Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ward Committee Report

Last night's meeting saw us receive a briefing on Healthwatch Birmingham, a new voice for the patient in all forms of health and social care in the city.

We also agreed Community Chest funding for Fox Hollies Forum's summer programme and Millennium Green's public liability insurance premium. A £200 donation to the BID's defibrillator fund raising scheme is also likely to be approved, but in Cllr Stacey's absence and my declared interest as a director of the BID, Cllr Bowen wasn't able to approve it on the night. We were also told that Acocks Green School will be raising money towards the £1000 required to provide the public defibrillator.

We reviewed current planning applications, with objections to be submitted by the committee to proposals for a takeaway on Yardley Road - a proposal that has been previously rejected because of the lack of parking. We will also be objecting to proposals for a restaurant on the Warwick Road because of the impact on the building line and car parking. In both cases, local residents have made their concerns known to us. April's meeting saw us object to two schemes, one of which has been withdrawn by the applicant and one which has now been refused permission.

In administrative business, I was reappointed as ward committee chair and to the board of the BID and Cllr Stacey to Stockfield Community Association.  We also confirmed dates for meetings for the year ahead.

We should have the Baptist Church attending our next meeting to discuss their proposals for the Glynn Edwards Hall. Conveniently, we'll be meeting on the 4 September at the Baptist Church. Over the next month, we should also see consultation start on the Warwick Road Local Sustainable Transport Funding schemes - watch this space.

Our ward Environmental Health Officer also attended and promised increased focus on the Yardley Road and the Fox Hollies shopping centre, which have been the subject of concerns from residents over the volume of litter. She'll be focussing on making sure that all the businesses have commercial waste contracts and checking that people aren't using the litter bins to dump household waste that should be left for the bin men. She's also been making progress with Enterprise Inns, who have moved their wheeled bin from outside the empty Great Western pub. We've also asked them to remove the other litter bins at the front of the property and the concrete picnic tables. These, they are considering using to block parking on their forecourt, but the advice from the ward committee is that they find another way of doing it, as our view is that the tables will be moved. I've also asked our parking wardens to attend and deal with vehicles on the pavement, which are obstructing pedestrians.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Do you hear the people's bins?

According to yesterday's Birmingham Mail, Cllr Deirdre Alden is shocked that the council have spent £29,000 on communicating with residents about the trial roll out of the wheelie bins in Brandwood and Harborne. I'm not sure if she expected us to just drop the bins off and not tell anybody, but I'm sure she would have had something to say about that if we had.

Given that this is the biggest change in decades to how Birmingham collects rubbish from residents and that there has been some appalling scaremongering from both the opposition parties - leaping aboard the bin wagon as they scent a few votes in 2014's local elections - communication with residents is vital. Last year, the scrutiny committee that monitors waste visited Manchester to see how their system works and one thing was absolutely clear - to make a proper waste management programme work, you need to educate the residents and that means communication for it to pay the dividends that it offers. If we want the changes to Birmingham's bins to be transformative, we have to communicate to people.

Each of those wards contains around 10-11,000 properties, most of which would have required information and one of the green or red cards to advise them whether they were selected for bins or bags. The costs of that are included in that top line £29,000 figure - as are the costs of the external supplier involved in supporting the council. That is, by the way, a tiny part of the £29 million winning bid.

A couple of years back, the last administration launched changes to the bin rounds to make them more efficient and kicked off with letters to 20,000 properties in Yardley, plus a telephone hotline and website. This will take a bit more work, thanks to the aforementioned scaremongering and also because the change is that much bigger. My favourite portent of doom is the threat that residents will have to pay £93 a month to have their bins cleaned. Needless to say, that's garbage.

Nobody doubts that this is a big change for the city, nor that some people will be worried about it. There are bound to be teething problems along the way - some will be ironed out during the trial rollouts, but different issues will arise in other wards and we'll fix them. At the end of it, though, we will have a transformed bin collection operation and things will settle down. Just as they have everywhere else.

Perhaps the most interesting story was the one last week, which revealed that wheelie bins have a 14 point approval rating already (50% approve, 36% disapprove), backed up by Birmingham Mail online polls that show 64-70% support. The quiet majority are turning up the volume.

Diary Date - Acocks Green Ward Committee 19 June

Acocks Green Ward Committee
Wednesday 19 June 2013 - 7pm
Scout Hut, behind Scanlon's Club, Spring Road

There's the usual administrative stuff (election of chair, setting out meeting dates for the year ahead, etc) and the key agenda items are:
  • Election of chair
  • External appointments - Stockfield Community Association and Acocks Green BID
  • Dates of meetings for coming municipal year
  • Presentation from Healthwatch
  • Planning Applications
  • Community Chest funding
If you can make it along, this is a chance to discuss key issues in the ward - we want to hear your views. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Policing Update

We've had a run of meetings with the police team locally and the initial figures for this financial year show that total recorded crime is up 1.5% against the same period last year, which amounts to an increase of five crimes. Percentages aren't always helpful at this level, unfortunately - big percentage shifts often relate to quite a small number of offences at local level and the numbers will move up and down during the year. Overall, last year saw reported crime fall again in Yardley and our police team are targeted to improve on that again this year.

Robbery is down 36% which equates to four offences, burglaries of homes are up 64%, which relates to eleven offences of varying types - including a number of thefts of copper piping and tanks from empty rental properties. Your councillors have supported police initiatives with Community Chest funding providing window and door alarms in roads that have been affected. A number of the burglaries saw thieves enter through open windows or doors, so the police again remind everyone to keep their doors locked, even if you are in the house.

Thefts from vehicles remain a problem and is up 16%, which amounts to seven offences. Around 40% of that is theft of number plates from vehicles and these are generally used to aid in the theft of fuel from garages - particularly the Esso garage on Fox Hollies Road, which has been targetted in the past. One man has been arrested in the Sheldon area in relation to over 40 offences and police have even found vans adapted with extra tanks in the load space and an additional special fuel filler cap - this theft is on an industrial scale. Again, Community Chest funding has funded special retaining screws for officers to hand out when they visit areas that have been targeted and identify vehicles with stick on plates. Officers are also carrying out foot patrols and trying car doors - they wandered down my road the other night and found one of my neighbour's cars insecure, so knocked on the door to remind the owner.

Drivers who flout the ban on right turns out of Station Road onto Warwick Road need to be a little more careful - following a crash there where a pedestrian was seriously injured, police are paying special attention to the junction and will be warning and ticketing offenders.

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

Partnership, Contract Performance and Third Sector Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Monday 17 June 2013 - 10am
Committee Room 2, Council House.

Another meeting to kick off the new municipal year. The agenda has a number of administrative items, so just a couple of substantive matters:
  • Report of Birmingham Audit into procurement and contracts
  • Civic catering contract
  • Dates of meetings for coming municipal year

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tunnels and Bins - Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Scrutiny

Friday's scrutiny committee meeting covered a bit of ground - looking at our work plans for the year ahead and at the communications surrounding the planned closure of the St Chad's and Queensway tunnels from the 19 July for six weeks until the 2 September.

These tunnels are 40 years old and are showing their age - aren't we all? They need some in depth structural work that can't be completed without a prolonged programme of closures and have to be done by April 2014. The closures will see structural upgrades, upgrades to the fire protection systems, replacement LED lights and improvements to the general appearance. There will have to be some further closures next year to allow the installation of new emergency, control and communication systems to keep up with legislation.

The original plan was to close the tunnels for 26 weekends, which would have run into the Christmas period. Having to stop and start the works like that would have added to the delays, as the tunnels would have to be made safe in between work periods, which raised a number of health and safety issues. The alternative was a six-week full closure of the tunnels over the summer holiday period, which also has the advantage of being significantly cheaper - reducing the amount we have to pay to our highway contractor, Amey.. Traffic levels are normally down by about 20% during this period anyway and the highways team believe that diversion routes will be able to reduce the traffic by a further 15% by diverting away the through traffic either around the Birmingham motorway box or using the inner ring road. They are also encouraging people to find other methods of travel into the city during the closure period - train, bus or bike. Finally, we also need to be clear that Birmingham remains open for business during the work period.

The committee heard about the communications around this - getting stories into the local media, using Twitter and social media to spread the word and running a website, as well as working with local partners like the Hippodrome and the local business improvement districts. I did note that it seemed to lack some ambition and Cllr Quinn pointed out that the hoardings over the tunnels weren't being used to advertise the closures, which seems to be an opportunity missed.

The biggest concern, which has made the front page of the Birmingham Mail today, was that as part of the traffic management, Broad Street will be restricted on the inbound side from the Hyatt Hotel to Paradise Circus. It will remain open to buses and bikes, but cars will be prohibited. The logic behind this is correct - Paradise Circus is going to be congested with traffic escaping the tunnels and can do without the additional flow of cars from Broad Street. The problem is that this restriction hasn't been communicated at all - it isn't even mentioned on the Brumtunnels website on the alternative route suggested to Broad Street itself. Cllr Deirdre Alden (I believe there's something in the constitution that insists on us having an Alden on the committee - we had Bobby with us last year) was critical of that, but other members of the committee - including myself - were just as vocal, or "outraged" as Neil Elkes puts it. We should see some changes in the strategy as a result.

We can certainly expect increased congestion on the Inner Ring Road and in the centre of the City around the tunnels over the six week closure period and the Highways team will be carrying out what they term "dynamic traffic management." This isn't just a few blokes in a van with some cones, but includes constant CCTV monitoring of traffic and live changes to traffic signalling to try to keep the city moving as best they can during the delays. The committee will be visiting the control centre once the closures start to see how this is done.

Don't forget - the overnight closures between 10pm and 6am start this Friday 21 June. The tunnels will close completely on the 19 July and reopen on (or hopefully before) 6am on Monday 2 September. Keep an eye on the Brumtunnels website for updates

Issues coming up over the next year include wheelie bins, Birmingham Energy Savers and the Green Deal, reviewing progress on the cycling strategy, wheelie bins and completing the work on our scrutiny report "From Waste to Resource" which will help set the strategy for how Birmingham deals with waste after 2018 (that's a major piece of work). I'm also sure that wheelie bins will come up somewhere in there.