Archives for category: Planning

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?

 

 

 

.

There are few views in Birmingham like those in Druids Heath – an eye-catching estate with undulating grassy slopes and a wide open landscape – often quite breath-taking – not least when seen from the top deck of the 50 bus. The following photo gives some idea of the green spaces – but is far from doing justice to its subject. The writer often visited friends in a house there in the 80s and was impressed by the standard of building and level of   accommodation – higher than private developments in the area at that time.

Gentrification afoot?

Residents rightly fear that as ‘the location is excellent’ (council website) on the edge of the city, close to the M42 motorway and Kings Heath nearby, they will be priced out and the area ‘gentrified’. The area will be commandeered for “beautiful little starter homes” which none of them could afford to buy – and current residents will be sent to far-flung parts of the city.

In 2018-19 these fears were confirmed by an announcement that the estate was due to be redeveloped in a £43 million scheme, with 100 homes made available for sale on the open market and more to follow at a later stage.

The council estate was built in the 1960s and does need repair and renovation. It has suffered, in the words of one of its residents, ​“deliberate decline” due to decades of underinvestment regionally and nationally. In 2017 Druid’s Heath’s only secondary school, was closed and some of the children were never reschooled.

The excellent concierge system which did much for the buildings’ maintenance and the neighbourhoods well-being was taken away with the most well-known consequence being the eventual deaths of newborn twin girls after ambulance crews spent half an hour trying to get into her locked tower block after she dialled 999. The trades entrance had been deactivated and the police who arrived later took around 20 minutes to get through the front door.

Play the video and listen to the words of a resident, Alice Hicks

Druid’s Heath is home to a strong and diverse community which provides essential support networks, friendships and stability to any resident who needs it.

Residents say hundreds of units of social housing will be lost, as well as their community, their friendships, and the place they and their children call home. Some have been there since it was built. Tamika Gill questions the wisdom of demolishing 500 flats only to replace them with 250 homes. Like many, she would like to see some low-rise blocks to increase the numbers of properties available. She said: “We want to be here, we want to stay in the community. They should put us somewhere temporary and then, when there are new buildings, bring us back.”

Tenants have organised to oppose the council’s regeneration, with support from organisers at the New Economics Foundation.

They want their own community-led regeneration which allows them to stay in the area, provides sustainable housing built for their needs, avoids gentrification, and builds on the current number of social homes rather than scaling back. They have so far won the right to return to equal or better properties after the regeneration is complete, and are continuing to fight for their other demands.

Resident and community worker the local Spearhead Trust voluntary group, Anne-Marie Alder told Birmingham Mail: ​“They are going to destroy this community. They are demolishing far more properties than they are building. I don’t think they realise the impact and the community connections there are.”

For seven years, local volunteers in Eastington, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, opposed five planning applications and formed a Community Land Trust. Stroud District Council secured £443,000 in infrastructure funding for the site through Homes England, allowing them to buy the land and put in their own planning application.

Would Druids Heath campaigners and the New Economics Foundation consider this way forward and upscale Eastington’s achievement?

 

 

 

 

In June 2018, Birmingham City Council cabinet met and worked through an agenda of around 1080 pages covering important items requiring a decision to be made.

Amongst these were two which were very important for Birmingham’s environment. The first was making a decision to move ahead with a ‘clean air zone’, the second was proposing “improvements” to Dudley Road that could cost around £28 million.

BFOE responded to both consultations giving critical support to the first but expressing deep concern with the second.

The plans for Dudley Road are a throwback to 1960s mentality that supported the free movement of car and other vehicle users.

The plans are to widen the road to a full dual carriageway and some junctions to 5 lanes width. There were also some half-hearted ideas for cyclists sharing (busy) pavements with pedestrians as well as some segregated cycle lanes. There were no measures to encourage the use of buses or walking or to improve the generally poor environment along the road. Moreover, the increase in vehicles along Dudley Road would lead to more cars entering the central clean air zone.

David Gaussen, Adam McCusker and Martin Stride demonstrate against the widening scheme. Birmingham Friends of the Earth

BFOE discussed these proposals at our meetings and agreed to start a campaign against the plans. While taking our petition round we realised that local people and businesses did not seem to be very aware of the plans and were not supportive of them.

We also emailed Cllr Waseem Zaffar, the Cabinet member for Transport and the environment.

BFOE were then were invited to a meeting with council officers in March to discuss this. We had naively hoped that the council would use the Birmingham Connected policy as the foundation for the changes but this was rapidly found to be untrue. We found out that the officers were not aware of the five very progressive core aims of Birmingham Connected.

They did offer some limited improvements for cyclists and mentioned that the traffic lights would be set up to allow priority for approaching buses. We were told that the scheme’s financial viability had partly been shaped in order to attract funding from the DfT which is heavily biased in favour of cars and other vehicles.

Feeling disappointed by this meeting, we have written again to Cllr Zaffar, but have received a reply which in essence suggests that there will be a lot of growth in population in this part of Birmingham and that therefore road widening is the only solution.

We have previously been very impressed by Cllr Zaffar speaking at a number of transport meetings and heard him strongly arguing the case for better public transport and measures to persuade a switch from our car dominated environment to one where people were encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport.

We still believe there is time for the council to think this through again and will continue campaigning against these environmentally damaging plans.

 

 

Written by David Gaussen as a member of Birmingham Friends of the Earth

Source: http://www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/what-we-do/issues-we-work-on/transport/dudley-road-improvements/

 

 

 

o

Evac+Chair International  has been manufacturing in Sparkhill, since 1985, constructing evacuation chairs for stairway descent during an emergency.

The Sparkhill company has 43 employees and Evac+Chair has also expanded nationally and internationally, building a worldwide distribution network.

It is recommended that high-rise buildings have temporary places of refuge in each stairwell and evacuation chairs so that elderly people and those with disabilities or mobility difficulties can be safely removed if fire breaks out.

Evac+Chair sells to large and small venues, corporations, residential buildings, hotels, sports stadia, hospitals, outdoor clothing and equipment retailers, office buildings, schools, assisted living facilities, residential and commercial high-rise buildings.

Storage lockers used in a sports stadium 

Its customers include the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Cotswold Outdoors and Bristol Water.

Everton football club, which has future plans to relocate to a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock on the Liverpool waterfront, has invested in four 300H Evac+Chairs evacuation chairs, bringing the total number of evacuation chairs up to 16 to make the stadium fully compliant.

Royal Caribbean takes safety very seriously and is now equipping their vessels with the Evac+Chair Power 800 (above, centre), so they are ready for any eventuality.

Exhibiting at the NEC’s annual Health & Safety Events, Evac+Chair demonstrations attract large crowds and in 2015 the company won an award for ‘Most Interactive Stand’.

First published on West Midlands Producers

 

 

 

o

 

 

August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change. 

He writes:

More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.

All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff

Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.

They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.

The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:

“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”

Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.

Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.

A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movementThousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.

 

 

 

0

 

 

o

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.”

 

 

 

 

o

Why aren’t we, the electorate, consulted about the whole Council Budget, not just the proposed cuts?

 

 A recent BATC article asked this question and continued:

“The Council’s Budget Consultation is not a consultation about the whole Budget, only about the Council’s planned cuts. On 19 December the Council held a public Budget Consultation meeting.  But it was a rigged consultation because we weren’t given the full Budget plans, only the proposals for the cuts that the Council leadership wants to make.

“The cuts the Council has decided on amount to £50 million this year. But the Council’s total Controllable Expenditure is £1.1billion. The planned savings amount to just 4.5% of the total Council Budget.

  • Where are the plans for the remaining 95.5%? There isn’t a word about them in the consultation document.
  • Why are they kept secret and not spelled out in the report?

“(Of course the Council will say they aren’t secret, they are published somewhere – but this is meaningless if they don’t say where to find them.)”

Smoke and mirrors? 

In 2011, the late Alan Clawley, a tenacious scrutineer, spent several days poring over the 166-page Budget Book and saw that public services were indeed being cut – as publicised – but that civic spending was actually set to increase. 

He was so surprised by this finding that he emailed the council to check the figures, thinking that he must have made a mistake. He referred to these findings in the Birmingham Press after setting them out in great detail at a WM New Economics Group meeting, adding his proposals for an alternative budget. He continued: 

“When I looked at the overall cost of running the Council I saw that it is to INCREASE by £14 million, i.e. from £3,513 million in 2010/11 to £3,527 million in 2011/12.  

“To arrive at this bottom line the council has made CUTS of £149 million but INCREASES of £164 million, which includes £14 million extra for the Leader’s budget.  

“I can’t see where the much-publicised cut of £212 million comes from.  

“The CAPITAL BUDGET has been reduced by £16 million but this consists of a £95 million CUT and a £79 million INCREASE on projects such as the Library of Birmingham, Harborne Pool, Sparkhill Pool, Alexander Stadium, Safety works to parks Highways Maintenance, Big City Plan, High Speed 2, New Street Gateway, Eastside, and Icknield Port Loop”.

The council’s tables were published in an article with the relevant facts highlighted and  Alan Clawley ended by asking:

“How can we (non-experts) know if Birmingham City Council is telling us the truth when it says that the government is forcing it to cut the cost of services by over £200 million next year?  

“How many of us will study the 166-page Budget Book or by spend time scrutinising even the simplified version of the accounts that come with the Council Tax bill”.

 

Fast forward to 2019

The BATC article continues: ”The Council leadership says ‘The purpose of this consultation is… to invite the public and partners to consider these savings proposals, provide feedback and, if they wish, make alternative suggestions’ .” (Report to Cabinet 13 November).  

“But how can we make alternative suggestions if we aren’t given the full picture? 

“The Council Budget Equality Impact Assessment document says explicitly that the cuts they propose will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Here’s just one shocking statistic: more than 2 in 5 children in Birmingham live in poverty. 

“There must be savings that can be made out of the 92% of the hidden budget that will cause less damage to these children and their families than the cuts the Council leadership plans”.

The writer asks if the councillors really believe that if the Council leadership consulted on the whole 100% of the Budget, not just its selected four and a half percent, the citizens of Birmingham would say they want to cut:

  • Travel Assist for pupils in need,
  • school crossing patrols,
  • half the libraries’ books budget,
  • the Legal Entitlement & Advice Service accessed by some of the most vulnerable people of Birmingham,
  • privatise or close Council day nurseries
  • the hours of low paid Home Care workers
  • and other damaging cuts in the proposed Budget.

“That is one reason why it is a token consultation. But there is another. The introduction to the Budget Consultation 2019+ November 2018 by Councillors Ian Ward and Brigid Jones says “We know that the decisions laid out in this document will affect many of your lives, which is why it is so important for us to hear from you, and that you take the time to talk to us.”  The Report to Cabinet (13 November) says “Comments from the public will be invited at face-to-face meetings with the public….” Note it says “meetings” plural. And yet they arranged just one solitary consultation meeting. A leaflet given out at the meeting from BATC, Save Our Nurseries and Birmingham Keep Our NHS Public says:

  1. We call for open local meetings to be set up across the city by the Council, to which ordinary citizens, community and campaigning groups are invited to participate.
  2. They would have the aim of drawing up a charter of service needs, campaigning for Birmingham’s money to be returned and developing a vision for a new people’s city, a new Birmingham.

These meetings could be the catalyst for a mass campaign, led by the Council, against the Government austerity policies which are the cause of the relentless cuts in the Council’s budgets. 

2011 https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/newspaper-headlines-shouted-council-cuts-but-what-actually-happened

2019 https://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/why-arent-we-consulted-about-the-whole-council-budget-not-just-the-proposed-cuts/#more-10301

 

 

 

0

 

Peter Beck wrote to the Birmingham Post on Thursday December 6th 2018:

While agreeing that “the Paradise Project is a fiasco” (no name and address Post letter 29 Nov 2018) I draw a somewhat different conclusion as to who is to blame. I also think that Jonathon Walker’s article (Post 29th Nov) should perhaps have been titled “Council anger with Amey”.  However Carl Jackson’s article (Post 22 Nov 2018) is very revealing and there is so much for us to learn from this disaster of a development.


https//:www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown

It is of course questionable as to whether Birmingham City Council (BCC) should be seeking partnerships with, or to employ the likes of Capita, Carillion, and Amey.  They have proved a very costly exercise. 

And why should we trust Argent, the present managers of this development?  Such companies and unelected organisations such as the LEP and PCLP (mysterious bodies to most of us) are out of BCC control, and unaccountable to the residents of Birmingham.

It does beg the question as to why we continue to demolish perfectly good existing buildings and spaces (offices, hotels, parking spaces, public spaces, shops, restaurants and cafes etc) only to replace them with the same.

After all, this requires a huge amount of embedded energy and contributes to climate change.  A good example is the Central Library. The original plan of architect John Madin for its setting was ignored, it was done on the cheap, and then successive administrations (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) neglected and failed to maintain it.  Even so, the cost of refurbishing was estimated at £38m while the new one has so far cost more than £100m.

The new one has resulted in a drastic reduction in staff hours with an opening time of 11.00 a.m. – hardly a “world class” facility/service as originally claimed!  Further, it has led to the closure of the unique Brasshouse Languages Centre building and the transfer of its language classes (with the recent loss of English as a Foreign Language classes).  The fee payments are presumably helping to fund the Library but the classrooms do not adequately meet the students’ needs.

Another farcical aspect of the Paradise Project is its treatment of public spaces.  Centenary Square is being dug up yet again but the new version will be quite inferior to its original “gardens” ancestor.

My conclusion is that BCC should avoid private/public joint ventures and it should restrain those senior officers who currently work hand in glove with developers. We should once again give the councils the in-house resources they need to carry out the restoration, reuse, recycling, repair, refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings. Lots of permanent jobs would then be created. 

 

 

 

o

David Lowe draws attention to the Railway Technology Magazine which adds to the report in the Birmingham Mail about the plans to reopen the Camp Hill rail line from Birmingham city centre to Kings Norton to passenger services, discussed for decades. The line was last used by commuters in 1941 and the stations bulldozed. But the tracks remain in use by freight services.

As the Mail comments:

“Congestion from this part of the city into the city centre is one of the huge drawbacks for what are otherwise thriving areas – undoing the rail closures seven decades ago will be a huge step in tackling both congestion and the clean air challenge we all face.”

RTM explains that the key obstacle to a fully functioning passenger service is that New Street is already operating at full capacity. There is no room for extra trains.

Proposals in the Midlands Rail Hub 15 year plan include proposals for the ‘Camp Hill Chords’ – new viaducts at Bordesley which would link the Camp Hill line to Moor Street Station allowing more frequent services to run. They would also open up the freight-only Sutton Park line, allowing new passenger services to link the city centre to Castle Vale, Water Orton and Walmley – where 6,000 new homes are due to be built – before heading through the park to Aldridge.

Above: Moseley station, now demolished. The plans for the new station show a more minimalist design

There will be three stations at Moseley, Kings Heath and Hazelwell, offering an alternative to commuting via bus and car on congested A435 Alcester Road In Moseley, access will be by St Marys Row and Woodbridge Road. In Kings Heath, it will be by Alcester Road and Highbury Park. Two trains would initially operate from these stations every hour into Central Birmingham, with an overall journey time of around 15 minutes.

Other proposals include two more platforms at Moor Street as well as remodelling stations at Kings Norton and Water Orton and reinstating the fourth platform at Snow Hill.

Engineers are currently working on the track, signalling and service requirements and next year detailed planning of the three rail stations will be carried out. Construction works are expected to start in 2020 and end in 2021. Later, the authorities may develop a fourth station on the line at Balsall Heath.

Councillor Mary Locke (Stirchley Ward) organised a public consultation about the Hazelwell line in November 2018 at Stirchley baths. She has now managed to get an extra consultation at the Hub Vicarage Road especially for residents of Pineapple, Cartland and Lyndworth roads on 12th Dec at 3-7 pm.

 

 

 

 

o

 

 West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 22nd November 5-7 pm

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


Carol Martin will open the round table discussion

 Discussion points on Social Care (seniors) have been circulated to all on the mailing list.

Visitors to the site may read them here.

All welcome.

 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire

 

 

 

o