Archives for posts with tag: Birmingham

In a report published this week, the  Centre for Cities, noting that many high streets are full of boarded-up shops, advises local authorities to ‘reimagine’ the space for offices, homes and leisure:

“These places should focus on making their city centres better places to live, work and play in. For example, taking steps to repurpose surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland, will create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in — which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes”.

Centre for Cities describes Birmingham as having a strong city centre but low-skilled suburbs

When true socialist Theresa Stewart became leader of Birmingham council in 1993, acting on her belief that the council should spend its money on education, housing and social services, she backed The Living over the Shop (LOTS) project.

It was set up in 1989 to demonstrate the feasibility of using vacant space above shops and offices and ways in which wasted space can be brought back into use, usually for affordable rented housing and creating a range of employment opportunities. It was estimated that at least 250,000 homes could be created from these vacant areas. This would repopulate urban areas that were often empty and desolate during evenings and at weekends.

Though young occupiers were keen to buy into the new wave of urban living and these flats above shops were, on average, 20% cheaper than equivalent sized homes in buildings without ground floor retail premises, families wanted facilities like schools, play areas, doctors’ surgeries and green spaces. Parking was often a problem.

Home reports that overall, 1 in 7 shops in Britain are now vacant. The internet has acquired a massive slice of our regular spending, supermarkets offer a widening range of products, out of town centres have sprung up and shops are now open for more days each week and more hours every day.

In some cities, such as Sheffield and Bradford, over a quarter of shops are empty in areas where the demand for shop premises will never rebound. Home says that, “With the constant cry of a major housing shortage in this country, it seems obvious that …… these shops should be converted into homes. They generally have good ground floor access that is ideal for any wheelchair users and for babies still in prams and offer a challenge to architects to use the infrastructure of the buildings in a more imaginative way”.

More proactive planning procedures are needed in order to convert these spaces to much-needed housing. Local Development Orders can change the designated uses of buildings. Home continues:

“Shop properties could then provide up to 420,000 new homes in Britain. A double success story by any standards and successes in the housing market are rare finds these days!”







Water taxis are already plying in several British cities, including London, Glasgow, Spalding, Lancaster, Leeds and Manchester.

In London, MBNA Thames Clippers is building a service for daily commuters, using Transport for London’s system which allows Londoners to hop on and off boats by swiping their Oyster and contactless cards. It carried 4 million passengers in 2016.

In Birmingham? As David Bailey tweeted whilst working in Venice:

MBNA are trying to reduce the environmental impact of their boats currently using diesel fuel. Change is on its way:

  • In Hamburg, HADAG has added a hybrid-powered ferry to its fleet crossing the Elbe river, using both diesel and electric power sources.
  • In Southampton, a company called REAPsystems has developed a hybrid system for water taxi boats, one able to switch easily between a fuel engine and electric motor. The company will take their hybrid water taxi boat to Venice next year, where a hotel operator will run it on a passenger route through the canals and out to the airport throughout the summer.
  • A member of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, Antoon Van Coillie, intends to convert his large continental barges to hydrogen fuel.
  • A team at Birmingham University (Project Leader Professor Rex Harris) has constructed a hydrogen-powered canal boat, tried and tested, which is undergoing further modifications.

Will the council and/or a Birmingham entrepreneur see the potential of waterway transport from the Soho Loop development?

Artist’s impression

Will Soho Loop’s new canal-side community be able to travel from their ‘variety of energy efficient homes’ to work or visit the city centre a mile away, by a cleaner quieter form of transport? 





Time-pressed residents of Birmingham, Solihull, Cannock, Dudley, Coventry, Lichfield, Sandwell, South Staffs, Tamworth, Walsall and Wolverhampton who regularly scan their section of the Brummie site, appreciate the free service it gives, whatever their interests. Main news items covered, include a range of locally run websites, music and the arts, sport and business.

Links to them give those sites a wider readership than would otherwise have been possible. Until the final few months Mark was a helpful and courteous correspondent and this later lack of response was ascribed to pressure of other work, which involved travelling abroad. We now can see that there may have been health concerns claiming priority.

Three of many interests served: Our Birmingham, West Midlands Producers and Localise West Midlands thank him and hope that a way will be found to maintain the Brummie.





milan food policy pact gatheringBirmingham is one of the C40 group of world cities which has agreed that unless the food system changes, there’s little hope of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. London’s footprint audit estimated that the food supply chain is the primary source and in March the Greater London Authority published a report on ten years’ of work done by the London Food Board and its partners to foster much needed change.

Last October, Distinctly Birmingham reported that Birmingham had become the 46th of 100 signatories of the Urban Food Policy Pact from all continents in Milan’s Palazzo Reale. The Pact was then presented to Ban-Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, in New York on World Food Day, October 16th.

The Birmingham delegation, which included the Director for Public Health for Birmingham City Council, Adrian Philips and the co-founder of the Harborne Food School, Shaleen Meelu, took part in several workshops and conferences aimed at addressing issues of sustainable food policy in urban environments.

milan 2 food policy pact gathering

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University London, writes that the new Pact seeks a greener, healthier, more equitable food system:

“This needs a strong political voice that engages with and listens to consumers, but is firm about the need for change. The social maldistribution of food on a gargantuan scale that we have today is unacceptable. We need food systems based on full cost pricing, not cheap food and overflowing hospitals and denuded nature”.

Cheap food leads to overflowing hospitals and denuded nature

He reported that many cities have been auditing how they are fed. They now recognise their food systems are in a delicate state, symptoms include:

  • high health and environmental impacts,
  • aspirations for cheap food, ‘hard-wired’ into consumer expectations,
  • rampant waste,
  • too many government concessions to giant food companies selling sugary, salty, fatty, ultra-processed food (we add: giant food companies = prospective party funders),
  • marketing budgets far higher than those allocated to food education and
  • no-one apparently in overall control.

Lang continues: “A new urban politics is emerging, gradually recognising the need to move beyond the neoliberal era’s commitment to cheap and plentiful food which has only spawned an horrendous new set of challenges which it cannot resolve. Many of these drop onto localities’ doorsteps.  Waste. The new food poor. Rising obesity. Street litter. Inequalities. Low waged food work. But the positive news about a sustainable future needs to be grasped. Closer foodways, better jobs, healthier populations”.

Commitments have been made:

  • to develop methods for auditing their food systems,
  • to prepare local sustainable dietary guidelines
  • and to share experimental findings.

Lang asks: Is it progress for cities to fill streets with endless food offers?

Can we let fast food joints surround schools like hyenas?

What powers are needed to recalibrate urban food culture for 2030?

Must we consign workforces to ill-health?

If national governments are content to leave it to Tesco et al to shovel out cheap food, shouldn’t cities step up to the challenge?

Lang: “It’s there that the consuming mass exists. It’s there the food labour is now greatest in rich countries. It’s there that developing mega cities have massive problems – water, sanitation, food, waste, inequalities”. He points out that Britain, as first industrial nation, knows only too well the consequences of severing people from the land: “We need another package. But which is it to be?”

Many readers will opt for this one: ‘more money getting from dependent urban consumers’ purses back to the primary producers’.

Professor Lang ends:

“The schisms between big companies and millions of small enterprises is a key City challenge. The latter create jobs and diversity. And how can cities help repair ecosystems on which humanity and food depend?

“The new pact seeks a greener, healthier, more equitable food system.  This needs a strong political voice that engages with and listens to consumers, but is firm about the need for change. The social maldistribution of food on a gargantuan scale that we have today is unacceptable. We need food systems based on full cost pricing, not cheap food and overflowing hospitals and denuded nature.

“All hail to Milan and the 100 Cities”.


Care for EVERY child in the city – wherever they live

council house

Cllr John Clancy, leader of the city council, records good progress already being made with social care and education improvements. He adds that a joined-up approach to family support, learning, skills and employment, embedded in the community and the home will be developed, working with leaders across the public, private and voluntary sector. “Every Child, Every Citizen, Every Place Matters – this is not just a slogan but a promise that every school matters, and everyone in those schools matter”.


A reader who spent many years teaching in what used to be called Birmingham’s social priority schools, in Hockley, Small Heath and Yardley Wood, welcomes Cllr Clancy’s inclusive approach and the assurance of careful monitoring of all schools, registered and unregistered, outlined in his message to the city’s residents by website and email alert. A report to the education scrutiny committee on this and other related subjects may be heard again here.

Many are hoping that, in future, the application of his innovative economic policies will ensure purposeful work for the young people who will have benefited from improved social care and education, in particular:

  • the proposed redirection of local government pension funds to invest in local infrastructure
  • the added support for enterprise and innovation and the recognition of the contribution made by large numbers of the city’s small and medium businesses, many family owned.

There is a welcome focus on the rejuvenation of the city’s forty wards, through a package of devolution measures transferring decision-making to the most local level.

A Green Deal

On Tuesday it is hoped that Birmingham City Council will approve a £59 million programme of investment into its stock of council properties, upgrading heating systems, insulating and replacing windows and roofs for around 5,800 homes. As Cllr John Cotton (cabinet member for Neighbourhood Management & Homes) said: “Not only will this substantially improve our tenants’ homes, but by replacing inefficient heating systems, we can further reduce the city’s carbon dioxide emissions and lower our tenants’ heating bills.”

The upturn in the city’s governance is being achieved despite serious cuts.  It has been reported that most of the extra cash set aside to help councils cope with funding changes – ‘transitional grants’ – are going to Conservative areas. This move appears to add an eighth strategy to the seven listed by Jeremy Corbyn in his Fabian Society address, ‘rigging’ the electoral system to hold on to power and increase a narrow majority by weakening opposition inside and outside parliament.

In this brave new world, ‘predominant concern should be the pursuit of a financial return on investments’

Donald Macintyre reports on ministerial consultations, preparing new procurement guidelines to stop town halls operating “municipal foreign and defence policies” through “politically motivated boycott and divestment campaigns… against UK defence companies and against Israel”.

He points out that a 2007 survey of local authorities showed that they were investing £300m in BaE alone and cites a press release issued by Conservative Central Office about Leicester City Council, which is facing an application by local Jewish groups for judicial review in the High Court of their boycott of goods from West Bank settlements.

Planned amendments to the Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations 2009 are designed to “make clear to authorities that in formulating these policies their predominant concern should be the pursuit of a financial return on their investments… They should not pursue policies which run contrary to UK foreign policy.”

richard burdenBirmingham Northfield MP, Richard Burden, said he would challenge ministers on this “bluntly crass” and “potentially anti-democratic” policy when the Commons returns in January.

The requirements in the city’s Business Charter for Social Responsibility – currently being reviewed with a view to strengthening its ethical elements – include suppliers’ compliance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Mr Burden said that the wider issue was that it would prevent councils from pursuing positive goals, such as community cohesion, environmental sustainability and human rights, in line with the best practice of the progressive private sector.

“It’s called corporate social responsibility. The right ethical investment decisions in the long term are often also the right business decisions.”


michael wilkes 3Like Hall Green’s alderman and economist Professor Michael Wilkes and Northfield’s Dr Dick Rodgers, historian Mark Mazower expresses the need – in the FT – for a notion of the common good to be restored.

Wilkes advocates a new discipline, socionomics, to replace the desiccated, manipulated, disloyal, extractive and highly unequal economy that has been allowed, and – by some administrations – encouraged.

dick rodgers 3Rodgers set up The Common Good party founded on the hope and belief that: “Tomorrow we’ll be happier, living and working for each others good and for the good of the world, that is, for “The Common Good”.

Mazower, a British professor of history based at Columbia University, reflects on Syriza’s victory in a country where youth unemployment is above 50%, an entire generation being ‘consigned to the scrap heap’ and where the common good is being sacrificed through forced sell-offs of state-owned lands as well as businesses, with the prospect of ecological destruction as a result.

Urban Britain also has a disturbing level of youth unemployment and has sold its state-run utilities for a pittance to foreign companies.

Wilkes acknowledges that the social and moral education needed to produce a citizenry of good intent that will make the socioeconomic system work properly and sustain it for future generations, and winding back globalisation will take longer and will involve more people and organisations and other countries.

He advocates certain steps that could be taken immediately:

  • the restoration of equitable and redistributive taxation,
  • the introduction of living wages,
  • the plugging of many loopholes for tax avoidance,
  • the undertaking of thorough corporate reform
  • and the recreation of an active, interventionist and self confident public sector.

He concludes: “These measures would represent leadership in its finest form. This, and the promotion of the concept of stewardship in place of the present self serving forms of ‘leadership”.

mark mazowerMazower says in typically understated fashion that if finance is to serve Europe rather than run it, a notion of the common good needs to be restored.

The alternative is an increasingly fractious continent.

In Birmingham, Britain, Greece and Europe as a whole, the Wilkes, Rodgers, Mazower ‘moral vision’ could and should be restored and reactivated.

A Birmingham reader on holiday in Devon takes time off to draw our attention to an article by Liam Halligan, who has a remarkably wide wealth of business experience. Is he remembering the council’s February commitment to the Birmingham Curzon HS2 Masterplan and the planned £50m extension of the Midland Metro, to pass through Curzon Street HS2 Station?

State and local governments want showcase projects and councillors and ministers want “legacies” . . .

The message: the Coalition is delivering on infrastructure

The message: the Coalition is delivering on infrastructure

Last week, George Osborne, David Cameron and government ministers were photographed inspecting building projects across the country, wearing hard hats and high-visibility jackets. The message: the Coalition is delivering on infrastructure.

The Treasury has published an updated list of over 200 major projects to be completed or started in 2014-15 – infrastructure spending will be £36bn this year, according to Downing Street, up from £15bn in 2013. But since 2010 the national debt has risen from £800bn to over £1,200bn. Government is still borrowing £100bn-plus annually, as it has for five successive years.

overcrowding on trains

Halligan’s view on the HS2 proposal: “What desperately needs addressing isn’t inter-city speed, but massive overcrowding on local commuter lines — not only into London, but Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester too, where passenger numbers have grown faster than those into and out of the capital.

He advocates placing a greater emphasis on cross-country train services. Instead of spending £80bn-plus on the London-Birmingham leg of HS2, there should be investment in the two lines that already run between the two cities. Rather than a marginally quicker service from London to Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield – the cost of which will limit its use largely to business travellers –a world-class and more frequent inter-city links between the great northern cities is needed.

birmingham city council header

The state of Birmingham’s municipal finances is also said to be parlous: the latest council audit records a £3.25 billion debt, with interest payments costing the taxpayers £165 million a year.

If HS2 – “an important catalyst for this ongoing development and regeneration activity” – is not built and does not fund Curzon St Station, as presented at the MIPIM property conference in Cannes, will the millions spent regenerate the area – or will they have been wasted?

The last word from Halligan could be applied to this city council: “The UK’s public finances remain in a critical state. Now is the time for cost-effective solutions to genuine problems, not grand vanity projects”

coventry methodist central hallFind out at Coventry Central Hall from 10.30am – 5pm on Saturday 1st March.

  • What’s the link between Coventry and cluster munitions or Birmingham and Bahrain’s repression?
  • How is Lichfield linked to drone attacks in Gaza?
  • Are local councils really investing £90 million in arms-dealers?

A map of the venue and how to get there here:

The main room is easily accessible to people with mobility difficulties, and there is a lift to the first and second floors of the building. However, unfortunately the venue is not fully accessible so please let Kat Hobbs know if you have any access requirements and she will do our best to meet those.

A vegetarian lunch will be also provided on the day, so please let Kat know if you require a vegan meal or have any special dietary requirements.

Please get in touch if you intend to come, as lunch will be provided and it would be great to get an idea of numbers.

Contact Kat Hobbs
Local Campaigns Co-ordinator
Campaign Against Arms Trade / 0207 281 0297


PoW cottage

On the border of Solihull and Birmingham (Highters Heath), empty for many years, boarded up and visibly deteriorating, this attractive building – once the home of the Prince of Wales landlord – is being given a new lease of life.

Pre-empting several who will take issue with the plastic used, another reader writes:

What is the value of the house? Is the more expensive “in keeping” window style consistent with the budget of the family who could afford the house? If not then all we have done is price it out of reach of the potential purchaser. Clearly double glazing – even triple – is needed for thermal insulation and to address the noise of passing traffic. Homes are first and foremost for living in. I would agree that a good design improves the quality of life, but there are limits.

He adds: “It is not irreversible – an owner could change this . . .”

mitchells butler logoThe builder working for M&B did not know whether the cottage will be rented or sold. The low wall should be topped by strong safety railings, because the house is very near the road and an older resident recalls that it has twice been hit by a car. It has been suggested – by email – that metal posts filled with concrete could be put behind the wall – quite unobtrusive, but would protect the house.

Reference to this cottage was first made on a Solihull website and interesting memories of the old building, and of the former Prince of Wales public house which once stood next to it, have been coming in and will be collated.