Europe shows that proportional voting systems – where every vote counts – help to foster ‘consensual’ politics, where unions and civil society are included as key players.

Democracies with more consensual structures are more progressive, with larger welfare states and lower rates of prison incarceration and lower economic equality.

EU countries which have proportional representation have embedded trade union rights, high union density and extensive collective bargaining coverage use proportional electoral systems.

Nancy ends “There is increasing momentum for change both in unions and the Labour Party. It’s time to replace Westminster’s broken set-up and extend the progressive voting systems we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Westminster.

“When every vote counts – with seats matching how people really vote – parties don’t just pander to wealthier swing seats and a handful of influential voters. They have to win support across the board”.

 

 

 

Moseley Road Baths CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) will be re-opening the pool on Saturday 7th April 2018 from 8:45am with public swimming sessions starting at 9am and running until 2pm. Visit the CIO website:  http://moseleyroadbaths.org.uk/

Birmingham City Council staff will be continuing to support the CIO during a transitionary period so there will still be many familiar faces at the baths for a while yet.

There is a new timetable which prioritises school and club swimming and the current cost per swim will remain the same but there will not be a concessionary rate as MRB can no longer be part of Birmingham City Council’s Passport to Leisure scheme.  The CIO are hoping to find funding to support a reduced rate but this may take a little time. View the new timetable.

There are various volunteering opportunities to train and gain experience as a receptionist, lifeguard, social media volunteer or help with basic maintenance workFollow the link to find out more! http://moseleyroadbaths.org.uk/volunteering

The Trustees of Moseley Road Baths CIO are all volunteers who are proud of this historic pool which has been serving the people of Balsall Heath and beyond for over 110 years.

The next meeting of the Friends of Moseley Road Baths will be on Thursday 12th April, 7pm, Moseley Road Baths Tea Room. All are welcome!

 

 

 

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