Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ward Committee - 5 July 2006

This is based upon my own quick notes and shouldn't be taken as a perfect record of what happened. Any errors or omissions are entirely my responsibility.

A couple of issues rumble on from the previous minutes. The City has been consulting over the 'Mature Suburbs' planning guidelines for several months. These were put out for consultation last year, although a number of important groups in Acocks Green seem to have been ignored when this process was carried out, so a council officer attended the Committee meeting in June 2005 to explain the proposals. These are supposed to provide a degree of protection for Birmingham's suburbs against inappropriate development - particularly on 'windfall' sites or backland (back gardens, usually). The government, quite rightly, seeks to encourage housing development on existing 'brownfield' sites, which we usually think of as being former industrial areas, but a peculiarity is that back gardens are also regarded as 'brownfield' for some odd reason. Anyway, the officer concerned was supposed to report back to the next meeting on the progress of the consultation, but that didn't happen, despite it being mentioned again in December.

I don't have a problem with setting some standards for developments, but I have a problem with these guidelines. They specify certain areas like Sutton Coldfield, Edgbaston and Moseley (amongst others) worthy of particular mention, as though established suburbs like Acocks Green and other places in Yardley don't deserve any that protection. Our houses may not be as large or have big gardens, but they are still our homes and inappropriate development can blight an area. The residents of Francis Road were, rightly, up in arms about a proposal to build a number of flats on a former industrial site. They weren't opposed to it being used for residential purposes, just to the density of housing - something that the narrow road was incapable of supporting. We managed to get that one knocked back for the time being, but a renewed application is likely.

In any case, the proposals seem to have been replaced and new guidance will go out to consultation in the autumn. I've asked that planning come along to one of the ward committee meetings to present to us on the subject in November. They propose to bring the updated guidance into operation in the spring of 2007, so any comments you have would be welcomed.

Transportation have denied that there are plans to redevelop the centre of Acocks Green along the principles of 'shared space,' despite reports in the local press. This is an interesting idea of street design, counter-intuitive in nature, which removes protective guardrails and cuts down on street furniture, forcing cars and pedestrians to share the same space. It is being championed by the Acocks Green Focus Group, but I'm interested in your opinions as well. Good idea or not? I have concerns about whether such a scheme is suitable for the volumes of traffic we see down the Warwick Road, but I'm open to new ideas. A number of other transportation issues remain to be reviewed and that department will again be asked to attend.

There is, as yet, no news on the new owner of the Churchill Club, although a deal is in the offing.

Transportation are going to experiment with a closure of Weston Lane at the junction with Reddings Lane to try and stop it being used as a rat run to bypass the busy Warwick Road through Acocks Green. Any comments? There will be an exhibition at the Tyseley & District Community Association next week (corner of Formans Road/Reddings Lane).

Other issues that were raised included the traffic calming on Gospel Lane, which has been pending for a couple of years now and we have seen the council dragging its feet horrendously. Part of the road towards the Warwick Road end is entirely within the borders of Birmingham and has had some measures put in place, with speed cushions along the road. Further down, the border with Solihull Council runs down the centre of the road, complicating the process somewhat, but the delays are unacceptable, especially as money was earmarked for this project years ago our of ward funding.

The issue of anti-social behaviour around Gospel Lane and the junction with Dorsington Road was also raised and it was suggested that contacts should be made with the relevant police command unit for Solihull. Sadly, criminals don't respect political or organisational boundaries and one of the other problems in Acocks Green is that we are covered by two different Operational Command Units of West Midlands Police. E2 from Kings Heath, which operates out of Billesley and E3 from Belgrave Road, which operates from Acocks Green. To add to the mix, we also border the Solihull L1 OCU as well. WMP are currently restructuring, so it is to be hoped that they shift the boundaries to bring them more in line with the political boundaries, to make life easier and the police more responsive to the local people. Actually, the ward has just contributed towards the purchase of the Domehawk rapid-deployment CCTV system, which is designed to be attached to a lamp-post and can be relocated relatively easily. The police can either use an encrypted radio link to monitor the camera - even using mobile kit - or can rely on an inbuilt hard drive recorder. This sort of camera is ideal for dealing with spot issues - drug dealing, graffiti or anti-social behaviour - where there isn't a justification for a permanent camera.

Something else that came up was the problem of scrambler bikes on Fox Hollies Park - one of the larger areas of public open space in the ward. We've had a number of cases reported of children being knocked over or endangered by these powerful bikes being ridden up and down the paths and across the open space. Many of them are unregistered and uninsured, so I'd like to see a multi-pronged attack on the problem. The park needs to have better fencing installed - some of it is just too low to be any hindrance to the bikers. Then anti-bike gates need to be fitted to the entrances - with suitable provision also made for users of mobility scooters. We need to find a combination that deters people from getting these machines into the park. Perhaps they can't actually be stopped - little will stop somebody if they are determined enough - but making life difficult for them can be enough. The gates have been fitted on the skate park on the other side of Gospel Lane and that is well-used by local kids - a welcome new facility for the youth in the ward.

Police action is also required here. Some areas already take a firm stance on uninsured and untaxed vehicles - which these are - and crush them. A few examples of that, suitably publicised and the local yobs will go elsewhere.

So there we go - a brief review of the meeting. The next is on the 6 September at 7pm at Fox Hollies Forum - come along and make your views known. In a couple of weeks, we have the Yardley District meeting, so I'll feedback some more then.

In the meantime, keep the comments coming through. If you don't want to post them here, feel free to mail me. I'll post a link to the proper minutes when they appear on the website.

Carnival hits the Village

The carnival came to Acocks Green last weekend and we were blessed with a sizzlingly hot day, although a day that was marred by Englands untimely exit from the World Cup.

Nevertheless, the good folk of the Green turned up in force to cheer on the procession through the village and support the dozens of stalls on the recreation ground. I leant a hand as a parade marshal and the Labour Party had a stall where we did a decent trade in an attempt to raise some much-needed cash (fighting elections is a costly business and we don't have any local millionaires to bankroll us). My long-suffering wife even produced one of her special cakes for our Guess the Weight of the Cake Competition - the winner managed to guess within an ounce of the true weight, 3lbs 8oz.

All in all, a good day - always good to meet local people and discuss some issues without the pressure of an election campaign and to have a bit of fun.

Thanks to everybody who helped out and to the kind folk who stopped by to say hello.