Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Winter Advice Special

Part of the following is extracted from a leaflet put together by the England Illegal Money Lending Team and the Birmingham Financial Inclusion partnership and shamelessly stolen from Cllr John Cotton's website. Other bits have been added from my own resources.

I hope that this helps.

HomeHeat Helpline 
The HomeHeat helpline advises people worried about paying their energy bills and keeping warm during the winter. It gives advice to households in urgent need of heating help and advice. It is free to call and is open 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.
Web address - www.homeheathelpline.org.uk
Telephone – 0800 33 66 99

Warm Homes Discount

For more information on this, see this earlier post. 

Water 
Severn Trent Water offer a range of tariffs and services which include flexible payment options, Water Direct, the Severn Trent Trust Fund, the Water Sure scheme, a Single Occupier Assessed Charge and Access services. What may also reduce your bills is their Free Meter Option Scheme and our Water
Efficiency products.
Web address - www.stwater.co.uk 
Severn Trent Water on 08457 500 500

Free Debt Advice
Thousands of people every year, for whatever reason, get into debt. One in four people now use loans or credit cards to meet the basic costs of living.This situation could mean that you get behind with your regular bills such as rent, council tax, phone, electricity or gas. Debt agencies can help you maximise your income, prepare a budget and talk to those you owe money to.
Birmingham Debt Advice Team – 0121 303 2087
Birmingham Settlement – 0121 250 3000
Birmingham Citizens Advice Bureau – 0844 477 1010
Stepchange – 0800 138 1111
National Debtline – 0808 808 4000    Web address - http://www.nationaldebtline.co.uk/
Money Advice Service - 0300 500 5000    Web address - www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

Healthy eating 
Birmingham’s markets are jam packed with fresh produce, lots of choice and bargains. Six days a week, 140 stallholders are up with the lark to offer their great deals. The Indoor Market is famous for its selection of fresh meats, fish and produce, giving supermarkets a run for their money for choice, price and atmosphere. And whether you’re running up a ball gown or saying  ‘curtains’ to ready-made home furnishings, nowhere beats the Rag Market.Opening times:
• Bull Ring Open Market - 9am to 5pm every Tuesday to Saturday
• Bull Ring Indoor Market - 9am to 5.30pm every Monday to Saturday
• Rag Market - Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9am - 5pm
Check out www.agirlcalledjack.com/tag/recipes/ 
This blog has recipe ideas for everyone on a budget, written by someone who was until recently living on that very same budget. She's been there and wants to show that being on a budget doesn't mean that you can't have tasty, varied food. Every menu is carefully and realistically priced by Jack from her local shops.

Local Welfare Provision from Birmingham City Council
The Local Welfare Provision scheme is discretionary and seeks to assist vulnerable people who are in short term crisis, to meet their needs for food and essential items or to assist them to maintain their independence
within the community. Before a grant is awarded the applicant will usually be required to demonstrate that their need cannot be met by another source. This may mean asking for help directly from other agencies or
other parts of the council before continuing with an application.
Web address - www.birmingham.gov.uk/lwp

Borrowing Money
Many households are feeling the impact on household finances from spiralling debt caused by high interest and fees and are struggling to access bank services and affordable credit. Birmingham Fair Money has
gathered the not for profit, responsible lenders serving Birmingham under one web site. For loans and savings check out their web site for further information.
Web address - www.birminghamfairmoney.org.uk

If you have already borrowed money and are struggling to repay help can be obtained from the debt section. If you are worried that you may have borrowed from a loan shark you can contact the England Illegal
Money Lending Team. A loan shark is someone who lends money without the appropriate licence issued by the Office of Fair Trading. Loan sharks rarely, give any paperwork and if payments are missed they often use intimidation and violence to get money. The England Illegal Money Lending Team can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Telephone - 0300 555 2222
e-mail: reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk
or by text to: loan shark + your message to 60003

Budgeting 
The Pay Ahead Stay Ahead Scheme is aimed at 16-24 year olds. They can offer budgeting advice workshops and one to one support for those living in Birmingham. To sign up call or check out their web page. Their website also has an online directory offering help and advice to everyone on issues such as food banks, employment and benefits.
Telephone 0800 160 1990
Web address: www.payaheadstayahead.com

Birmingham Trading Standards
Each year Birmingham Trading Standards Service and the Citizens Advice consumer service receive requests for advice and assistance from members of the public concerning repairs carried out to their homes. Unscrupulous traders can deliberately take advantage of the most vulnerable members of our society. They can charge extortionate prices for very little. We take the job of tackling rogue traders very seriously. Our message is “Think Twice” before you open the door.
For more information visit:
Web address - http://www.noroguetradershere.com/ 
Telephone 0800 233 5000

Local Trading Standards Service
E-mail: tradingstandards@birmingham.gov.uk
Website: www.birmingham.gov.uk/tradingstandards 
twitter: follow@bhamts

Citizens Advice Consumer Service 
Website: www.adviceguide.org.uk
Telephone: 08454 04 05 06 

The Samaritans
It doesn’t matter who you are, how you feel, or what has happened.
If you feel that things are getting to you, get in touch.
Tel: 08457 90 90 90 
E-mail: jo@samaritans.org

Local Advice in and around Acocks Green

These are all part funded through the Community Chest from Acocks Green in order that they provide support to residents within the ward. 
Birmingham TUC Centre for the Unemployed
They offer help to people who are either unemployed or on low wages and have a drop in session between 10am and 12 noon on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 
Address: 448 Stratford Road, Birmingham B11 4AE 
Telephone 0121 771 0871

Birmingham Citizens Advice Bureau
They offer free independent and confidential advice. This is on a first-come, first-served basis and they are open Monday and Tuesday between 9:30am and 4pm; and Thursday 10am to 4pm
Address: 744-746 Warwick Road, Tyseley, B11 2HG

Tyseley and Greet Unemployment Resource Centre

They offer advice on benefits, debts and welfare rights.
Address: 541a Warwick Road, Tyseley, B11 2JP
Website: http://www.tg-erc.org.uk/
Telephone: 0121 764 4202

Other sources of advice

Birmingham Community Law Centre
The law centre provides free legal advice and representation in welfare benefits, debt, community care and public law. 
Address: The Bangladesh Centre, 97 Walford Road, Sparkbrook, B11 1NP
Telephone: 0121 772 6233

AdviceNow

Advicenow is an independent, not-for-profit website providing accurate, helpful information on rights and legal issues for people who need it
Web address: http://www.advicenow.org.uk/

Shelter
They provide quick online advice on housing issues through this website.
Web address: http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice

Monday, December 30, 2013

Planning Applications to the 21 December 2013

A few to catch up on before Christmas:

2013/09257/PA - Yardleys School, Reddings Lane, Tyseley, B11 3EY
Installation of 2 no. storage containers

2013/09187/PA - Land at the junction of Reddings Lane/Olton Boulevard West, Eaton Electrical
Ltd, Tyseley, B11 3EZ
Variation of condition number 7 attached to planning approval 2010/01029/PA to amend the wording to
read 'No development, save for works of demolition and site clearance, shall take place until details of the
number, design, location and post development monitoring arrangements of (bird nesting boxes/bat boxes/bricks/tubes) to be provided as part of the development has been submitted to and approved in
writing by the Local Planning Authority. The bird/bat boxes shall be installed in accordance with the approved details and thereafter maintained'

The wording currently reads:
No development shall take place until details of the number, design, location and post-development
monitoring arrangements of (bird nesting boxes/bat boxes/bricks/tubes) to be provided as part of the
development, has been submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. The
bird/bat boxes shall be installed in accordance with the approved details and thereafter maintained.
Reason: To enhance the nature conservation interest of the site in accordance with Paragraphs 3.37-
3.40 of the Birmingham UDP 2005, PPS9 and the Nature Conservation Strategy for Birmingham SPG.


This would seem to allow clearance to clear the site BEFORE the nature conservation measures have been installed.

2013/09264/PA - 162 Yardley Road, Acocks Green, B27 6GR
Continued use of premises as a tyre fitting & car repair centre.
This has been an issue of local concern for some time. 

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.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Diary Date - Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Friday 20 December 2013 - 10am
Committee Rooms 3 & 4, Council House
And you can now watch online here.

Key items on the agenda:
  • 2013 Summer Tunnel Closures
  • Bus Lane Enforcement
  • Call in - Review of charges for trade waste services
The call in will be held in private session, as it includes commercially sensitive information.

"Call in" is a process where an Overview and Scrutiny Committee can ask the Cabinet to reconsider a decision if the committee thinks that the decision is wrong.

After the Cabinet has announced its intention to make a decision, members of the relevant O&S Committee have three working days to consider that decision. Two members of the committee can lodge a request to call in the decision. This puts any action to put the decision into practice on hold. The meeting will be held at least ten working days after the publication of the original decision. 

At this meeting, the committee will consider the call in and if a majority of the committee agrees, a report will be submitted. The full Cabinet will then reconsider the decision. They may confirm it or reverse their original decision. 

Planning Applications to the 14 December 2013

A few to catch up on before Christmas:

2013/08883/PA - 1174 Warwick Road, Acocks Green, B27 6BS
Erection of single storey rear extension including alterations to staircase and shop front alterations

2013/08744/PA - 49 Cottesbrooke Road, Acocks Green, B27 6LE
Erection of first floor side and rear extensions and conservatory (Amended description)

2013/08986/PA - 1146 Warwick Road, Acocks Green, B27 6BL
Display of 1 no. internally illuminated fascia sign, 1 no. externally illuminated projecting sign and 1 no.
non-illuminated fascia sign

2013/08818/PA - 120 Douglas Road, Acocks Green, B27 6HW
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.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Bin Collections

Just a reminder that - as in previous years - there will be no collections on either Wednesday 25 December or Thursday 26 December. Services will return to normal on Friday 27th December.

If you normally receive a black bag refuse collection on Wednesday or Thursday, your next collection will be on Wednesday 1 January or Thursday 2 January 2014. 

If you are also scheduled for a recycling collection on either Wednesday 25 December or Thursday 26 December, your next recycling collection will be on Wednesday 8 January or Thursday 9 January. 

The Household Recyling Centre at Tyseley will be open as normal over the Christmas period if you have to get rid of any large amounts of waste in the interim (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day).


Friday, December 06, 2013

Free loft and cavity wall insulation available

Birmingham Energy Savers - a partnership between Birmingham City Council and Carillion Energy Services are installing free loft and cavity wall insulation (where appropriate) in certain areas of the city.

You can check your specific availability here, but the offer is broadly available across the Yarnfield estate, around The Avenue, the area around Fox Green Crescent and Pemberley Road and across the Gospel Estate. Many of those properties will not be suitable for cavity insulation as they were built with solid brick walls, but please check.Insulating a loft could save £170 a year on your heating bill and cavity wall insulation could put £140 a year back into your pocket.

I'd really recommend this - if you haven't already had this done.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Report - Acocks Green Ward Committee

A brief report on Wednesday's ward committee meeting.

I started with a brief tribute to Trevor Wagg, the late husband of former Cllr Penny Wagg and somebody who - despite our differing political views - was one of the keystones of our community and passed away suddenly a few weeks back. Our civic society is built on people like Trevor who are prepared to get involved and keep things running. He will be missed by his friends and family, but also by the wider Acocks Green and Yardley community.

We had a brief on the role of the local delivery group in the overall community safety and policing structure and the drive to cut crime, engage with young people and work to marginalise extremism of all sorts. You can find the full details here.

Our Environmental Health Officer had to send her apologies, but she sent a brief report. She's rolling out Street Litter Control Notices and has been dealing with properties on Spring Road and Westley Road, but will be dealing with the Yardley Road next. Members of the public raised a couple of issues about rubbish along the Yardley Road, which I'll be forwarding to the relevant council officers for action.

On planning applications, it was noted that the plans to demolish the Glynn Edwards Hall have been withdrawn at the last minute and there is no immediate prospect of a resubmission. We had a look at the current live planning applications, although we did not decide to object to any specific applications. We also noted that 2013/04742/PA, which was refused permission in August, is now the subject of a planning appeal.

Moving on to the community chest applications, almost all of the 2013-14 spending was finally allocated, with £2478 set aside to supply some new computer chairs for the library to replace the existing ones, which can best be described as "well-worn." These are the same chairs that were provided for the new South Yardley library, so should be good enough for us too! I also updated the meeting on the progress of the repairs, explaining that the delays have been caused by the amount of additional work to be done and the days lost to the weather (although we have been remarkably fortunate this autumn). Cllr Stacey pointed out that allowing for time lost affects the overall cost of a contract and there is a trade-off between risking time overruns and paying more upfront. These repairs look to be overrunning by about a month - which is rather better than the experience with South Yardley Library, which remained closed for well over a year for roof repairs.

We also agreed to allocate £1000 to the police project to secure homes against burglaries. We've had a rise across the ward and this is key in reducing fear and protecting people. We also approved a grant of £1200 to support the work of Fox Hollies Green Neighbourhood Forum.

One interesting issue was raised towards the end of the meeting - that of neighbourhood planning. We'll be inviting a council officer with experience of the Balsall Heath pilot to attend a future meeting to discuss it. It is an innovation of the current government, but it is not an easy option - neighbourhood plans have to comply with national and local planning policies and there's a lot of work to be done before it can be put to a referendum of the neighbourhood. Although the term "neighbourhood forum" is used in the government information, they aren't necessarily equivalent to the neighbourhood forums that we have in Birmingham - although the chances are that they would generally pass muster.

There was also a reminder that we are about to start the formal consultation on the 2014-15 budget. There are a number of meetings planned. Next week, there's one at South Yardley Library between 6pm and 8pm. on Wednesday 11 December.

Acocks Green Library Repairs Update

Before.....
I attended another of the regular progress meetings at the library on Tuesday and work is continuing well. Re-roofing is now complete on all three roof sections and the roof lights are installed on the two smaller roof sections. The weather has been generally quite kind, although it has caused some delays and the external work won't be complete until the 20th December.

You can see the difference in the two pictures. The old rooflights, dingy and sealed with flashband (a temporary water proofing measure at best) have been replaced with new, identical uPVC units, which are double glazed and designed to retain heat. Each of these units is assembled in the factory to check that they meet the bespoke size requirements, then taken to bits for powder coating before being delivered to site and reassembled again. The dodecahedronal units on the lower roof will be the most complicated of the lot (there are four or five different designs of roof light up there in total).

The library will be noticeably lighter once this work is done. Because this project has been managed under budget, we're also improving the ventilation by installing powered openers on selected windows to give a better flow of air in the warm months.
Roof fixed and skylights replaced


The photo below shows the water damage above one of the windows on the stairwell in the staff area. The surveyor reports back that this is not merely cosmetic - the lintel will need to be replaced. This will require significant internal and external structural scaffolding to support the roof while the work is completed and is more substantial than first thought.

Again, thanks to careful management of costs, we're able to get this work done. Originally, the roof above this wasn't planned to be replaced, although the condition was at least as poor as the main roof sections above the lending library itself.

Water damaged lintel
Once the externals are completed and after the Christmas break, the internal work - making good and repainting - has to be done. Some of this work could perhaps have been completed during normal closure days, but that would have meant further disruption, so we have decided to keep the library closed until the work is completed.

Unfortunately, this means that we aren't likely to get the library handed back until around the 17th January and it will take at least a week to ten days to return the library to a suitable condition to be opened to users (South Yardley took a fortnight, but that had been completely stripped for well over a year), so the aim is that we should be back in business by the end of January at the very latest.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Planning Applications to 30 Nov 2013

Nothing last week and just one this week:

2013/08766/PA - Land adjacent 4 Grattidge Road, Acocks Green, B27 7AQ
Application to determine the details for condition numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 attached to approval 2012/05569/PA (This is looking at the details of drainage, hard and soft landscaping, boundary treatment, samples and pedestrian visibility splays)

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.

Diary Date - Acocks Green Ward Committee

Acocks Green Ward Committee
Wednesday 3 December - 7pm
The Oaklands School, Dolphin Lane

Key items on the agenda:
  • Community Safety Update
  • Environmental Health Update
  • Planning Applications
  • Community Chest
  • Grant to Fox Hollies Neighbourhood Forum 

Monday, December 02, 2013

Diary Date - Full Council

Full Council
Tuesday 3 December 2013 - 2pm
Council Chamber, Council House
And you can now watch online here.

Key items on the agenda:
  • Question Time
    • Members of the Public to any Cabinet Member or District Committee Chair
    • Any Councillor to Committee Chair or Lead Member
    • Councillors other than Cabinet Members to Cabinet Member
    • Councillors other than Cabinet Members to Leader or Deputy Leader
  • Report of Council Business Management Committee
    • Proposed Changes to the Constitution
      • Changes to the senior management and departmental structure
  • Report of the Executive
    • Birmingham Development Plan
    • New governance arrangements for integrated transport authority
  • Report of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee
    • Children and Families with no recourse to public funds
  • Motions for Debate
Incidentally - I missed last month's meeting for unavoidable family reasons. 

Yardleys School to take pupils from 4-16 from 2015?

A proposal for consultation has just landed on my desk and I thought I'd share it - Yardleys School is suggesting that from the 1 September 2015, it might expand from being a secondary school to include the primary phase as well and create an "all-through" school. Pupils will be guaranteed a place - if their parents wish - from reception through to completing their GSCE examinations (and the potential is there to extend either end to nursery and sixth form provision) - but will also be able to join the school at secondary level as they do now.

Birmingham certainly has a need for further school places and this will provide an additional 60 per year from 2015 with the first admissions to reception class in that year. The primary school would not be on the same site as the secondary school, but would be in "refurbished accommodation" on a new site nearby (I don't have any more information than that).

The school holds the view that the "all-through" method would help pupils make the transition from primary to secondary education as well as making curriculum planning easier across the phases.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Leisure Centres Update

You may have noticed that the council have confirmed plans to close nine leisure centres across Birmingham and build six new ones, which will then be operated by the private sector.

The news for Yardley and Acocks Green is good - Fox Hollies will remain and Stechford Cascades is lined up for replacement. Both of these are significant regional facilities - Fox Hollies provides one of the few all-weather athletics tracks in the city (just refurbished at the cost of £300,000) and the Cascades pool offers the only pool capable of hosting swimming galas. The problem with pools is that they are hugely costly to run and those costs spiral as the facilities get older - they weren't designed with current fuel costs in mind and only Bournville has a pool that benefits from free heat from the Cadbury's factory. There's an annual £6 million cost of running our pools across the city, which has proved unsustainable in the face of government attacks on our spending.

There was never a threat to close either the Cascades or to Fox Hollies.

Your Labour councillors in Yardley were very clear that they would not tolerate any plans that would see either closed and we backed the plans to rebuild the Cascades, which is pretty much at the end of its operational life. We actually had cross-party agreement on this proposal. Any suggestion that we even suggested closure of either site is absolutely untrue.

It is true that Labour opposed an opposition motion in council that would have blocked the closure of any pool in Birmingham, but that is because we believe in devolved power - these decisions rested with the districts. For example, Tiverton Road pool was slated for closure by Selly Oak District - it requires investment and will face competition for existing custom from the new pool at Birmingham University. I voted against the opposition motion to ensure that power stayed in the districts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Acocks Green Station Update

I've just dropped by the consultation session on lift installation planned for Acocks Green station and I can now add an artist's impression of what you will see from the roadside. Two caveats on this - firstly, the facing is brick in this picture, which has been ruled out of the finished article on the grounds of cost (CENTRO are cutting back as well). Secondly, the pitched roof style is much more in keeping with the design of the station rather than the curved design shown in the other artist's impression - although the design drawings have a third plan - a flat roof with a fall to allow water to run off.

There is also the point that the photo on which the design is based is taken from a low angle on the opposite side of the road, minimising the visual impact from this quarter view. From the design drawings, the top of the towers are slightly above the level of the pitch roof of the two "wings" of the station building, but not above the height of the central pitched roof. In reality, the only visibility of the towers is going to be from station/car park level or from the brief quarter views approaching the station along Yardley Road - they will be invisible from the front of the station.

The walkways are glazed and uncovered, to ensure visibility and the whole arrangement is covered by CCTV cameras to improve security - so much as we can expect since the station staffing was slashed.

The towers are available in a range of colours - the grey has been chosen as a relatively unobtrusive colour for the flat metal facing. While I was there, there were certainly mixed views over the design, although most people who attended seemed to think that the addition of lifts was the most important aspect of this development. I've asked that CENTRO look at fitting the pitched roof shown on the top picture, as this would chime nicely with the existing roof of the station and they have undertaken to look into that. It is a particularly affordable solution, as the towers are largely pre-fabricated and can be installed with the minimum of track possession required. The height allows clearance of existing trackside lighting, but also for any potential future electrification of the line.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Licensing applications to 22 November 2013

Applications have been made for the following:

A convenience store/off licence premises license for Lakey Express - 233 Lakey Lane, B28 8QT
Planned opening hours for the store and for the off-sales licence are 0600-2300 every day.
Comments should be sent by the 9 December 2013, ref application 84576.

Michaels Drink Stop, 1164-66 Warwick Road, B27 6BS have applied for an off-licence for trading 1000-2230 Sunday, 0800-2300 Mon - Sat and 0800-2230 on Good Friday, with a licence to match those hours. Comments should be sent by 12 December 2013, ref 84645.

Details of the licensing team can be found here.

Comments can be sent by post to:
Licensing Section, Crystal Court, Aston Cross Business Village, 50 Rocky Lane, Aston, B6 5RQ
By email to licensing@birmingham.gov.uk or you can call them on 0121 303 9896

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Library repairs update

I had another meeting with the contractors today to discuss progress on the library. As you can see from the photo, the first of the new lanterns is being installed (there are over a dozen and there are five different designs on the roof). Double-glazed and with solar-reflective glass in them, they will make a difference to the warmth of the library during the winter.

So far, eleven days have been lost to the weather and the forecast isn't good for the days ahead. This means that the handover date may be delayed - it looks unlikely that we'll get the library handed back by the 13th December as originally planned and the earliest date for handover looks to be the 20th December, but that is still weather-dependent. What that means is that we are likely to see the library reopen early in the New Year, once the building has been returned to a useable condition, which will take about a week after it is handed back to us.

Acocks Green Station Access Improvements On Track

Here's an artist's impression of the new lift access towers for Acocks Green station, as the improvement plans start to move into delivery, as promised over a year ago (and it does bear a striking resemblance to the towers installed at Selly Oak. It may have taken seven years to get it done, but we're finally on the way.

The project is expected to start on-site in December and completion is due in Spring 2014. The design provides for step-free access from the car park and the booking hall through to the platforms - ideal for those with mobility problems, prams and wheelchairs.

CENTRO advise that the station should remain open throughout the work, although there may be minor problems when some of the heavy lifting or plant installation work is carried out - advance warning will be given for that. Similarly, although most work will be carried out during the normal working day, there may also be a need to work at weekends or overnight and this will also be advised to local residents who might be affected.

On Tuesday 26 November, between 3:30pm and 6pm, there will be a team from London Midland, CENTRO, Network Rail and the contractors (J Murphy & Sons) at the station to show plans and answer any queries that you might have. You can also contact Network Rail on 08457 11 41 41 if you have any questions or concerns.

Planning Applications to 16 November 2013

Playing catch up now, with three weeks' worth (apologies - it has been hectic)

2013/07598/PA - 3 Victoria Road, Acocks Green, B27 7XZ
Change of use of first floor from residential use (use class C3) to ancillary dental practice (use class D1),
alterations to porch to front and erection of single storey rear extension

2013/08035/PA - Land to the rear of, 1073 Warwick Road onto Netherfield Gardens, Acocks Green, B27 6QTErection of 4no. dwellings and 1no. apartment unit

2013/07516/PA - 187 Fox Hollies Road, Acocks Green, B27 7TZ
Erection of single storey rear extension to create 1 bedroom self contained apartment

2013/08064/PA - 17 Arden Road, Acocks Green, B27 6AH
Erection of single storey front, two storey side and rear and single storey rear extensions and installation of rear dormer

2013/08113/PA - 59 Olton Boulevard East, Acocks Green, B27 7NH
Application for a Certificate of Lawfulness for a proposed 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.

UPDATE - Road repairs - Shirley Road

An update on the forthcoming resurfacing of Shirley Road from Olton Boulevard to the Warwick Road (into the Green).

The work is scheduled to start on the 21 November 2013. It is expected to take up to five days and the crews will be working on site on week nights between 7pm and 6am.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Green waste collection - early sign up discount extended to 22 November

If you have been trying to use the council website over the past couple of days, you will have experienced problems (sadly outside our control). 

This has meant that those trying to sign up to the Early Bird discount offer have missed the original deadline. I contacted the cabinet member in charge earlier today and he's agreed to extend the sign up period by a week to help out those affected by the website outage. 

You have to sign up to the scheme online and if you do so before 22 November 2013, you will only have to pay £30. Signing up afterwards will cost £35 and this price will apply until the 31 July 2014, when the price drops to £17.50 for the remainder of the year. .

We'll provide 20 collections over the collection season in 2014 - February to November. Most properties will be supplied with a wheeled bin, but some properties may be deemed unsuitable and will be supplied with 60 special green bags for the year.

You will also be able to take green waste to our Household Recycling Centres at no cost.

The best option for your green waste is to compost it at home - that cuts out all the carbon emissions from transporting it. You can get some advice on it here.

Don't forget that we are now into the final cycle of green waste collections for this year. 

Update on Acocks Green Post Office

There is a little bit more news on this. The Post Office report that they hope to have a new franchisee in place by the end of this financial year (April 2014), subject to consultation. There's no news as yet on the identity of the franchisee or the location, but I doubt that will be far away.

More as I get it.....

Friday, November 01, 2013

November Diary

Tue 5 November - 2pm
Full Council - Council Chamber, Council House (livestreamed - #bcclive)

Wed 6 November - 7pm
Lakey Lane Police Meeting - Lakey Lane School

Thu 7 November - 2pm
HS2 Joint Scrutiny Committee Meeting - Comm Rm 3 and 4 (livestreamed - #bcclive)

Fri 8 November - 6:30pm
Surgery - Community Room, Archbishop Ilsley

Sat 9 November - 10am
St Mary's Church Autumn Fayre

Sun 10 November - 11am
Remembrance Day Service - Centenary Square

Tue 12 November - 6pm
Sustainability Forum - Council House

Wed 13 November - 7pm
Fox Hollies Green Neighbourhood Forum - The Oaklands School

Thu 14 November - 11am
HLB Walkabout

Fri 15 November - 6:30pm
Surgery - Community Room, Archbishop Ilsley

Sunday 17 November 10am
Westley Vale Millennium Green Autumn Cleanup

Mon 18 November - 10am
Partnership, Contract Performance and Third Sector O and S - Committee Rooms 3 and 4, Council House

Tue 19 November - 7pm
Housing Liaison Board

Wednesday 20 November - 7pm
Yarnfield Police Meeting

Thursday 21 November - 2pm
Yardley District Committee - Committee Rooms 3 and 4, Council House (livestreamed - #bcclive)

Fri 22 November
10am - Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Committee Rooms 3 and 4, Council House
6:30pm - Surgery - Community Room, Archbishop Ilsley

Wed 27 November - 7pm
Fox Hollies Forum AGM - Fox Hollies Forum

Thu 28 November - 10am
HS2 Joint Scrutiny Committee Meeting - Committee Rooms 3 and 4, Council House (livestreamed - #bcclive)

Fri 29 November - 6:30pm
Surgery - Community Room, Archbishop Ilsley

This isn't by any means an exhaustive list of what I do - just the public meetings, although some are invitation only. 
This used to be in the sidebar, but I'm having problems posting it there. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Policing Update

The dispersal order on the Gospel Estate has been in force since the 14 October and two arrests were made within a couple of days. One was arrested for a public order offence and one for returning to the area after being ordered to leave. More positively, a number of the young people have been put forward for the November Prince's Trust course. There's also an outstanding application for funding under the Proceeds of Crime Act to support further activity. Reports of an aggressive beggar in the village are being tackled through anti-social behaviour legislation. 

Total recorded crime is up 20% year on year to date - but at the end of September, it was up 26%, so inroads are being made. Within that figure, burglaries are up 100%, robbery down 3%, vehicle crime up 9.9%. In September, there were nine burglaries - six of which happened overnight, which is an unusually high number to happen overnight. Six were burgled through the rear of the property, two from the front and one through the garage. Of those nine burglaries - four were properties left insecure. Robberies dropped by four last month, with just two recorded. Finally, there were 14 thefts from motor vehicles - two were left insecure with doors unlocked, two were incidents of number plate theft, five where goods were left on show (laptops and satnavs prove tempting) and one was a case of a digger on a trailer being stolen. 

Over recent weeks, a lot of effort has been focused on the Gospel Estate, with the additional patrols from other departments within the police, including traffic and the operational support unit. Even the firearms unit have been on the patch, but that hasn't been because of a need for their particular skills - just that officers not required elsewhere have been called to help out with high visibility patrols. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Acocks Green Ward Committee Report

A surprisingly busy agenda to get through last week.

Acocks Green Conservation Area
There have been plans to establish another conservation area in Acocks Green for a number of years and it looks like it could be getting closer. A conservation area allows greater control over the look of a defined area, because it has special historical or architectural value. This is given weight when planning applications are decided and permitted development rights are also usually withdrawn, requiring the owner to seek planning permission (for which there is no charge). It doesn't mean that changes can't be made, rather that special consideration is given before they are approved.

We already have one around the Three Magpies on School Road, which is a fine example of a 1930s' pub and is surrounded by housing of the period. The area around Arden Road, Sherbourne Road and along the Yardley Road to the junction with Douglas Road represents the development of Acocks Green as a railway suburb of Birmingham in the period around the turn of the 19th/20th century (when it was still in Worcestershire).

Thanks to government cutbacks, Birmingham only has two conservation specialists remaining in our planning department and the city council isn't able to progress new proposals, so a local group have retained Joe Holyoak - a specialist - to progress the proposal to the point where the city council can take a decision. Hopefully, we should be able to go out to consultation early in the New Year with the local community and we could see a decision by the City Council cabinet by summer 2014.

Environmental Health Feedback
We had a brief from Kate Stanley, our ward EHO, where we talked about fly tipping, litter and whether we have the power to carry out enforcement action against the Canals and Rivers Trust.

Service Reviews
We're continuing to look at the services that the council offers, in the light of ongoing government cuts and we need your views. What should we stop doing? What should we prioritise? As a council, we have to live within the money provided by the government - raising council tax to fill the gap isn't an option. Your views inform this process, so that we can come back with a detailed budget proposal for 2014/15.

Find more details here. 

Planning Applications
Current applications were discussed and it was agreed that the committee would object to the new proposal for 20 Dudley Park Road (2013/07567/PA).

Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum
The annual grant was approved for this local group, which is an excellent example of a residents' association in the ward - although it actually stretches over into South Yardley across to the east side of the canal.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Planning Applications to the 26 October 2013

Just one to work with.

2013/07403/PA - 1228 Warwick Road, Acocks Green, B27 6PL
Erection of two storey side and rear and single storey front 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.

Changes to green waste collections for 2014

The last green waste collections this year will be in the fortnight between the 15 and 29 November, depending on your normal collection day.

Collections will restart in the fortnightly cycle beginning the 24 February 2014. This will no longer be a free service - we simply can't afford to maintain it, thanks to swingeing government cuts.

You have to sign up to the scheme online and if you do so before 15 November 2013, you will only have to pay £30. Signing up afterwards will cost £35 and this price will apply until the 31 July 2014, when the price drops to £17.50 for the remainder of the year. .

We'll provide 20 collections over the collection season in 2014 - February to November. Most properties will be supplied with a wheeled bin, but some properties may be deemed unsuitable and will be supplied with 60 special green bags for the year.

You will also be able to take green waste to our Household Recycling Centres at no cost.

The best option for your green waste is to compost it at home - that cuts out all the carbon emissions from transporting it. You can get some advice on it here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Warm Homes Discount - Apply now!

The Warm Homes Discount scheme replaced the social tariffs that suppliers used to offer for their most vulnerable customers. It is a £135 credit on your electricity bill, usually paid during the spring for the precedin
g winter. There are two groups - the core group, who get the credit automatically and the broader group, who will have to apply and meet criteria set by their energy supplier. The major suppliers are all signed up to the scheme, but the smaller suppliers can opt in if they wish. It is credited to the electricity account as virtually everybody eligible will have an electricity mains connection, while rural customers are unlikely to have a mains gas connection.

You can still get the credit even if you are on a pay as you go or prepay meter. 

You may also need to be a customer of the same supplier when you apply and when you receive the credit. Check on this if you plan on switching in between. 

CORE GROUP
This year, if you were a pensioner on 20 July 2013, you can qualify for a warm home discount if you are either:
  • under 75 and only get the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit – not the Savings Credit part
  • 75 or over and get the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit - even if you also get the Savings Credit part.
Your name or your partner’s name must be on your electricity bill, and your energy company must be taking part in the Warm Home Discount scheme.

The Department for Work and Pensions share their data with the energy suppliers, so the suppliers should be told who forms part of the core group. If you fall into this group, you should have a letter confirming eligibility during the autumn. If you don't get one, contact your supplier.

BROADER GROUP
Unfortunately, this requires you to apply to your energy supplier. Each of them can set their own qualifying conditions and there will be a limited number of discounts available. Apply as early as possible! Follow the links below for details of each supplier's scheme.

Atlantic
British Gas or Scottish Gas
EDF
e.On
Equipower or Equigas (Ebico)
First Utility
M&S Energy - call 0800 072 7222 as their website is very unhelpful
nPower
Sainsburys Power (supplied by British Gas)
Scottish Hydro
Scottish Power
Southern Electric
SSE - 0800 980 8831 as they offer another unhelpful website
SWALEC

Generally, these suppliers will have filled their allocation by the end of January each year.



Friday, October 25, 2013

Road repairs - Shirley Road


And still we resurface the roads - Shirley Road from Olton Boulevard to the Warwick Road (into the Green).

The work is scheduled to start during the week of the 18-22 November 2013. It is expected to take up to five days and the crews will be working on site on weekdays between 9:30am and 4pm. Amey will put signs on the road to confirm the precise start date.

As vehicles can't drive over hot tarmac, the section of the road affected will be closed to all traffic while surfacing is being carried out.

Please check with bus operators regarding diversions.

If you require access for medical/personal reasons, you can contact Amey on 0121 303 6644 (option 2), to discuss how access can be arranged. Pedestrian access will be maintained as well as access for emergency vehicles. That number can also be used for any other questions that you might have. 

During working hours, it will not be possible to park on the road. Cars left will have to be removed and this may incur a cost to the registered keeper. There are also likely to be speed and width restrictions while the work is carried out, as well as road closures. 

Sorry for the inconvenience, but this work needs to be done and is usually completed well within the time allocated. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Acocks Green Library Update

Another site meeting yesterday and another progress report.

The top roof is now almost complete and delivery of the first set of three replacement skylights is due within the week. The new double-glazing units are coated to reflect heat, so will offer additional energy saving over the current plain glass panels.

Weather has taken about three days' work out of the project so far, but there is enough slack at the moment so that the repairs should complete on time before Christmas. It is not likely, however, given the time for handover and recommissioning of the library, that it will reopen to the public until after Christmas.

Time to switch governments.


Consultation - Bus route changes through Acocks Green

CENTRO/Network West Midlands are reviewing some of the bus routes that currently operate through Acocks Green. You can find full details of their proposals affecting all routes here, but in summary, here are the ones around Acocks Green:

2/3 - City Centre - Yardley Wood - Warstock - Maypole - Shirley - Acocks Green
Problem/Idea: It has been suggested that instead of travelling into the City Centre via the Stratford Road, one or both of these routes should operate via Wake Green Road
Options: Either or both services could operate on a changed route via Moseley. Replacement local services would then operate between the City Centre, Stoney Lane, Showell Green Lane and Sparkhill. Route changes between the City Centre and Sparkhill.

3 - City Centre - Yardley Wood - Slade Lane - Gospel Oak - Acocks Green
Problem/Idea: Only a small number of people travel to Acocks Green on this service and it only touches the edge of the shopping area in Shirley
Options: Change the route so that the 3 serves more of Shirley High Street instead of Acocks Green. The route could then serve the Green Business Park (off Dog Kennel Lane) or extend to Solihull. By making this change to the 3, they could introduce a new express bus service between Shirley, Gospel Oak, Acocks Green and the City Centre. This route could be operated via Yardley Road and then the Small Heath Highway. Alternatives would be via Kings Road or Golden Hillock Road.

31/31A - City Centre - Stratford Road - Acocks Green - Shirley/Solihull
Problem/Idea: They are looking an option to change these services so that all buses operate through to Solihull - every 15 minutes during the day.
Options: Would it be better for all buses to operate via Stratford Road between Robin Hood Island and Shirley (like the 31A) or via Streetsbrook Road and Olton Road (like the 31). We would also like to know whether our customers would like a faster service between Gospel Oak and Birmingham City Centre.

If you have views on this, you can either submit them through the web page; by email or by attending one of the exhibitions:
Sat 2 November 9am - 3pm - High Street, Birmingham city centre
Tuesday 12 November 12pm - 6pm - by Marks and Spencer in Solihull town centre

The consultation ends on the 15 November 2013 and any agreed changes are likely to start in February 2014.

Feel free to copy me in on your views too. A little more detail would be helpful, but the implication of these proposals is that 3 would cease to serve Acocks Green, but that a new route would be created running from Shirley, past the Gospel Oak, through Acocks Green and on to the City Centre on a fast route.

20s Plenty Consultation Opens - have your say

Consultation has just opened on plans to reduce speed limits on 90% of Birmingham's roads.

I spoke in Council about this last year - you can read my argument in support of the change here.

Pop across to the council website, read the arguments and let us know your views.

The roll-out will take around 7 years to complete and will largely consist of 20mph limits - signed only - although a very few areas may also get zoned, with additional traffic calming measures. We will prioritise those areas where the risks are highest - that coincides with areas of deprivation - but if other areas are having improvements made (rather like the Warwick Road), then we won't waste the opportunity. This will save lives and reduce injuries.

There's also a chance to meet the project team at Fox Hollies Forum on Greenwood Avenue when they hold a drop-in session on Wednesday 13 November between 3pm and 7pm.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Update on Acocks Green Post Office

The Post Office have issued their proposals for changes in Kings Heath - the branch there is to be relocated into their WH Smiths. 

There are no current proposals for Acocks Green, so at the moment, there is no change planned. 

Diary Date - Acocks Green Ward Committee

Acocks Green Ward Committee
Wednesday 23 October 2013 - 7pm
Fox Hollies Forum, Greenwood Avenue, Acocks Green

Key items on the agenda:
  • Update on Conservation area
    • Our conservation architect specialist will be attending
  • Service Reviews
  • Environmental health update
  • Planning Applications

Planning Applications to the 19 October

Just another two.

2013/07625/PA - 9 Greswolde Park Road, Acocks Green, B27 6QD
Erection of two-storey and single story rear extensions.

2013/07748/PA - 254 The Avenue, Acocks Green, B27 6NU
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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Road resurfacing - Broom Hall Grove, Fanshawe Road, Liddon Grove

More roads in Acocks Green are to be resurfaced -
Broom Hall Grove from Broom Hall Crescent to roundabout
Fanshawe Road from Circular Road to Pool Farm Road
Liddon Grove from Nailstone Crescent to the school gates

Cracks and joints in the concrete roads will be repaired.

The work is scheduled to start during the week of the 28 October - 1 November 2013. It is expected to take up to five days and the crews will be working on site on weekdays between 8am and 6pm. Amey will put signs on the roads to confirm the precise start date.

As vehicles can't drive over hot tarmac, the section of the roads affected will be closed to all traffic while surfacing is being carried out.

If you require access for medical/personal reasons, you can contact Amey on 0121 303 6644 (option 2), to discuss how access can be arranged. Pedestrian access will be maintained as well as access for emergency vehicles. That number can also be used for any other questions that you might have. 

During working hours, it will not be possible to park on the roads. Cars left will have to be removed and this may incur a cost to the registered keeper. There are also likely to be speed and width restrictions while the work is carried out, as well as road closures. 

Sorry for the inconvenience, but this work needs to be done and is usually completed well within the time allocated. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Diary Date - Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Friday 18 October 2013 - 10am
Committee Rooms 3 and 4
And you can now watch online here.

Key items on the agenda:
  • Examination of sustainability aspects of developing successful and inclusive communities.
This is a rather briefer agenda than usual as this meeting was originally planned to discuss other items that have had to be relocated elsewhere in the year's agenda. You can find out more about the service reviews in general here

Planning Applications to 12 October 2013

A couple to be playing with this week

2013/07567/PA - 20 Dudley Park Road, Acocks Green, B27 6QR
Erection of 3 storey detached block using roof space to provide 7 assisted living flats (Use Class C3).
This is a return of an application from the Christadelphian Care Homes. The Ward Committee objected to the last application, chiefly because the bulk of the building overpowered others in the street. Have a look at the plans online. The previous application was 2013/00728/PA. This new application looks to be more in keeping with neighbouring properties and does not appear so dominant, but let's hear your thoughts.

2013/07583/PA - 208 School Road, Hall Green, B28 8PD
Alterations to roof with dormer window to rear and erection of replacement detached double garage to rear.
Note - this falls within the School Road Conservation area

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.

Licensing Applications to the 16 October 2013

Applications have been made for the following:

A premises license for P News and Convenience Store, 2 Shaftmoor Lane, B27 7RS
Planned opening hours for the store are 0530-2200 every day and they are applying for an off-sales license to run from 0800-2200 every day. Comments should be sent by the 24 October 2013, ref application 84046

The Red Lion pub, 1145 Warwick Road, B27 6RA has an application in for:
Live music/recorded music/dance and anything similar; films; indoor sporting events; off sales - 0700-0000 Sun to Thurs, 0700-0100 Fri-Sat
Trading times - 0700-0030 Sun to Thurs, 0700-0130 Fri-Sat
Late night refreshment - 2300-0000 Sun to Thurs, 2300-0100 Fri-Sat
Comments should be sent in by the 4 November 2013, ref application 84162.

The Dubella Lounge, rear of 1145 Warwick Road, B27 6RA (note this is behind the pub) has an application in for the following:
Live music/recorded music/dance and anything similar; films; trading times; indoor sporting events and off sales - 0700-2300 every day.
Comments should be sent in by the 4 November 2013, ref application 84170

Details of the licensing team can be found here.

Comments can be sent by post to:
Licensing Section, Crystal Court, Aston Cross Business Village, 50 Rocky Lane, Aston, B6 5RQ
By email to
licensing@birmingham.gov.uk
or you can call them on 0121 303 9896

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Road repairs - Gospel Lane

A major resurfacing project is coming up - Gospel Lane from Olton Boulevard East to Lakey Lane (the whole of the ward border). 

The work is scheduled to start during the week of the 21- 25 October 2013. It is expected to take up to FOUR weeks and the crews will be working on site on weekdays between 9:30am and 4pm. Amey will put signs on the road to confirm the precise start date.
[EDIT - note change in duration of work and working hours]

As vehicles can't drive over hot tarmac, the section of the road affected will be closed to all traffic while surfacing is being carried out.

Please check with bus operators regarding diversions.

If you require access for medical/personal reasons, you can contact Amey on 0121 303 6644 (option 2), to discuss how access can be arranged. Pedestrian access will be maintained as well as access for emergency vehicles. That number can also be used for any other questions that you might have. 

During working hours, it will not be possible to park on the road. Cars left will have to be removed and this may incur a cost to the registered keeper. There are also likely to be speed and width restrictions while the work is carried out, as well as road closures. 

Sorry for the inconvenience, but this work needs to be done and is usually completed well within the time allocated. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Road repairs - Bretton Road, Easton Grove, Helstone Grove, Netley Grove

More roads in Acocks Green are to be resurfaced -
Bretton Road from Olton Boulevard East to Gospel Lane
Easton Grove from Severne Road to the end
Helstone Grove from Holcombe Road to the end
Netley Grove from Olton Boulevard West to the end at No 20

Cracks and joints in the concrete road will be repaired.

The work is scheduled to start during the week of the 21- 25 October 2013. It is expected to take up to five days and the crews will be working on site on weekdays between 8am and 6pm. Amey will put signs on the road to confirm the precise start date.

As vehicles can't drive over hot tarmac, the section of the road affected will be closed to all traffic while surfacing is being carried out.

If you require access for medical/personal reasons, you can contact Amey on 0121 303 6644 (option 2), to discuss how access can be arranged. Pedestrian access will be maintained as well as access for emergency vehicles. That number can also be used for any other questions that you might have. 

During working hours, it will not be possible to park on the road. Cars left will have to be removed and this may incur a cost to the registered keeper. There are also likely to be speed and width restrictions while the work is carried out, as well as road closures. 

Sorry for the inconvenience, but this work needs to be done and is usually completed well within the time allocated. 

Diary Date - Partnership, Contract Performance and the Third Sector Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Partnership, Contract Performance and the Third Sector Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Monday 14 October 2013 - 10am
Committee Rooms 3 and 4
And you can now watch online here.

Key items on the agenda:
  • Report of the Deputy Leader, Cllr Ian Ward
  • Report of the Cabinet Member for Commissioning, Contracting and Improvement, Cllr Stewart Stacey
  • Health of the Third Sector Report Tracking
  • Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC)
  • Work Programme for rest of year

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Diary Date - Full Council Meeting

Full Council
Tuesday 8 October 2013 - 2pm
Council Chamber, Council House
And you can now watch online here.

Key items on the agenda:
  • Question Time
    • Members of the Public to any Cabinet Member or District Committee Chair
    • Any Councillor to Committee Chair or Lead Member
    • Councillors other than Cabinet Members to Cabinet Member
    • Councillors other than Cabinet Members to Leader or Deputy Leader
  • Report of Executive
    • Leader of the Council
    • Amendments of Terms of Reference for WM Joint Committee
    • Creation of Joint Scrutiny Committee for Supervisory Board for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Proposed Changes to the Constitution
    • Extending full council meetings to 7pm
    • Time for motions to the council to be extended to 90m from 60m
    • Members of the public seeking to ask questions should attend in person to ask or the question and answer will be circulated in writing
  • Motions for Debate
    • LibDem motion about free school meals and the joy of a coalition government
    • Labour motion on the bedroom tax
    • Tory motion on asking the govt to reconsider decision to disband 2nd Btn Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the successors to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Nothing controversial on there....

Monday, October 07, 2013

Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum

Another well-attended meeting of this group, which gathers at the Baptist Church on Yardley Road and it was particularly good to see some new residents - including one couple who had only moved in that day and another who had been here for about five weeks.

We had a couple of council officers there - Noel from Fleet and Waste and Paul from Highways. This ensured a lively discussion on bins, litter, green waste and various highways issues. Cllr Stacey and I supported the officers, explaining the politics behind the decisions that have been taken and reassuring residents about some of the more outlandish claims that have been made. I also had the chance to explain the reality behind our financial position, a case I can't make too often. One resident was under the impression that she be required to have her wheeled bin cleaned on a monthly basis at her own cost - I was delighted to explain the truth behind that little false fact. Cllr Stacey also updated residents on the future of our leisure centres and swimming pool, again laying to rest some of the scaremongering that has been going on.

There was also a discussion about the LSTF plans for the Warwick Road and the working of the Amey contract to maintain our roads. I was able to update those present on the progress towards getting the remaining stretch of Yardley Road resurfaced, which is on course for the next six months or so.

I always enjoy those meetings and this was no exception.



Planning Applications to 4 October 2013

Nothing at all last week and just one this week:

2013/06848/PA - Ninestiles School, Hartfield Crescent, B27 7QG
Erection of single storey side extension and installation of external cladding.

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.

Gagging Bill Update - meeting with John Hemming MP

I had a tremendous volume of comments from constituents on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which is currently going through parliament and reaches the report stage this week. On Saturday, I had a meeting with John Hemming MP, who has so far supported the Bill. 



The campaign group 38 Degrees has been organising a number of public meetings with MPs to express this broad concern. Unlike his LibDem colleague Julian Huppert, who has agreed to attend a public meeting in Cambridge, Hemming declined to attend a meeting planned for later this month and instead organised his own meeting last Saturday. Conveniently, he didn't confirm the location or time until lunchtime on Friday and also then decided to close attendance to those who had already expressed an interest. A contact made me aware of the meeting and I went along - I'm a constituent myself and as an elected representative, I have to raise the views of my constituents. 

UPDATED - John hasn't refused to attend a future meeting. 

When I arrived, a member of John's staff recognised me, asked me to take a seat and we started with two other constituents present, although three more turned up during the assigned hour. As John had originally limited attendance to 17, my presence did not deprive anyone of a seat and the other attendees were happy for me to stay. We had what I thought was a reasonable and good-humoured discussion of the issues around the bill, largely focussing on section two, which deals with the impact on charities. John has agreed to take back a request to increase the registration level back to £10,000, but he's not looking at increasing spending limits and/or asking that the range of activities be reduced or more clearly drawn. Sadly, he was very dismissive of the value of the legal opinions obtained on the bill - from a specialist solicitor and a QC, although John's own performance in the legal system is rather chequered

That hasn't stopped John spending a surprising amount of time calling me a gatecrasher and accusing me of preventing others from talking to their MP. I've Storifyed the twitter exchange. Really, this is a classic case of the standard LibDem technique of playing the man not the ball. All the more peculiar in that he has written that it is a "basic freedom of speech is to be able to speak to your MP about a subject" and he was happy to use parliamentary privilege to bust a super-injunction. Indeed, he even managed to get some publicity shortly after he was first elected about defending freedom of speech. All the more peculiar that he would be so happy to support this repressive measure.  

Why are the LibDems so eager to support the bill? The photograph illustrates why. They are running scared of students seeking vengeance and the trade unions. As Unlock Democracy's Alexandra Runwick put it
"It is explicitly partisan and is now being rushed through Parliament with very little scrutiny. Huge uncertainty is being created both for the voluntary sector and for the Electoral Commission. As its stands the proposals will have a chilling effect on campaigning
The Bill requires the registration of consultant lobbyists, but not in-house lobbyists - it exempts 80% of the lobbying business and ignores 90% of what lobbying firms do on a regular basis. Ministers and senior civil servants currently release records of meetings with lobbyists from particular firms, but we don't know who the consultants work for. The bill should at least put this right, but along the way it also introduces controls over other third parties and increases regulation of trade unions. The genius is that it won't stop those with power gaining privileged access, it won't stop Lynton Crosby being in a position with the capacity to influence government policy, but it is likely to prevent charities and campaigning groups from carrying out their role. This government, true to form, has failed to stand up to power. 

Labour's shadow leader of the Commons, Angela Eagle, has said that 
"we are clear that this is no way near enough. Labour remains concerned about a wide range of the Bill's proposals which would have a chilling effect on the quality of the national debate. The Government is using this legislation to try to insulate themselves against legitimate criticism in the run up to an election"
It regulates a tiny part of lobbying activity, but could gag charities, trade unions, residents' groups and even bloggers by imposing spending limits on campaigning in the year PRIOR to a regulated election. A regulated election would certainly be a general election, but could include elections to the devolved assemblies, the European Parliament or even local authorities, if parliament so decrees. Even considering general elections, although the date for the 2015 election is set, there is still a possibility that the government could collapse - this means that it is impossible to know exactly when that year actually begins. All charity expenditure would have to be considered as to whether it might be considered to fall within the law.

Imagine a campaign to save a local hospital that would naturally seek the support of local representatives or candidates. Publishing a photograph of the candidate standing beside a banner supporting the hospital would be bound to bring their activities into the regulated sphere, if it were to fall within the regulated period (and you can't know when that period will actually be). 

John Hemming thinks that charities will be unaffected by this. 



True, but that misses the point completely. At no point has anyone said that charities should be involved in party politics. They are involved in campaigns to further their charitable interests - think of Shelter, the RSPCA or the NSPCC. Along with many others, they have a considerable voice in policy discussions and rightly so. 

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations sought counsel's opinion from Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers.
An organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political (in the sense of advocating a particular party or change in the law). However, as the Charity Commission guidance CC9 explains, provided it guards its independence from political parties, a charity can undertake political campaigning or political activity in the context of supporting delivery of its charitable purposes. This can include campaigns for changes to law or policy where such change would support the charity's purposes. Although such campaigning cannot be the continuing and sole activity of the charity, it can be the only or main activity for a period of time, provided it always remains in pursuit of the charitable purposes.
The opinion also raises several cases where the barrister considers that routine campaigning activity could fall into the regulated sector and pointed out that the range of activities regulated is so broad, that charities could even end up having to include the cost of time given by volunteers in their returns, as well as more routine communications with their supporters. 

The way the bill is written, it creates vast areas of uncertainty and risk and if there is one thing that trustees and managers of charities don't like, it is risk. It is far more likely that these groups will withdraw from public engagement than risk being caught out. Remember that they can't know for sure when the regulated period will begin, so will have to assume that any potentially relevant campaigning spend is appropriately monitored. I spoke only this afternoon to somebody who works with small campaigning group and this was precisely the concern that they raised - the trustees and management would withdraw from anything connected to public policy if it brought them into this regulated environment. 

Ed Miliband asked the government to think again and Labour MPs voted against the Bill when it last came before the House. Sadly, the only two MPs in Birmingham who supported the bill and opposed Labour's amendments were Tory Andrew Mitchell in Sutton Coldfield and Tory Liberal Democrat John Hemming in Yardley. 


There is an unprecedented alliance of opposition to this bill. The Taxpayers Alliance called it "a serious threat to independent politics that will stifle free and open democratic debate." Greenpeace have described it as "the most pernicious assault on campaign groups in living memory." The British Medical Association raise concerns over freedom of expression and say that it would be "very regressive if organisations were unable to speak out about poor care in the run-up to an election." Grassroots bloggers at LabourList, ConservativeHome and LibDem Voice have criticised it and there's even been an unholy alliance of Guido Fawkes and Owen Jones in opposition. Nothing this government has done has raised this level of anger from across the entire range of the political spectrum. Even the Electoral Commission have raised concerns - they weren't consulted on their role and are worried about whether they can even enforce the law, as well as the legal challenges that they consider inevitable when action is taken. 

Given the level of concern, Andrew Lansley has agreed to amend the bill and those proposals were published on Thursday. They haven't met with universal support, however. 

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations were quick off the mark.
"The government is clearly keen to show it is listening to civil society, but these amendments don't prevent the Bill curbing freedom of speech around elections. The Bill greatly increases bureaucracy for civil society groups in the year before an election, by halving the spending thresholds above which organisations have to register with the Electoral Commission. It also drastically restricts civil society's spending on public campaigns in election years. The public wants legislation that makes politics and corporate lobbying more transparent. Instead this Bill makes almost no change to lobbying rules while punishing civil society for a loss of trust in politics that is not its fault."
The Chief Executive of the NCVO added
“the proposed amendments put forward by the government will mean that much campaigning activity by charities and other voluntary groups will still be covered by this excessively bureaucratic and burdensome regime. The amendments leave a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity. In short, many organisations including small community groups, will be required to consult the Electoral Commission before undertaking campaigning activity in an election period in order to ensure they are not falling foul of the new regulations.”
We have an unholy alliance, now we have the complete opposite, as thirteen religious groups let rip, including the Salvation Army, the Methodists, Islamic Relief, CAFOD, Reform Rabbis, the Church of Scotland, the Muslim Council of Britain, Christian Aid and the Quakers. 
"Following legal advice and a statement from the Electoral Commission, we remain concerned that despite the Government’s proposed amendments we still do not have the necessary legal certainty that Part II of this Bill could not be applied to a wide range of legitimate campaigns, despite such activities being intended to be party politically neutral. We are concerned that this Bill does not adequately safeguard the activities of religious organisations and that there is a very real risk that non-biased political activity will be captured by the resultant Act."
38 Degrees have an initial legal opinion from a solicitor, Ros Baston, who has specialised in election law. She notes that
"the changes do not assist the clarity of the proposed regulation, results in new uncertainties and do not address concerns of grassroots or charitable organisations without formal paid subscribers that communication with their own supporters will be covered."
Speaking to the Independent, she added
"It appears that the Government has been taken aback by the level of opposition and has spent the past few weeks on a headless chicken run. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in amendments that mystify more than they enlighten."
Even the lobbyists aren't happy. 
Iain Anderson, the director of the Cicero lobbying group and chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, said: "The amendments have not changed the scope of the Bill's impact on the lobbying industry. It shows that they [ministers] are not listening. There has been no change to the definition of those who lobby, and who they lobby. Rational arguments and Parliament's wider concerns are being ignored."