Archives for category: Planning

Its message: the greatest need is for affordable rented housing in urban areas. Any solution to Britain’s housing crisis must include a bigger contribution from the public sector. Rather than coercive measures, the focus should be on enabling local authorities and housing associations that wish to build social housing.

Shame is poured on George Osborne’s ‘massive’ reduction of Housing Associations’ capability to invest in new housing with a 1% rent reduction per annum for 5 years: “Social housing rents are already at a large discount to private landlord rents, so this ill-advised move in one go, reduced the capital raising capability of Housing Associations”.

The FT thinks that local authorities should be allowed to:

  • set planning fees,
  • to levy taxes on idle land when developers fail to use planning permissions
  • and, crucially, to borrow in order to fund their own social housing developments.

There is a great deal that can still be done by making better use of brownfield sites and releasing public land for development. An annual tax should be levied on undeveloped land that has residential planning permission but has not been developed whether publicly-owned, or land owned privately, by companies, NGOs or agencies.

Mixed developments are being built, income from sales invested in social housing

At the end of March, Birmingham’s council newsletter reported on the completion of 251 ‘quality’ homes in Erdington. There is a mixture of social housing and houses for sale, for a range of family sizes – from one to five bedroom properties.  The income gained from houses sold from this latest development will be reinvested into the council’s housing stock of social housing. News of other social and affordable new housing in the city may be read here. Today we are reminded that a four year programme has been set up to enlist smaller housebuilders to use smaller plots of land.

Birmingham City Council won Social Housing Provider of the Year’ at the Insider Residential Property Awards in 2016. This highlighted the work of the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT, currently the largest provider of affordable homes per annum in the Midlands with projects in Nechells, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. In 2015, BMHT also won the Public Sector Award at the Urban Design Awards for its Newtown redevelopment (See architect Joe Holyoak’s article – one photo above.).

BMHT celebrated the completion of its 2,000 home milestone in March – a culmination of 1,125 homes built for rent and almost 900 built for sale since the council launched the BMHT programme.  The council plans to build around 1,800 further new homes for rent and market sale between now and 2020 in order to close the city’s housing gap.

 

Hannah Green’s Chamberlain Files April Fool article boomerangs. Informed readers would indeed welcome the news that National Express has launched a West Midlands canal bus relieving congestion – following the precedent set by other cities.

London’s River Bus Express (below) run by Transport for London offers the public a regular service which is described in detail here – a model for other towns and cities.

In Leeds, a pioneering free water taxi scheme has been made permanent. The boats, which can carry up to 11 passengers, are being paid for by Allied London, the company that owns Leeds Dock – formerly Clarence Dock. Read more here.

The Amsterdam-style service – trialled at the recent Leeds Waterfront Festival – takes passengers from Leeds Dock to Granary Wharf and back. While currently operating on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only, the taxis could become a daily fixture running 7am-7pm.Simon Tipple, who drives one of the boats, which take about seven minutes to cover the route, said: “The south entrance to the railway station is opening soon. Once that happens you’ll be able to get straight off the train and onto the water taxi. It’s quicker than walking, it’s quicker than being in the car. There’s a lot of flats, a lot of commuters in the dock area.”

“We know our roadways are getting more and more congested, and more people are seeking alternative forms of transport”, said the owner Steven Cadwell.

The Manchester Evening News reports that on November 7th a water taxi service was launched, connecting Manchester city centre with Sale and Old Trafford along the Bridgewater Canal. Two Waxi boats – sadly built in Shanghai not Manchester – take passengers from Dukes 92 in Castlefield to the Trafford Centre, morning and evening, Mondays to Fridays –the first water taxi service in operation in Greater Manchester. More boats will be acquired as the business develops.

Waxi was founded by entrepreneur Steven Cadwell (above) who originally wanted a service that ran from the city centre to MediaCityUK, but had to look at other options because of the construction of the Ordsall Chord which is due to be completed in 2017. Cadwell said:

“It’s something that will appeal to a lot of people who want a different way to travel to work or to football matches. We know our roadways are getting more and more congested, and more people are seeking alternative forms of transport”. 

Birminghams canals are a neglected and underused resource; clean waterway transport should be integrated into plans for canalside residential, retail and office developments. Some have suggested water taxis sailing from the Icknield Port development into the city centre.

One precedent is the dedicated waterbus service (above, pink) operated by Sherborne Wharf Heritage Narrow Boats, stopping at Brindleyplace, King Edwards Wharf, Gas Street Basin and The Mailbox. But like most waterway vessels currently used, though it is more fuel-efficient and potentially takes traffic of congested roads, it produces some noise and air pollution.

We would recommend the hydrogen fuelled model (above) developed as part of the Protium Project at the University of Birmingham.

David Lowe (CBOA) adds: there are passenger boats in Glasgow, on Loch Lomond, and in Spalding and on the Lancaster canal.

Earlier this month, Cllr. Brett O’Reilly, cabinet member for jobs and skills, stressed the importance of apprenticeships before addressing a National Apprenticeship Week event in Birmingham.

He said that the council aims to increase the number of apprentices at the city council, using the apprenticeship framework to reward existing staff through development opportunities. Wards where youth unemployment is at its highest will be targetted, providing meaningful apprenticeship opportunities that will enable people in time to secure permanent employment.

Good apprenticeship programmes combine shop-floor and college based training for an average of three years and require a long-term commitment from the employer. Experienced workers have to nurture the individual apprentice through the time-consuming process – a task which takes them away from their regular duties to some degree.

APS Metal Pressings in Hockley had two toolmaking apprentices last year: Aaron Wilks is in his second year and Ethan Wilkes completed his second year and started a HNC engineering course in September.

One problem is that some companies invest in training apprentices who graduate and then leave to join companies without a training programme who reap the benefits without investing time or money in apprenticeships. Setting out a clear career path, continual appraisals and pay scale increments for apprentices encourage commitment, but there is a case for clearly stated contractual tie-ins for an agreed period of time in order to protect the company’s investment.

On the WM Producers’ site there was news of other apprenticeships and the ‘graduation’ of Kirsty, Professional Polishing’s latest apprentice (left)was celebrated.

Cllr. O’Reilly highlighted the city’s drive to retain talent within Birmingham and  strengthen the local economy by ensuring  the right training and learning opportunities available for anyone who needs it. Skills level in the city region will have a major impact on future economic growth and ensure inclusive growth reaching out to citizens in all parts of our city.

To this end, the city council has developed its ‘Step Forward: Upskilling for Life’ strategy in partnership with the public, private and third sectors, working directly with employers to encourage upskilling of the workforce, co-ordinating support and guidance so people can choose the right qualifications for the career path they want to take.

Cllr. O’Reilly: “The goal is to leave nobody behind.”

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times Enterprise Editor reported that canals could regain their role as conduits for trade – because of gridlock on the motorways that superseded them, according to a study for West Midlands councils, the Highways Agency and British Waterways, which found “considerable potential for the reintroduction of freight on the canals”.

He added that the findings will resonate with any driver who has ever watched narrowboats putter past on nearby canals while stuck on a motorway. A canal freight shuttle service between the Black Country and Birmingham could move 175,000 tonnes annually and save 61,750 urban lorry miles, the study found.

From our database, 2001-2016:

  • In Bromage N, Supply Management (UK) 5 Jul 2001 Vol 6 No 14: p. 34 (2 pages) there is a reference to transporting cardboard waste from London to a recycling mill in Birmingham.
  • In 2002 cardboard waste was carried from Leamore Business Parks (Walsall) via canal to a recycling plant in Saltley, Birmingham.
  • West Midlands Waterways joined forces with Brumcan, the Birmingham based community recycling business in 2004 for ‘The Big Recycle’ and moved waste textiles by boat from Brumcan’s headquarters in Saltley along the Birmingham Mainline Canal to Black Country Rags in Greets Green. The boat, named Aurega, then delivered glass to Birmingham’s waste transfer station at Lifford Lane.
  • Lynne Jones MP, for Birmingham Selly Oak, issued a press release: Support Water Freight; 11.08.06, calling for government action to shift the transport of freight from our roads to our waterways, supporting a Parliamentary motion backing the sector.
  • In 2007 Marks & Spencer employed barges to take waste cardboard boxes and packaging from its stores in London along the 157-mile Grand Union Canal to a recycling plant in Birmingham.
  • The 2007 West Midlands Freight Action Plan clearly identified 78 businesses in the Birmingham Study that have the potential for transporting waste & recycling, building & construction materials, steel and retail goods. It also identified 90 clusters of industrial estates and retail parks, 49 wharfs and 12 freight development sites.
  • Birmingham to the River Lee: in 2008 Richard Horne and Tim Collier loaded narrowboats Arundel and Betelgeuse with 110 steel piles, weighing 43.79 tonnes, from the company ALE Piling at Tyseley to be delivered to Lee Valley Marina at Walthamstow.
  • ALE Piling in Tyseley gave a barge company a contract to move steel piles from Birmingham to Walthamstow earlier that year. Progress was slowed through the Solihull area by silt, sunken tree boughs, supermarket trolleys and bicycles in the water. (CBOA newsletter)
  • Heathrow announced (2016) that it would accept, and in some cases exceed, all the environmental targets set out in the Airports Commission report. To this end Nick Platts, head of cargo, said he had been considering low-emission onward transport for freight, including using rail and barges on the nearby Grand Union Canal (Paddington Branch) which links central London with Birmingham.

Caption: ‘No congestion down here’

As Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times Enterprise Editor reported, the 2007research highlighted a series of environmental benefits from moving freight. Studies agree that waterborne transport is quieter, cleaner & more fuel efficient, reducing CO2 emissions by 75-80% compared with road transport. TV’s Waterworld programme made the startling claim that in one day a lorry used more fuel than a working barge would use in a year.

Next: City could use watertaxis – operating in other UK cities – to take passengers off congested roads

 

 

 

The air we breathe is a hugely important issue for Birmingham – in fact, around 900 premature deaths a year in the city can be attributed to poor air quality.

Izzy Knowles, Chair of the Moseley Forum, writes about a meeting on Tuesday 28th March – 7.30PM at the Moseley Exchange, 149-153 Alcester Road, Moseley Birmingham, B13 8JP

Anne Shaw, Assistant Director for Transportation and Connectivity will be this year’s guest speaker at the Moseley Forum Annual General Meeting. She will reflect upon the work Birmingham City Council is doing towards introducing a Clean Air Zone as well as the implications of a High Court ruling regarding the Government’s air quality plans.

Izzy continues:

We will be exploring:

  • What are the main sources of air pollution in Moseley
  • What we can do to help reduce air pollution levels
  • What can be done specifically in Moseley

If you have any questions on air pollution in Moseley, please send us an email in advance to moseleyforum@gmail.com or come prepared on the day.

We hope that you can join us and help shape the future of air quality in Moseley.

 

 

 

Groups in the city concerned about the cuts/austerity are demonstrating against these measures which oblige the poorest in our society to pay the price for the 2008 financial crisis, for which successive governments and the banking hierarchy were responsible.

They may be interested to see the long-term approach advocated by 22 councils in England and Scotland to address these shared concerns.

Susan Press of the Co-operative News reports that Birmingham is the latest council to express an interest (article was only seen in hard copy at the time of writing). 

Read on here.

 

 

 

 

 An April event: advance notice for those with a crowded schedule

woody-3-best

 

 

 

 

West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 23rd February 5-7 pm

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

bfoe-warehouse

What are the economic policies of the mayoral candidates for the West Midlands Combined Authority? – presented by Ann Wackett.

The election takes place on 4 May. Are the candidates promising anything different from the parties that they represent?

All welcome.  

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire

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roger-godsiffBirmingham MP Roger Godsiff focusses on the practical reasons for opposing Trident as a drain on resources which could be spent constructively on education and healthcare – and an irrelevance in the post-cold war period.

He points out that although there is no longer a serious nuclear threat, we are left with nuclear weapons which are hugely expensive to build and maintain. “Committing £100 billion to renew our nuclear deterrent is ridiculous at a time of austerity when so many of our services, including conventional defence forces, are being dramatically cut”.

Moreover these so-called British weapons only make up a fraction of the power of the American fleet of submarines: ‘our’ weapons are not independent.  Indeed at present they are in the hands of a new and unpredictable president. On his website Mr Godsiff elaborates:

“The first myth is that the system is ‘independent’. The UK has 4 nuclear submarines. Each can carry up to 8 missiles and each missile can carry up to 5 nuclear warheads. The UK does not own the missiles. It leases them from America where they are made, maintained and tested. Our 4 submarines have to go to the American naval base in Georgia to have the missiles fitted. Therefore our nuclear deterrent is totally dependent on America”.

Roger Godsiff said that the real threats these days cannot be addressed by nuclear weapons. For example, when he was MP for Small Heath there was a huge police operation because one house contained a suicide-bomber who had strapped explosives to himself: “This happened some years ago in White Street, Sparkbrook, where a terrorist cell planning to set off bombs in central Birmingham was monitored and the premises raided before any atrocity was carried out. The individuals involved were all convicted and received long prison sentences . . . “the only way of dealing with threats from domestic terrorist groups is to be continually vigilant and to make sure our police and internal security organisations are properly funded to disrupt their activities”.

“How do you deal with a threat like that?” he asked; “Do you nuke Small Heath? Of course not! Yet this is the kind of threat this country is far more likely to face these days. We don’t need nuclear bombs to address this kind of problem – one warhead kills about a million and spreads radioactive material around for a huge distance”.

He was one of forty-seven MPs on the ‘roll of honour’ voting against spending £31 billion to replace the fleet of submarines that carry our nuclear missiles. Others on the list are named on Wales Online.

 

 

 

Long after the high quality housing programme initiated by Mayor Ken Livingstone – monuments to socialism at its best (see specifications in Chapter 2 here) – we read that homelessness is soaring in the capital as “immaculate houses in central London lie empty, used as assets in buy-to-leave schemes and three quarters of luxury new builds were snapped up by foreign investors last year”.

Birmingham’s Labour-led City Council won ‘Social Housing Provider of the Year’ at the Insider Residential Property Awards 2016 for the work done by the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT) programme, citing recent projects in Nechells, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. The city was also a finalist in the 2016 APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) housing sector award. Last year BMHT won the Public Sector Award at the Urban Design Awards for its Newtown redevelopment.

bmht-2-small-heath

Small Heath, 2015

Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT), set up in January 2009 to lead the development of the Council’s new build housing programme, is currently the largest provider of affordable homes per annum in the Midlands.

BMHT completed its 2,000 home in March – 1,125 homes for rent and almost 900 for sale. More than 200 homes for rent are currently under construction on 17 sites and the council is to build around 1,800 further new homes for rent and market sale between now and 2020.

It was good to hear commonsense from the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and Planning John Healey on Radio 4 recently

john_healey_cihHe deplored the spending of £2.3bn a year on housing benefit going to private landlords renting out sub-standard homes: “The last Labour government brought in the decent homes standard for council and housing association homes, the next Labour government will make it a national mission to end unsafe and sub-standard private rented housing.” When he visited new council-built homes in Birmingham, Councillor John Clancy told him: “Building housing here and now is our first priority. The Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust is building houses in the hundreds and I’m absolutely determined that the city as a whole must now move towards building thousands”. In a recent Birmingham Newsroom post, John Clancy said:

“We now need the Housing Minister to emphasise that local government’s role should include the provision of new social housing as well as providing homes for private rental, and that the Government is serious about affordable home ownership”.

Endnotes:

In June the Mail reported that the city council has set up a £4.6 million fund to buy empty homes and make them fit for use.

According to a council report, more than 5,000 private homes in Birmingham have been empty for more than six months and of those 1,900 have been empty for three years. In many cases they have overgrown gardens, with litter, graffiti and broken windows blighting their neighbourhoods.

Further afield came news of an Irish initiative:

About 12% of Co Louth’s residential stock is vacant and during 2016 the council placed CPOs on 26 houses in Dundalk and purchased the units for between €30,000 and €40,000 each, spending a further €60,000 on each unit to bring them back into use.

In January an FT editorial recommended a bigger contribution from the public sector. To this end local authorities should be enabled to:

  • set planning fees,
  • levy taxes on idle land
  • borrow in order to fund social housing developments,
  • make better use of brownfield sites
  • and release public land for development.

It ended: “Shame then that Osborne reduced massively Housing Associations capability to invest in new housing with a 1% rent reduction pa for 5 years”.