Friday, October 12, 2012

Report - Acocks Green Ward Committee

A slightly chilly meeting on Wednesday evening...

We had an officer from Trading Standards attend to talk about No Cold Calling Zones. We've had three areas designated across the city - in Sheldon, Sparkhill/Hall Green and Stechford. The law doesn't allow the City Council to actually ban traders from calling door to door, but this is aimed at tackling rogue traders and reducing distraction burglary. Typically, this is where a caller at the door keeps the homeowner occupied while an accomplice steals from elsewhere in the property and the typical victim profile is an 82 year old woman living on her own. Far too often, rogue doorstep tradespeople are checking out the house for a later visit. Even buying something with cash at the door can reveal that you keep cash in the house, roughly where you keep it and - something I didn't know - that you have a large quantity of cash in one place. Apparently, the notes take on a particular smell if kept together. These zones are targetted on areas where a high number of distraction burglaries are reported and they act as a deterrent. Initially, Trading Standards officers provide a response to individual incidents and ask doorstep callers to stay away - and most comply - but after a while, experience shows that the zones become self-enforcing as residents themselves get the confidence to turn callers away and 95% feel safer with a zone in place. With budget cuts, there are no plans at this stage to bring a zone to Acocks Green, but we'll keep an eye on the situation.

The meetings were agreed for the remainder of the coming year:

  • 5 December 2012 - 7:30pm - Lakey Lane Primary School (time accommodates police meeting at 7pm)
  • 20 Feb 2013 - 7pm - Severne JI School
  • 17 Apr 2013 - 7pm - The Oaklands Primary School
  • 29 May 2013 - 7pm - Venue TBC
Community Chest spending continues. We agreed funding for:
Acocks Green Means Business - £4500
This is a project to help 250 local people to develop self-employment opportunities and, hopefully, deliver about 20 business starts with 2-3 months of workshops and one-to-one advice. This has been an effective scheme in the past and has actually been able to draw down further funding from elsewhere, reducing the commitment from the ward.
We've used some unspent money allocated to the library earlier in the year, a little new revenue spending and a chunk of capital spending to deliver on this - Labour weren't prepared to see the library close temporarily without alternative provision. 
Project Worker, Gospel Oak Community Centre - £3408
Youth Group - Gospel Oak Community Centre - £2817.50
We're supporting this scheme jointly with Hall Green. Although the centre is just outside our boundary, it serves a large community within the Gospel estate and I've been down to visit the team there and meet some of the young people in the youth group and I was impressed by what the team are trying to do. 

We do still have some funding remaining for the year, but there is an alternative source of support through the Acocks Green Community First funding stream, which provides match funding for sums between £250 and £2500. Have a look at the website here

We've also agreed to continue funding for the Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum.

Most of the planning applications mentioned in the agenda had already been decided, but we have an application for the land adjacent to the end of Grattidge Road at the Solihull side of the ward. This waste land is between the end of Grattidge Road and the back of what used to be a furniture store, but is now an indoor play area. There is already an existing planning approval on that entire site for redevelopment, but with the play area now in use, that looks unlikely to move to fruition, so the developer wants to build five detached houses on it. The councillors have heard different views on the matter - some residents are in favour, others opposed - if you have views, let me know. We also briefly discussed the flurry of applications for solid wall insulation on council property on the Yarnfield estate.

That largely wrapped up the meeting, although I will be writing a letter to express the community's concern about the ticket office closures that the government have now approved for many stations within London Midland's area, including all the stations that serve Acocks Green. The decision has been made, despite widespread opposition locally, but I will still express our dismay at this. I was also asked about progress on the Yardley Road issue.

With that all done and dusted, the meeting was closed and we'll reconvene in December. 

Street trees on Olton Boulevard East

Following complaints from residents about the tree growth in Olton Boulevard East, I arranged a site meeting  this week with Amey's trees officer and the local highway steward to discuss what has been done and what needs to be done. They have confirmed that pruning is urgently required to the street trees along the length from Victoria Road down to the junction with the Warwick Road/Gospel Lane. This should have been done, but was reported as complete thanks to an administrative error. It should be completed over the next four weeks or so - weather permitting. We also checked on a bush on the corner of Anson Grove, which has been reported as obstructing the view of drivers - this bush was actually the remains of a tree which should have been properly removed some time ago. It has now been hacked back and the stump will be removed in due course.

The trees along here will be pruned up to a height of about 6m and will have basal growth removed.

It was a particularly interesting meeting from the point of view of somebody whose gardening knowledge is limited, to say the least. The old policy of pollarding trees of a certain age has now been replaced by one where the overall tree shape will be maintained, but this is only carried out as required - probably every 15 years or so. Pollarding actually leads to more aggressive growth and leaf fall and attracts more aphids. More regular maintenance involves controlling the basal growth - the sprouting around the base of the trunk - and lifting the crown (which will be done to the trees on Olton Boulevard). This removes the lower levels of branches and twigs to give improved ground clearance. Trees will also be dealt with where they are threatening to damage property, but they are not pruned for light reasons or to improve television reception for properties behind the trees.

The Amey contract has also led to considerably greater clarity about what species of trees can be used on the highway and where they can be planted. Large central reservations will be planted with a range of trees, but traditional street trees will be restricted to a small number of species that are suitable. As it is contractual, it is also binding on developers, so trees that exhibit 'antisocial behaviour' in terms of other residents or road users can be properly controlled.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Yardley Road Repairs Update

Following complaints from residents about the condition of the road, I arranged a site meeting with a team from Amey on Yardley Road. This has been partly resurfaced, but the central section of the road (roughly from the rail bridge down to Cottesbrook Junior School entrance) has not yet been done. I walked the road length with the design and plans officer, the highway steward and an inspector to discuss what needs to be done. Again, the condition of the road has been raised by residents (and I'm only too well aware of it myself).

It was originally scheduled for repair under the rolling five year plan, but when I checked the new edition of this constantly updating document, Yardley Road had fallen out of the plan. This wasn't satisfactory, so I arranged to meet the team on-site.

The inspector has logged a number of urgent faults that will be rectified rapidly - they now do this with a handheld GPS device that instantly records what and where the fault is so that it can be scheduled with the repairs team. I did point out that some of the surface damage is actually quite a hazard to cyclists.

There is also a need to carry out more in-depth repairs to the road surface, to match the other two sections which have already been dealt with. Roads are prioritised for repair and surfacing works to ensure that the worst sections of carriageway are dealt with first and damage may not always be apparent to the naked eye. The photos indicate some obvious problems, but detailed inspection, including specialist testing equipment can reveal deeper problems. Fortunately, most of the problems with Yardley Road are actually surface-related.

This section was inspected during the summer and the planner will be checking that this inspection actually corresponds with the damage that he has seen, as that will affect the priority of the road. If that doesn't help, it will be put forward as part of the 'change programme' for addition to a future work plan. I'm hopeful that this will be dealt with by early 2013 at the latest, but I will keep pushing on this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Diary Date - Acocks Green Ward Committee

Acocks Green Ward Committee
Wednesday 10 October 2012 7pm
Acocks Green Baptist Church, Alexander Road/Yardley Road

Items for the agenda:

  • Trading Standards to attend to discuss no cold calling zones
  • Community Chest applications
  • Report back on Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum
  • Planning Applications

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Planning Applications to 6 October 2012

Again, no planning applications to note last week, but an interesting crop this week.. 

2012/06209/PA - 37 The Avenue
Erection of single storey rear extension

2012/06727/PA - 2, 4, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 34, 41, 49, 52, 61, 72, 88, 97, 99 and 101 Holcombe Road
2012/06726/PA - 320, 352 and 360 Olton Boulevard West
2012/06725/PA - 52, 54, 56, 60, 68, 70, 80, 82, 108, 114, 120, 122, 123, 124, 133, 134, 135, 144, 145, 147, 156, 161, 167 and 169 Sunningdale Road,
2012/06721/PA - 21, 22 and 28 Briarfield Road
2012/06720/PA - 29, 31, 35, 37, 39, 41, 57, 59, 63 and 67 Wetherfield Road,
2012/06724/PA - 24, 26 and 46 Onslow Road
2012/06722/PA - 16-18 Ferndene Road
2012/06723/PA - 8, 23 and 25 Fieldhead Road
Installation of external wall insulation on behalf of Birmingham City Council. 

This is excellent news for these residents. These properties don't have a cavity to be filled with insulation, so they leak heat, wasting their money. With this external wall insulation properly installed, they can expect to save £400 - £500 a year on their heating bills - an investment well worth making. Externally, the houses will look as though they have been covered with a sandy coloured render - it will just be deeper than you would normally expect. The residents will notice the difference rapidly - keeping the houses warmer in winter and cooler in summer. You can find out more information here.  

With the announcement of Carillion as our preferred provider for the Birmingham Energy Savers scheme, I hope we'll see more of this being done to insulate the older properties (typically pre-30s homes) around the ward. For those worried about the change in the street scene, it is also possible to internally insulate street-facing walls and externally insulate the remainder of the property. 

I'll be sure to invite them to a future ward committee meeting to discuss what they plan to offer, so watch this space. 

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.