Archives for category: Economy

The Full Business Case for the £29 million scheme to convert Spring Hill and a stretch of the Dudley Road (A457) to a dual carriageway was to be heard on Tuesday 21st April at a Birmingham City Council cabinet meeting.

Birmingham Friends of the Earth (BFoE) is calling on Birmingham City Council to scrap plans to convert Spring Hill and a stretch of the Dudley Road (A457) to a dual carriageway.

Martin Stride of BFoE summarised their objections:

These costly and damaging plans will require the removal of many trees, the demolition of some shops and narrowing of footways and will create even more car traffic which will just fill up the extra lanes created. This will exacerbate air pollution and increase carbon dioxide emissions. Even the government’s own research shows that road widening leads to more traffic”

The city council passed a Climate Emergency Declaration in June 2019 and has committed to cut carbon emissions in order to become carbon neutral by 2030. The Dudley Road proposals completely undermine this aim as they will actually increase carbon emissions. Given all these contradictions, we are surprised that the Dudley Road proposals have been allowed to get this far.

Local resident David Gaussen, who lives near the Dudley Road and first drew our attention to this issue, said:

The Dudley Road proposals will repeat many of the appalling mistakes made on road schemes from the 1960s and 70s. The heavier through traffic and worse air pollution caused by these plans will adversely affect peoples’ health and quality of life and undermine a bustling shopping centre. Through traffic is being prioritised over the needs of the local community.”

The council’s Full Business Case report claims that the plans comply with council policies and objectives on air pollution, transport and carbon dioxide emissions. However, in many respects it is clear that they do not comply. The report also claims that the proposals will improve public transport by introducing bus priority measures but these are lacking. There will not be any measurable benefits for bus passengers.

Most of the traders we spoke to on the Dudley Road were not happy with the plans and signed the BFOE petition calling for the scheme to be scrapped. This was submitted to Councillor Carl Rice in May 2019. The feedback report from the city council’s public consultation notes that only 34% supported the scheme.

It is hard to see how spending millions of pounds on such a damaging project can be justified when it contradicts so many council policies and does not have strong support.

He now updates us: At Birmingham City Council cabinet meeting on 21st April, the item to consider agreeing the Dudley Road plans was deferred to our immense relief! There has been no official statement about why, though there was last minute intervention by some key councillors that may have caused this to happen, but no one really knows! Certainly the scheme does not fit in with BCC policies”.

More details in the Mail https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/dual-carriageway-plans-busy-a457-18100895 – but their maps will disappoint.

Pushbikes’ contribution to the 2018 consultation: https://www.pushbikes.org.uk/blog/consultation-a457-dudley-road-improvements

Birmingham Friends of the Earth responded to the consultation in November 2018. The full response can be read here:
http://www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/consultation-responses/

 

 

 

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Will Digbeth be developed for the benefit of Oval Estates ‘ambitious occupiers’ and the interested parties, including representatives of High Street Residential, Arena Central Developments, Oval Real Estate, Court Collaboration, Willmott Dixon, UK Power Networks, Edmond Shipway and many others who attended the VIP dinner in January?

Or will the wishes of current traders, residents and those in need of affordable housing be taken to heart?

The Digbeth/Deritend Conservation Areas, designated in May 2000, due to be combined, contain the most significant remnants of mediaeval settlement in Birmingham including the fifteenth century Guildhall of St John (now the Old Crown public house). Once a hive of trade, industry and craft Digbeth is now home to many small businesses and activities.

In October last year, David Thame wrote: “Coolness is something famously hard to measure. Digbeth, the tech-meets-creatives-meets-city living district of central Birmingham, has it nonetheless. It was listed by the Times as the coolest address in Britain (beating districts in London, Manchester, Bristol and Leeds).

At the Victorian Society’s AGM, Joe Holyoak (below) spoke about plans for new buildings in Digbeth and particularly of his concerns relating to some of these proposed buildings. A planning application for a 30-storey skyscraper on Digbeth High Street was submitted to Birmingham City Council in September 2019. 928 flats are planned but ZERO affordable housing though Birmingham has a 35% affordable housing policy.

Those who share concerns about developments in the city might like to look at this website, which asks: “Do you want this skyscraper towering over Digbeth? Have your say before it’s too late!”

In December, Carl Jackson reported that hundreds of people have backed the ‘Digbeth Deserves Better’ petition and campaign launched after the plans were lodged in September, claiming that there had been little to no consultation with those based in the area.

In his article, Carl explains campaigners argue that the sheer scale of Stone Yard, particularly its tallest tower, will dwarf iconic buildings such as Devonshire House, the 651-year-old Old Crown pub as well as the entire Digbeth conservation area (above). They also claimed the plans lack affordable housing and will increase pressure on public services.

Traders and residents based in and around the Custard Factory welcome the idea of appropriately designed residential development on the site to drive footfall and help sustain Digbeth, providing it is of appropriate design and scale.

But before a block of flats goes up, councils are obliged to take into account the needs of existing businesses when judging planning applications and to test noise levels. Bennie Gray, current owner of Devonshire House and the owners of well-known venues such as Digbeth Dining Club, The Spotted Dog, O2 Institute and Ghetto Golf fear this may not be done, leading to a repetition of earlier problems in the area.

Will the gentrification/social cleansing practised in London arrive in Birmingham, as plans for a 30-storey tower development in Digbeth ‘cast a dark cloud’ over the area, driving out creative talent and people on lower incomes?

 

 

 

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On Saturday, 110 members of the public gathered in Park Regis hotel conference room in Birmingham on Saturday in the first of four weekends.

The assembly —commissioned by six cross-party House of Commons select committees — aims to produce a series of recommendations about how to decarbonise sectors such as transport and housing by 2050

Invitation letters were sent randomly to 30,000 people asking them to take part in the assembly, for which they will be paid £600 in total. From the 2,000 who replied to express interest, the group was chosen by an algorithm to reflect the demographics of the UK, including age, gender and ethnic makeup. As they were a representative sample they included 19 who identified as “not at all concerned” or “not very concerned” about climate change.

That should reassure the Spectator’s Melanie McDonagh who assumed that people willing to give up their time (‘six months of their life”) are more likely to be activists than normal members of the public.

A panel of experts introduced the members to the background of climate change and the chief executive of the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change, Chris Stark, told the assembly they should think about how the burden of climate change could be shared and how much government intervention would be acceptable. He found the members engaged and interested and hoped the final report would provide “compelling evidence for the government to act on”.

Melanie’s verdict: “If politicians want to decide to put up the price of petrol, or spend billions more on public transport, or ban powerful vacuum cleaners, fine. That’s what a government is entitled to do””

And so it will: the recommendations which will go to the cross-party committees that commissioned the assembly will be non-binding.

 

 

 

 

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Members of West Midlands New Economics Group (WMNEG) note the recent announcement that an independent review of the city’s waste service will be ‘commissioned by the council as part of the joint commitment to providing the best standard of service possible for Birmingham’s citizens, businesses and visitors’.

In light of the government’s new Resources and Waste Strategy, published December 2018, and updated in July 2019, WMNEG members strongly urge BCC to take this opportunity to review its policy on food waste (currently 48% of Birmingham’s waste stream, according to your own figures).

One of the consultants used in Birmingham City Council’s research for its waste strategy paper 2017-2040 (Ricardo, Best Practice in Waste Prevention, Reuse, Recycling and Recovery, 2016) refers briefly to Oxford County Council’s [sic – actually South Oxfordshire’s] weekly collection of food waste which, via anaerobic digestion, is turned into energy and fertiliser – but you seem to have rejected this example of good practice (presented to the people of South Oxfordshire in admirably simple terms: see Appendix).

WMNEG would like to draw BCC’s attention to another example of good practice, a city of over three-quarters of a million people whose diversity matches that of Birmingham – San Francisco. Here the city authorities have engaged in an enthusiastic and successful programme of education about food waste collection, particularly in hotels and restaurants (with financial incentives part of the deal), but also in residential apartment blocks (considered problematic by many urban authorities). San Francisco’s composting facility is located 70 miles from the city – away from populated areas to avoid odour problems, and close to farms that purchase and use the compost to grow fruit, vegetables and grapes for wine – much of which produce is consumed in San Francisco. A circular economy indeed! (Sources: The Zero Waste Solution (Connett); San Francisco’s own website)

With climate change and reductions in the city’s carbon dioxide emissions also high on BCC’s agenda, note that, according to Connett, ‘agronomists say if every city replicated San Francisco’s urban compost collection programme [i.e. food waste and garden waste], we could offset more than 20% of the nation’s carbon emissions.’

Former Cabinet Member with this portfolio, Lisa Trickett, wrote in her blog (27 September 2017) of the need to decrease food waste rather than collect and recycle it, but surely in the real world both approaches are needed simultaneously?

WMNEG would urge BCC to take another look at food waste as a resource, in line with the principle adopted in your own strategy of recognising that ‘waste’ is in fact potentially a valuable resource, and that the ‘circular economy’ is the economy of the future.

Appendix: South Oxfordshire District Council’s information for householders (from their website)

Your food is collected every week. Use your small kitchen bin to collect your food scraps each day and then transfer them into the large food recycling bin which we’ll empty each week.

What can I put in my food recycling bin?

  • All your raw and cooked food waste such as leftovers and spoilt food, and including:
  • meat and fish – raw and cooked including bones
  • all dairy products such as cheese and eggs
  • raw and cooked vegetables and fruit
  • bread, cakes and pastries
  • rice, pasta and beans
  • uneaten food from your plates and dishes
  • tea bags and coffee grounds
  • cooking oil, lard and fats (can be placed in a plastic bottle inside the caddy)
  • old cut flowers

NEW! We can now collect cooking oil placed in a plastic bottle (no bigger than 1 litre) from inside your food waste caddy…’

 

 

 

 

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West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 28th November 5-7pm

Open meeting: BFOE Warehouse

54 Allison St, B5 5TH

‘A Rebirth of Municipal Socialism’ is the claim in ‘Building a Better Birmingham: Labour’s Local Manifesto 2018-2022’, published for the 2018 May Council elections.

John McDonnell has praised the ‘Preston model’ and launched Labour’s new Community Wealth Building Unit. It’s part of a global movement by towns and cities to create an alternative to neo-liberalism. 

What does this mean for Birmingham? Richard Hatcher will be introducing a discussion looking at the policies, the claims and the evidence.

 

All welcome.

 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire

 

 

 

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Chris Martin sends an invitation and flyer for Footsteps’ Tyseley Energy Park Renewable Energy Seminar on Wednesday 23rd October.  All will be welcome.

Those hoping to attend may use this link for Eventbrite registration: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/renewable-power-seminar-registration-74101143515

 

 

 

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A flagship for devolved government?

In August William Wallis reports that Birmingham’s regeneration plans are starting to pay dividends: “The city and the wider West Midlands region has become one of the brighter spots in the UK economy. It is now growing faster than any other city region outside London, with output up by 35% over the past five years. The region is also becoming a flagship for devolved government.”

He focussed on the figures for foreign direct investment and claims that Birmingham has found a formula to correct the concentration of growth and wealth in the south east that has coloured both politics and economics of the UK for 40 years: “I look at the city centre and it is unrecognisable from 30 years ago,” said Matt Hammond, regional chair of PwC. But does he ever travel through the less favoured areas nearby?

Andy Street, who was elected as the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) mayor in 2017, does at least see the need for more devolution: “Better decisions are made if they are taken locally. It empowers people and makes them feel that they have influence over people governing them,” he said.

Unaccountable and undemocratic?

Birmingham resident David Gaussen focusses on “the lack of accountability and democracy in the way that the council is run by a small clique of highly paid Cabinet members making huge decisions for the council often with very long and complex agenda papers in front of them and with most of them lacking any detailed knowledge of the matters before them”. He cites:

He spoke to Council leader Ian Ward about the Dudley Road widening plans once after a public meeting. Ward was unaware of these at the time and seemed horrified to hear that this was being proposed, saying that he would get back on this. As he didn’t, Gaussen sent an email, eventually getting a poor reply “basically written by council officers, parroting old arguments about catering for growth of population and promoting business”.

He comments: “These arguments would justify widening most of the roads in Birmingham, but they only dare do this in a poor and deprived area where there is little opposition. They show no concern about the effects of polluted air on the people living there or the need to encourage people to walk more in order to improve their health”.

Gaussen can’t understand why more Labour party members aren’t fighting for a democratic and open system that encourages citizens to get involved in decision making. As Richard Hatcher says in his review of The Labour Party (2019) Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for Twenty-First Century Insourcing: “Councils require a culture of public participation and the structures and processes to ensure it at every level by service users, service workers and citizens generally”.

 

 

 

 

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West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 22nd August 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

This meeting will discuss points 4-10 of the notes circulated by John Nightingale earlier this month – arising from the ‘The Population Issue in Context’ a paper presented at the June meeting.

Those present will prioritise the points they wish to address in the time available.

Some time will be allowed to consider other topics, such as current developments in UK politics, and the relevance of China to the UK’s future (Andrew Lydon to speak on this).

A round table discussion 

All welcome. 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire

 

 

 

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For an analysis of the current position of the UK’s car industry, the range of pressures and issues it faces and its likely shape after any form of Brexit from a range of perspectives, turn to Keeping the Wheels on the Road, the third in the Bite-Sized Brexit books, edited by Professor David Bailey, the foremost commentator on the UK auto industry, Professor Alex De Ruyter, at the Centre for Brexit Studies, Birmingham City University, Neil Fowler and John Mair.

In a major contribution to the Brexit debate, seasoned industry experts, observers, commentators and representatives of the industry’s unions, provide arguments for cautious optimism through to rather shocked pessimism.

From Chapter 5: Just-in-time listening required

Co-authored by Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Motor Group and David Bailey, Professor of Industrial Strategy at the Aston Business School.

They have no doubt that the future of automotive does not lie with internal combustion engines – whether diesel or petrol – and stress the vital importance of effective management of the transition

Their counter-intuitive assertion that decimating the market for new diesel engines has brought with it damaging if unintended consequences to the protection of the planet – contributing to the first aggregate rise in the greenhouse gases produced by new cars in more than a decade – sent the writer to search for an explanation online:

Ministerial mixed messages over diesel has undermined the capacity of manufacturers to manage that transition.

The industrial impact of failing to manage the transition threatens to be severe too, with UK engine plants of manufacturers like BMW, Ford and JLR all currently heavily dependent on diesel production.

Messages from ministers have been mixed: recent reductions in plug-in car grants standing in stark contrast to the incentives offered to motorists to buy zero-emission vehicles in counties like Norway. But efforts are now being made by the Government to mandate the expansion of the UK’s vehicle charging infrastructure which should include      on-street charging and monitoring of the performance of public charging points. The authors emphasise:

“A successful transition requires more clarity from the Government in support of both the production and take up of the electric and other alternatively powered vehicles that will be the future of the sector.”

The fact that a number of major manufacturers have yet to confirm plans to build in the UK the next generations of models sends out serious warnings signals that would be foolish in the extreme to ignore.

Ministers could show they are listening:

  • by reducing Brexit uncertainty through ruling out no deal,
  • ending mixed messages over modern diesel
  • and showing much more dynamism in supporting the transition to a connected, autonomous and alternatively powered automotive future,

Burden & Bailey insist that the innovative capacity and diversity that has made the UK automotive sector the success story it has become over the past decade remain in place and David Bailey, in his second chapter, asks for an upgrading in how the UK develops its future manufacturing plans:

“There is a strong case for UK industrial strategy to be afforded an institutional status similar to both UK monetary and fiscal policies. At the very least, it should be the subject of regular strategic long-term reviews. By giving it that sort of priority, the new government would send out the kind of powerful message that British industry and foreign investors need to hear given recent uncertainty.”

 

 

 

 

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ART (the Aston Reinvestment Trust) has been providing finance for small and medium businesses and social enterprises for over 20 years in situations where the banks have been unable to meet the full loan needs of their customers.

In this video, Dr Steve Walker, chief executive, draws attention to the latest opportunity to invest in its new Community Shares Offer to help ART Business Loans to support more businesses across the West Midlands.

ART currently lends around £2.5m a year but there is a demand for more, so it is looking to raise an additional £500,000.

Why invest in the local economy? Because putting your money to work, helping businesses to access the finance they need to survive and grow, protect and create jobs has to be good for the long-term future of those who live and work in the region.

Investments in ART also qualify for Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR), which offers 5% per annum of the sum invested in tax relief (on income tax or corporation tax liabilities) over five years. At the end of that time, investors can choose to withdraw their money or reinvest in ART.

  • ART now has a strong track record and balance sheet and has lent over £25m to date;
  • ART has an existing loan portfolio in excess of £5.5m, original social share investors’ share funds are still safe and for over eight years ART has generated sufficient income to cover all overheads;
  • Through the British Business Bank ART now has a public sector guarantee that can cover bad debt cover of up to 15% of the loans made;
  • ART now lends throughout the entire West Midlands, although it still targets underserved sectors and communities;
  • With substantial regulation introduced to protect investors, ART’s new offer is made through the social investment platform ETHEX.

Full details of ART’s Community Share Offer, which closes on 24th March, can be found at www.ethex.org.uk/ART2019

 

 

 

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