Monday, December 19, 2011

Planning Applications - 19 December

Just one now until the New Year.

2011/08254/PA - 87 Hollyhock Road, Acocks Green, B27 7SU
Erection of two storey side and single storey rear extensions and forward porch extension.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Planning Applications Received

2011/06519/PA - 904-906 Warwick Road, Acocks Green, B27 6QG

Conversion of 1st and 2nd floors to 4 self-contained flats, installation of dormer to rear of No. 904, erection of single storey extension to rear of No. 906 and installation of new shop fronts and roller shutters. This relates to shops on the slip road between Stockfield Road and the Warwick Road. 

2011/08182/PA - MEM Site Reddings Lane / Olton Boulevard West / Formans Road / Battery Way, Tyseley, B11 3EZ
This is the Asda application mentioned a little while back.

2011/07747/PA - 909-911 Warwick Road, Acocks Green, B11 2ER

Change of use from public house - formerly the Britannia - (Use Class A4) to car sales business (Use Class Sui Generis).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Unemployment update

The most recent figures for Acocks Green have showed a worsening against last month and the year on year figures. 1215 people are now claiming unemployment benefit in the ward - 10.8% of the economically active population. That's up 33 on this time last year and 15 on last month's figures. It sits below the Birmingham figure, but well above the national average.

Birmingham continues to have the worst record of the other core cities, with a claimant rate of 12.5%, which compares poorly to 6.7% across the Midlands and 5.4% across the UK.

This doesn't show the full picture, as it relates only to those claiming unemployment benefit, but the outlook is very worrying given the continued problems with the economy.

A million to lift you up (and down) in Acocks Green

I'm delighted to see that CENTRO have finally secured funding to improve access to Acocks Green - the busiest station on the local network without disabled/pushchair access to the platforms. It may take until 2014 to complete the work, but at least it means that those disabled spaces on one side of the station, separated by a few yards and stairs or a very long push from the actual platform, will be accessible. There's £1 million of funding coming to fit lifts to the station as part of the Department for Transport's Railways for All scheme, which was launched under the last Labour government and is planned to run until 2015. This was something that I discussed with the then CENTRO lead member back in 2008, so it is great that things have finally moved forward.

The station is great for access to the City - you can be in the heart of Birmingham in a little over five minutes - so I hope that these changes will mean that even more people will use the station to travel.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Asda Planning Application #john4ag

Just up on the Birmingham City Council website are the details for the proposed Asda development on the Eaton site in Tyseley. In the first phase are relocated buildings for MEM and Eaton, 70 new homes, lots of highway works (including what looks suspiciously like shared space - an innovation in the ward!) and an Asda superstore. Phase two - scheduled for whenever the market picks up - includes further 'employment opportunity' space and another section of retail park. This is the outline planning application, with a detailed one due to follow in the middle of 2012, with construction of the first phase planned in for 2013.

Have a look and let me know what you think.

Application 2011/08182/PA. Planning Application search page here.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Yardley Constituency Committee - 24 Nov 2011

A rather belated report....

For years, the Liberal Democrats in Yardley have run a one-party state and they still aren't used to the presence of two Labour councillors on the constituency committee - hopefully that number will at least double next May. They particularly aren't used to Cllr Stewart Stacey, a man who has the experience to understand the mechanics of how the process of democratic accountability should work and the shortcomings of how that is applied in Yardley at the moment. But we'll come to that in a bit.

The first query actually came from me. At the end of each ward or constituency committee meeting, it is moved that the chair is empowered to take decisions pending the next meeting, when any such decisions should be reported back. I can't recall the last time that the chair mentioned any decisions that had been taken in the interim, even though these meetings are two months apart. When queried, Cllr Mike Ward, the Liberal Democrat chair, didn't seem to recall taking any decisions that he needed to report back on since the last meeting, although he was rather vague about it.

Then the meeting moved on to the financial report - the revenue budget report for the second quarter of 2011-2, the main item of the meeting. The problem is that the Liberal Democrats have managed to overspend quite dramatically this year and there is currently a budget hole of £423,000 in this financial year with no identified solutions identified. In fact, it is worse than that. Previous years overspends have been carried forward and there is an additional debt of £394,000 which is supposed to be repaid over a period of three years with an initial repayment of £137,000 this year. Bear in mind that although the total budget this year is £9,138,000, £5.6 million of that is already assigned as fixed costs as part of specific service level agreements for Highways, Pest Control, Street Cleaning, Refuse Collection and Parks and Allotments, so the locally managed aspects only account for £3.5 million. That means that we have an in-year overspend of 12% and a total liability of 23% of effective annual budget - and no plans to deal with any of it.

At the start of this item, Cllr Stacey reminded Cllr Ward that as the supporting documents for this item hadn't been available until after midday on the day of the meeting, the chair needed to agree that the items could be considered as urgent business and explain that decision. Again, Cllr Ward seemed unwilling to do this and tried to put it to a committee vote, which is not procedurally correct, but we finally moved on to the meat of the subject. Procedures matter - they ensure that the council is transacting business in accordance with the law and working outside them is dangerous for all concerned.

Delays in providing information is a serious problem. The committee did not get to see the Q1 reports until September - almost at the end of Q2 - and were asked to consider the Q2 reports with about six hours notice, rather than the usual five working days.

Cllr Stacey queried the service impacts of some of the changes proposed (although mostly already implemented) which amounted to the deletion of posts where officers had already taken redundancy in constituency management, administration, libraries, community development and the environmental wardens.

From the floor, I queried the repayment programme for the previous years' overspend and was informed that the repayment has been deferred until next year and the three year process will then restart, so the Liberal Democrats will leave a nasty legacy to the next Constituency Committee to manage in 2012-3.

We had an update on the Tesco development, which is moving on apace and looks likely to open in February 2012. It was confirmed that as a result of the first round of local recruiting, 138 Birmingham people who are currently either unemployed or are young people not in education, employment or training are about to start a 4 week training programme, which promises them a job upon successful completion. Of those 138,  55 are from Yardley and 27 from Hodge Hill and the total is slightly up on the 130 originally promised by Tesco, which will comprise about a third of the staff at the store. The remaining jobs will be advertised online shortly.

Cllr Neil Eustace (LD) sang the praises of the committee which has backed the Tesco development from the beginning, dropping in a comment about Labour fussing over "5s and 6d." Actually, Cllr Eustace rather underestimated the value - it was rather closer to £300,000 or about 50 minutes of Tesco's profits.

Moving on, there was some discussion about changing the hours of the Acocks Green Neighbourhood Office, which will be open 3.5 days a week. It is clear that there will be different channels by which people will choose to access the Council's services - telephone and internet will be key - but there is still a need for face-to-face support and we have problems with allocating that at the moment. Responsibility for that part of the service falls within Cllr Paul Tilsley's (LD) purview at the moment and all is clearly not well on the happy ship of the Cabinet:

Coun Rudge continued: “An elderly person finding that they have got an appointment on the other side of the city would be horrified. The idea is to improve services, we must bear that in mind. I hope we can build improvements in as quickly as possible. This needs to be sorted out. There has to be enough understanding by those taking the calls not to send people to the other side of the city, unless they don’t mind.”
Responding to a claim by Labour councillor Peter Kane that elderly people in Kingstanding were being offered appointments “in three weeks time in Yardley”, Rudge replied: “The call centre doesn’t come under my portfolio. If it was my portfolio we wouldn’t be in that position.”
And just to make sure we understood where he was coming from, Coun Rudge added that he had expressed his views “quite strongly”
There was a brief report on the new Community First programme, which will bring in funding over a four year period - £84,775 to Acocks Green, £67,820 to Stechford & Yardley North, £33,910 to Sheldon and £152,595 to South Yardley (figures are for the full four years, not per year) which will be allocated to a 'Community First Panel' in each ward. These panels will have 4 to 8 members and come from the local community and have representation from the public, private and voluntary sectors (that seems a lot to get into just 8 people), allied to a 'panel partner' like a charity. An interesting idea, although just over £8000 a year in Sheldon seems rather limited, especially as the disbursement will range from £250 to £2500 and will have to be match funded (by money, time or resources) by the applicants. 
We also had a briefing on the Shopping and Local Centres Draft Supplemental Planning Policy (a catchy title for an important document). This will set a course for centres like the Villlage or Fox Hollies in terms of the development that will be allowed and encouraged. For example, the proposal is that centres will be restricted to no more than 10% of the units being occupied by fast food outlets and changes of use that would increase that presence would be refused by the planning committee. Have a look and add your views here
Then we came to the Community Chest allocations for the wards not blessed with Ward Committees. The Liberal Democrats have resisted spreading localised democracy and accountability to the other three wards in Yardley for some unfathomable reason, so decisions about community chest spending that Acocks Green is able - quite competently - to take locally have to be decided by the constituency committee. Oddly, now that their dominance in Yardley may be threatened - next year may bring enough Labour councillors to the committee, enough to threaten a constituency committee majority if a couple of Lib Dems are absent - they have decided that Fortress Sheldon can be entrusted with local decisions. Stechford and South Yardley are still excluded from this. They hold consultative meetings with local residents - meetings that do not have the legal power to take decisions. 
While I happen to back the ward committee model, I'm happy to see some local engagement and to have those views represented to the constituency committee, but not to have those meetings take decisions. Clearly this is happening as only the bids approved by this consultative body are brought to the constituency committee for decision. Quite how councillors from outside the wards concerned can be expected to properly decide on these bids is a key point. That isn't to say that the bids brought forward are bad ones, nor that they would not be the successful ones in any case, but there is an important element of accountability here. The consultative meetings are not accountable and not allowed to make decisions. The constituency committee is, but is not being provided with full details of all the bids raised. I struggle to see how the councillors can possibly reasonably exercise their duties in terms of handing out public funds. Indeed, in relation to another matter, Cllr Eustace made a similar point about councillors being accountable for spending. 
For a party that prides itself on open government, the mechanism in Yardley is heavily obscured. 
Finally, there was a discussion on the boundary changes, which caused widespread concern amongst the councillors at the loss of Sheldon to Solihull (effectively wiping out whatever majority John Hemming thinks he might have in 2015). Still, this was their idea as part of the coalition government. 

Police Ops in Acocks Green

More from the officers on the ground in Acocks Green. The start of the month saw   traffic stops being carried out in the ward, with 31 vehicles stopped. 7 were seized for not having insurance and/or tax; 2 persons were arrested - one on warrant and one for drugs offences; 11 drivers were issued 'producers'; 5 received fixed penalties for illegal window tints; 1 for an illegal numberplate and 6 for using a mobile phone while driving. In addition, a small amount of cannabis and Class A drugs were seized.

Amazing what a bit of traffic work can deliver, isn't it? It has been known for some while that if a vehicle is stopped for no insurance or tax, there is a good chance that other offences will materialise.
Remember that accidents involving uninsured drivers hike the costs of insurance for everyone else, so the news that one day in Acocks Green took 7 cars off the road has to be good news for all drivers who pay their way. If the cars are not collected by an insured driver with proof that the tax has been paid, then they will be removed from the road permanently and delivered to the crusher. The police promise that this will happen across the winter, so the message to those who want to break the law and put others at risk has to be - the boys and girls in blue will be pulling you over for a quiet word.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Distraction Burglaries -

Acocks Green Police have reported a small number of distraction burglaries in the Pemberley Road, Fox Green Crescent & Edenbridge Rd areas. Please be aware of offenders posing as officials or passers-by asking for help. Don't be bullied or pressurised into letting people you do not know in to your house.

Local officers are out and about speaking to residents and handing out crime prevention information. Make sure you report any suspicious behaviour and if in doubt, keep them out!

Remember that genuine callers will carry identification and will normally make an appointment first.

Always put the chain on the door - make sure your back door is locked while you answer the front door.

Don't be afraid to ask them to wait while you check on their identity or to come back at another time. Genuine callers won't mind that - they won't be bothered if you close the door to allow you to check. If you have any suspicions - just don't let them in. And remember - report it by dialling 999 and tell your neighbours too.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Acocks Green Ward Committee - 2 Nov 2011

Just a quick update on the Acocks Green Ward Committee, held Wednesday night in Severne Road JI School and plunged into darkness on a number of occasions thanks to motion sensors controlling the lights. This is from notes and memory, so errors are possible, but not intentional.

The main agenda item was the proposal for a new Morrison's supermarket on the Denso site on Spring Road. This would include not only the supermarket, but also an Extra Care village and housing. There was a good turnout from Morrisons, Extra Care and the developers and they expect to bring the plans to committee before Christmas, with initial site works for the store starting in May or June 2012 with an eight month construction time. As one of the site occupants, AEC, is still to relocate to a new site on the Birmingham Business Park, the whole construction process for the three phases of the scheme is expected to take around three years.

This is planned to be a large format store and will include a petrol filling station. The Extra Care village will provide 278 units with a mix of residents - from those who need sheltered housing to those who need quite substantial support - as well as facilities available for the wider community. It is also hoped to bring back into use the derelict car park atop the railway line, as the developers have just agreed a lease with Network Rail. It was also made clear in the meeting that the development is essentially a package - the Extra Care Village's costs are reduced by the gains from the store development and that would seem to be critical to its viability.

As part of this development, there will need to be work done on the surrounding highways. In particular, the junction of Spring Road and Olton Boulevard East will be remodelled, changing the alignment of the road and installing traffic signal controls. Pedestrian crossings will be added to Spring Road, including a zebra crossing outside the station and a pedestrian refuge further down the road. This latter caused some concern from one of the residents present, who felt that it should be a proper, signal-controlled crossing and the developers seemed happy to take this on board. Given the volume of traffic you would expect down that road once the store opens, this seems entirely sensible and I think it is quite important that the store doesn't unintentionally discourage pedestrian access from the Yarnfield estate opposite by making the site effectively isolated. There will also be a dedicated right turn lane, although not signal controlled.

Morrisons are also promising a local labour agreement, which will require them to hire 90% of the employees from within a given radius around the site. Positively, this will apply not only to the store staff, but also to those employed on construction and in the Extra Care Village, which is expected to employ about 60 people by itself. As always with developer's promises, words are cheap - delivery is key.

I know that there are concerns from within Acocks Green about the likely effects on the Village and those worries need to be voiced within the planning process. The reality is that the forthcoming planning guidance from central government offers little wriggle room in the face of sustainable development proposals and this would seem to tick a whole range of boxes. The Asda plan for a retail park on the Eaton site on Reddings Lane has also appeared in recent weeks and this is interesting, but it seems unlikely that both will be developed.

Your thoughts on this would be welcome.

Elsewhere, Amey sent a representative along to talk lighting. They are currently replacing about 1000 lighting columns (not lamp posts) a month, which sounds a lot until you realise that Birmingham has 95,000 of the things currently, but will have around 80,000 when Amey have finished. Amey are carrying out letter drops where columns are to be resited and marking the pavement with yellow paint, including an indication of the height of the new column.

The new streetlights are all LEDs and this is long-lasting and highly energy efficient technology, which will reduce the electricity bill for street lighting by £1.8 million. Amey don't want to waste the light, so the lamps are designed not to cast light much more than 2-3 metres behind them, putting all the light where it needs to be. The aim on residential roads is to light from the footway edge to footway edge, not into front gardens. On more major 'traffic routes', then the lighting has to cover an area extending some 5 metres back from the roadway to ensure that drivers can see anybody approaching the road. Lamp posts are also being relocated to the edge of the footpath where they are currently sited by the road or to behind the verge where they are currently on a verge. This protects both the lights and careless drivers in accidents.

The poorly sited lights on Yardley Road were raised again at this meeting - there are a couple of newly relocated posts that are right in the middle of the footpath - and Amey undertook to look into it.

Other items of interest were two planning applications. One is yet another plan to redevelop the site at the end of Francis Road (search here for 2011/06797/PA), which had approval some while ago for redevelopment with flats and has a new application submitted for ten two-bedroom houses and a turning head, which will at least help deal with the access problems for emergency services, delivery and refuse vehicles. However, looking at the plans, the site is very cramped. A few of the homes will have postage stamp back yards and some won't even have those, with one having a back door opening virtually onto the canal. From discussions with residents over the last planning application, I know that they actually want the site brought into residential use and aren't resisting change for the sake of it - they want the environment improved.

Elsewhere, there is a proposal for land behind 230 Fox Hollies Road and Hazelwood Road, (search here for 2011/06865/PA) and effectively extending the relatively new housing development on Green Acres with an additional 12 properties. Again, this is likely to be approved, but the two middle properties are in an odd location out of keeping with the others.

Other than that, we had the usual routine items. Some more expenditure from the Community Chest - supporting the Christmas Lights up at Fox Hollies, although Springfield have declined to help out, so there won't be any on their side of the road!

Perhaps the key issue upon which to invite comments are the supermarket proposals. Thoughts?