Thursday, August 02, 2012

A wheelie good idea?

Martin Mullaney - recently rejected as a Lib Dem councillor by the good people of  Moseley and Kings Heath - claims to have got the details of a bid to the Department of Communities and Local Government from Birmingham City Council for a share of Pickles' Bin Giveaway and he's spinning it that every household in Birmingham will be forced to have three bins of particular sizes.

This is a partial view of a proposal about which more will be known during August and that partiality is a problem. Martin clearly hasn't had the full details, so he's scaremongering about what he thinks he knows. Wheeled bins are in there certainly, but that's not the full extent of the bid. There's a very good reason why we're not going into the details at this stage.

The fund only amounts to £250 million nationally - well below the £500 million estimated to reintroduce weekly collections across the country - and this pot is to be shared out amongst competitive bids. To this end, given that other large authorities are watching Birmingham closely, the details of it need to be kept confidential until the bid submission process closes in just over a fortnight. After that point, despite what Martin says, the City Council will consult on the details of the proposal with the people of Birmingham, in advance of any decision by the DCLG. Once Comrade Eric announces his decision, expected coincidentally around the time of the Tory conference in Birmingham, then the proposal will come back to Cabinet.

In the interests of the people that I represent, I have no wish to compromise Birmingham's bid for some extra money to improve our services, although Martin seems less reticent and has concluded - with only partial information at his disposal - that

There was an outline bid prepared by the previous administration, which had food waste collection at the centre. There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, the bid documents only mention food waste in conjunction with fortnightly collections (p8-9) - which Birmingham doesn't have.
"Set out the collection pattern(s) that the bid is proposing to commit to over the future (minimum) five year period, whether this is retaining or reinstating a weekly collection of residual household waste, adding a recycling element to a weekly residual collection, or adding a weekly food waste (or organic) collection to an existing fortnightly collection of weekly residual household waste." [emphasis added]
So already, the LibDem/Tory proposal was outside the parameters set by DCLG. That isn't to say it couldn't have been submitted, but we know that Eric Pickles is not a fan of adding further recycling containers and also that he will be taking a personal interest in these bids. You would reasonably expect that a bid from Birmingham - the largest local authority in the country - would receive attention from the Secretary of State and I would suggest that the bid as proposed by the last administration would not have succeeded.

Further, while the bid documentation does not require pre-bid consultation generally, according to the frequently asked questions document (p13),  proposals to introduce a food waste collection scheme would need to
"evidence “credible local support” where they plan to introduce a weekly food waste collection"
If the Liberal Democrats or Tories had bothered with a manifesto for the local elections that included a food waste collection - and had retained control - then that would have been sufficient for the purposes of the application. But neither did.

As it happens, I support food waste collection, but that has to go hand in hand with the infrastructure - probably an anaerobic digestion plant, given the size of Birmingham's expected volumes. Currently, we don't have that, so the waste would have to be transported elsewhere, reducing likely carbon savings and increasing costs. Incidentally, Martin holds up Somerset County Council as an example of what can be achieved - although he neglects to point out that the district councils in Somerset, who collect the 'residual' waste (stuff that isn't recycled) do so in wheelie bins.

We'll be able to discuss our plans in a fortnight or so, so watch out for more information then.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Yardley District Committee - 26 July 2012

A largely administrative agenda for this inaugural meeting of the new Yardley district committee, which is still controlled by the Liberal Democrats, but now has four Labour councillors. The range of powers devolved thus far to the district is interesting to the geeks amongst us - I questioned whether we had the new powers to define Dog Control Areas under the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act 2006, which repealed the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996, although the existing areas continue until replaced by a new control area. Anybody who knows what s78 of the Public Health Act 1936 says about scavenging in alleyways - without looking it up - deserves a prize. It actually refers to the authority being able to clean up any courtyard or alley that is owned by two or more people and charge them for the privilege, so might actually prove more useful than you think.

There was some cross-party agreement on the need to get localised performance information on housing - Cllr Willis (LD, S Yardley) and I both serve on the Contract Performance Committee and we had the pleasure of the housing contractors attending our last meeting and it is fair to say that the performance indicators need some work as assessments of how well our contractors are performing across the city for our tenants. Cllr Anderson (LD, Sheldon), newly elected as ward chair, agreed to continue as corporate parent champion for the district - a part of the role of councillors is as a 'corporate parent' to all looked after children.

Almost finally, we moved on to the outturn of the 2011/12 financial year, which sees the district ending with an overspend of £741,000 on a controllable budget (outside the fixed service level agreement costs for things like waste collection) of around £4.1 million. This was supposed to be reduced by the inclusion of Community Chest "underspends" from 2011/12 of about £166,000, but that figure did not take into account any commitments made in 11/12 that had not been paid within that financial year. Acocks Green was supposed to have an underspend of £32,000 for last year, but I know that the real figure is closer to about £10,000 - due to some projects not proceeding and some other underspending within projects not requiring the full grant - and I would expect similar figures for the other wards. The Labour group objected to this use of funds, especially as this would reduce any money left in this year's spending and this part of the report was rejected by the committee.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Planning Applications to 28 July 2012

2012/05073/PA - 33 Northanger Road
Erection of single storey rear extension.

2012/05071/PA - 30 Summer Road

Erection of single storey rear extension and conservatory

2012/05060/PA - 17 Edenbridge Road
Erection of single storey rear extension

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Acocks Green Ward Committee - 25 July 2012

A packed agenda, with one stand-out issue to discuss saw a decent turnout.

Much of the early items were fairly routine at the start of a new year - setting out the terms of reference for the committee, electing me as Ward Committee Chair and sorting out some external appointments - myself to the board of Acocks Green Business Improvement District and Cllr Stacey to the board of Stockfield Community Association. We also discussed the dates already set out for the year ahead, which should put the meeting in the alternate month to the District Committee, but current scheduling means that they are generally the day before. As the District Committee may well need rescheduling following tomorrow's Cabinet meeting, to allow for daytime scheduling in the Council House, then this will need looking at. I am aware that meeting scheduling is a major headache, not helped by the cuts to the Democratic Services team imposed by the budget from the last administration.

We then had a briefing from Les Williams, from Fleet and Waste Manasgement, who looks after this ward and several others, on issues around the collection of domestic and trade waste, recycling and green waste. This is a service that people only notice when it goes wrong and there are still problems resulting from the switch over to new round structures at the start of the year. In particular, the street cleaning rounds on some of the roads leading from Yardley Road (Malvern Road, Florence Road, Francis Road, Cottesbrooke Road and Elmdon Road) which are served by one of the smaller 'alley cat' collection trucks. The street cleaning should be aligned to follow on the day after the normal domestic waste collection, but there may still be occasions where this isn't happening. If it is - let me know.

We then had what was forecast to be the most controversial item of business - the Glynn Edwards Hall. I had this item of business added to the agenda specifically to allow discussion of a very controversial planning application prior to the meeting which happened last week, but it was a full exchange of views involving most of the members of the public present, which is exactly the point of the these meetings. Members of the Church and the Stockfield Community Association addressed the meeting and put their case, which had some very forceful arguments returned against it. This is an issue which understandably arouses strong emotions on both sides (although there are arguably more points of view than just two). 

It is certainly true that a community facility on the Stockfield estate is urgently needed and has been for some years. It is also true that the Arthur Moore Hall is in dire need of a good deal of work - the upstairs is blocked off as it is unsafe and the fabric downstairs has seen better days. The Church also claim that the maintenance costs of the building are becoming excessive and say that within a decade it could be virtually derelict.

I think it is fair to say that all three elected members of the Committee, Cllrs Bowen, Stacy and myself, find fairly common ground on the design proposed thus far - it is out of keeping with the rest of the street scene, with inappropriate use of materials, design lines and does not compliment the existing listed buildings. The work to those other buildings - the Church itself and the Arthur Moore Hall - is covered by an ecclesiastical exemption and falls outside the local authority's purview. I find my own views largely covered by a submission from English Heritage (of which I am an ordinary member)

English Heritage’s concerns in this respect relate to the massing, location and materials of the proposal.  While the scale of the proposal in the context of Alexander Road is generally satisfactory, the slate clad wing to Yardley Road appears too large and too close to the church.  Though apparently set further back from the Yardley Road frontage than the single storey entrance of the Edward Glynn Hall, the double height new building is set far enough forward to dominate views of the church and the Arthur Moore Hall.  The scale of the building does not seem to work well with the restrained contemporary domestic flavour of the gable.  This combination appears rather awkward, out-sized and relates poorly to the more decorative architectural aesthetic of the existing buildings on the site and adjacent. The resulting visual dominance of the proposal is compounded by the choice of contrasting materials; slate hanging and roofing on the wings and the large expanse of render on the corner unit.  The buildings in the application site and the vast majority of public and private buildings in the area are of brick under clay tile roofs, English Heritage is not convinced that the contrasting palette chosen for the new building is appropriate in this context.
Then we moved on to the Community Chest approvals, allocating further funding to local projects from our £100,000 of revenue spending:

  • Acocks Green Gardening Project - £2000 
  • Summer Reading Scheme - £3000
  • Stockfield Youth Programme - £1700
  • Fox Hollies Christmas Lights - £3000
  • Special Street Collections - £3413
  • Tyseley & Greet Employment Resource - £2888
  • Learning Together - £1000
  • Gospel Oak Green People - £975
  • Blue Ink Saturday School - £850

The following were notified for information only - projects approved by the councillors through the Ward Advisory Board structure in May, but as the Ward Committee was delayed, I had these fast-tracked through the relevant Cabinet Member to ensure that the money was available urgently. 

  • Arden Road Residents Association Jubilee Party - £151
  • Acocks Green Carers Activities - £1000
  • Acocks Green Crime Prevention - £489
  • John Gayle Soccer Coaching - £5040

Finally, there was some more money allocated to local bids under our £25,000 of capital spending. 

  • Gating Scheme - £4500
  • Homemeadow House CCTV Scheme - £4544
  • St Michael's Day Centre Equipment - £2760
  • Ninestiles Cycling Project - £2560

A number of recent planning applications were discussed and we then moved on to the proposal from the local policing unit to designate the whole of Yardley constituency as an alcohol-free zone, allowing a police officer to ask anyone to stop consuming alcohol in a public area (not including beer gardens or other open-air areas that form part of currently licensed premises. Cllr Stacey and Cllr Bowen were both concerned about the power that this gives to an over-zealous police officer and it was felt that we would support an order made for more specific areas where problems have been reported, rather than a blanket ban across the entire ward. 

Finally, I had to announce the temporary closure of the library for about 12 weeks this autumn to allow for extensive repairs to the roof and the skylights. The building should be reopened in time for Christmas. 

With that, we closed a little later than the two hours planned - but future meetings should run closer to time.