After publishing this post on June 2nd and signing a letter to Chris Grayling the writer has heard that this campaign is moving to Westminster. An event will be held there and it is hoped that as many MPs as possible will be there.

Readers may decide to invite their MP by emailing the following message:

Subject:

Invitation: Save Our Arches, 12 June in Parliament

Dear [INSERT MP’S NAME],

The Guardians of the Arches is a newly formed group of traders representing the thousands of small businesses based in railway arches around the country. On 12 June they are coming to Parliament to put their case against Network Rail’s planned sale of its arches this summer. As one of your constituents, and someone who is concerned about the sell-off’s threat to local businesses, I would like to invite you to hear the traders’ story and to pledge your support if you can.

Date: Tuesday 12 June

Time: 6.30pm to 8pm

Location: Committee Room 10, Palace of Westminster

RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/save-our-arches-12th-june-in-parliament-tickets-46603969728

By the end of August, Network Rail plans to have sold its 5,500 railway arches in a single deal thought to be worth around £1.2bn. After facing in-year rent increases of as much as 500%, many of Network Rail’s tenants – garages, hairdressers, bakers, gyms, brewers, metalshop workers and everything in between – are scared for their future. And many have already been forced to close up or move on as a result.

The traders have organised an open letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling asking him to halt the sale of their premises and to talk to them about reaching a sustainable settlement for the future. As a supporter of small businesses and of strong, vibrant local economies, I ask that you try to attend our meeting on 12 June and show your support for our cause.

And if you cannot make it but would like to support us, please sign our letter at  bit.ly/SaveOurArches  and show your support on social media  #SaveOurArches

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Yours sincerely,

[Add your name and postal address, so it is clear you are a constituent]

 

 

 

 

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In 2014, the world’s first research centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage at the University of Birmingham established a five-year research chair appointment under the leadership of Professor Yulong Ding. The Royal Academy of Engineering and Highview Power Storage created and funded the Chair to explore the limits of this emerging technology, which could drive the development of variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, converting excess/off-peak electricity into multi megawatts of stored energy. 

Andy Bounds now reports in the FT that this partnership has developed the world’s first liquid air energy storage plant which will open today in Bury near Manchester:

“The Pilsworth liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant, owned by Highview Power, will act as a giant rechargeable battery, soaking up excess energy and releasing it when needed. This is particularly useful with the rapid growth in renewable energy, which accounted for 29% of all electricity generated in the UK in 2017. It generates excess power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing but is not reliable at times of peak demand. Coal-fired power stations that typically handled peak electricity demand are being shut down and National Grid, which owns and operates the electricity transmission network, pays small gas and diesel generators to bridge the gap”. According to Gareth Brett, chief executive of Highview Power. “LAES is arguably the only viable, non-polluting, long-duration, locatable energy storage technology available”.

The Highview system has already attracted interest from potential customers, including Enel, the Italian utility. Gianluca Gigliuci, head of energy storage Innovation at Enel Green Power, said storage technologies were needed to “enable renewables to satisfy baseload”. These storage systems need durability, long useful life, flexibility and reliability. Highview’s LAES is one of the more promising solutions we have seen.”

 

 

 

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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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Note one of their forthcoming events: A Future for All

 Read more about the Priory Rooms here.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the BBC News reports here.

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

 

 

 

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

Frome councillors

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

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

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

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

Organiser Sunny Sangha said:

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Photograph: John Newson

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

 

 

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