Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cycle Speedway

As local councillors we were concerned when we learned that the Birmingham Monarchs were having problems with the track in Perry Hall park especially when they failed the cycle speedway inspection. As soon as we were aware of the problem we contacted the Monarchs to find out how we could help.

We will be working to try and come up with a package of funding from the council and other organisations such as Sports England to make sure that the club is kept up and running.

There are a number of reasons why it is important to keep the club running.

Firstly, the Monarchs have a long history within Perry Barr and Birmingham and are the only club in the Birmingham area. They have a hard working team at the club that are committed to the sport.

Secondly, we have a number of young people hanging around street corners complaining that they don’t have anything to do. We have been working actively to provide more facilities for our young people in Perry Barr allowing them to have a variety of activities to choose from within the ward. Cycle speedway will have a part to play as one of those range of activities.

Thirdly, the Birmingham Brummies motorcycle speedway will be returning to Perry Barr in Birmingham and although they are different there is a link between the two sports. It would be a major disappointment to see the cycle speedway finish just as motorcycle speedway is returning.

The Leisure, Sport and Culture Overview and Scrutiny committee will be doing a review that will be looking into Sports Development within Birmingham taking into account the Olympics in 2012. The committee have identified the need for more sports facilities for our young people to promote overall health, fitness and well being.

We will also be looking at how feasible it is to get the BMX track in Perry Park up and running again.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Christmas!

I was pleased to take part in the Aston schools' carol concert at Aston Parish Church last week.

Groups of young people from primary and secondary schools throughout Aston and Nechells sang songs. This ranged from the gospel sounds of Heartlands High to a brave stab at a Partridge in a Pear Tree from a primary school in Aston. It was a wonderful multi-ethnic celebration of a special season.

Birmingham has been slandered this year as people continue to recycle the story of how Christmas was renamed Winterval several years ago. Very few of these reports make it clear that Winterval was abandoned and that, indeed, the current administration of the city council has made a point of restoring Christmas.

Indeed at the last council meeting it was a Muslim councillor who proposed the motion of "Happy Christmas" to the people of Birmingham.

Following the Aston Carol service the local councillors were at the inauguration of the new priest of St John's Church, Perry Barr, in the evening, Rev Crispin Palling.

Our colleague Ray Hassall is a cabinet member for leisure and during the speeches he made a point of emphasising the Birmingham is celebrating Christmas again.

So a happy Christmas to all in Perry Barr!


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Tree removals

This is a list of roadside trees due for removal in the ward. If you see any other tree being removed please let us know as we should have been notified of all removals. With one exception they are all dead or dying.

47/49 Curbar Road
178/180 Curbar Road
14 Curbar Road (said to have outgrown location)
subway, Booths Lane
111 Booths Lane
45 Cramlington Road

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

First zone charge petitions go in

I submitted the first 200 signatures from the petition against the congestion charge zoning to the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority today (Monday). Another 500 will be submitted to the City Council today.

They have been coming in fast and we can submit further tranches in January.

Simultaneously the Liberal Democrat group, which I lead, submitted a motion calling, amongst other things, for an alternative and workable scheme of road pricing to be submitted to the government. The government is determined the West Midlands will pioneer road charging outside London and its spokespeople, Advantage West Midlands, stated on Saturday in the Birmingham Post: "It is not a case of if but when. We are determined to be in the first wave of trials". So much for consultation!

We also continue to stress that the current public transport plans are misconceived. Buses need to take people where they want to go and need to be safe and pleasant. Continuous investment in our own A34 Walsall Road (ie plumping a Metro on top of buslanes and red route) is not going to help local people get to jobs on the A38 corridor, for instance. To do so you have to walk up the steep hill in the city centre to change buses. What nonsense, especially for professionals who may be carrying laptops late at night!

There was no chance of our motion being accepted as it was critical of the PTA leadership for its handling of the Gridlock or Growth so-called consultation and, quite seriously, of the lack of accountability of the way very large sums of money is being spent on consultants. They were asking for another £1 million today.

But we got some promises of a proper PTA debate on the matter and a good look at alternatives in the New Year. The new Centro/PTA chief executive Geoff Inskip is a bright spark, poached from Manchester, and is beginning to sort out some of the problems he has inherited. I sat on the recruitment panel. He stressed that he recognises the need for a great deal more thought about the nature of road pricing and also how investment is attracted into public transport beyond the £2 billion on offer from the government.

On the subject of congestion zones, I stressed that Gridlock or Growth had failed to offer any feasible schemes of road charging for this region. Its best idea is the congestion zones and they would be a disaster, particularly in the way they would hit the poorer suburbs of north Birmingham.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thornbridge Avenue bus shelters

One of the local papers reports the police plans for a dispersal order on Thornbridge Avenue. The aim is to target those gangs of young people who are causing a nuisance or worse - not those that are just hanging around with their friends.

A few weeks ago a new bus shelter was installed outside Bamfylde Place and the glass repeatedly smashed.

Centro should replace it with plastic - I was there when they agreed this policy - but have sent me a letter saying it has only been smashed once. So I'll be getting back to them on this.

I saw it smashed once and local residents and traders say it was smashed at least once more.


Dangerous dog-owners and some good news

The first piece of good news is that the police have interviewed someone about the dog attack in Perry Hall Park.

At the police neighbourhood meeting at Rocky Lane Methodist Church, on Thursday night the police were at pains to stress that there is no exceptional dog problem in the park.

Certainly concern about men with dogs is being reported quite widely now, not by any means just in this park. One or two residents have stated they have heard dog fighting in the park. That does not mean it is organised or routine.

There's been a lot of media coverage of the attack this week after the family decided to release a picture of Harvinder's injuries. Radio WM turned up at 7am on Tuesday morning in the half light, dragging Jon out of bed for an interview, and were a little spooked by seeing the park in this light.

The truth is it is a beautiful park, enhanced recently both by the river widening project and by the exceptional voluntary work of Norman Ball.

And the good news...The new park warden has been appointed and will undertake a couple of weeks induction before beginning full time duties in the park. He is said to be enthusiastic about his role and we all look forward to him bringing fresh ideas to this facility.

ASBOs for dumpers?

This was the idea we raised at the ward committee on Monday night with residents from the Witton end of the ward.

We were all disgusted by the state of one of the streets in the area when we are on it about ten days ago. I'm not going to name it but residents are all getting leaflets through their doors from the environmental warden.

It's not as if this is a road that's been neglected. It's been spring-cleaned and had plenty of attention from the environmental warden. The problem is there's one or two residents down there who think they can simply dump all their rubbish on the pavement. There was an enormous pile of household rubbish - not even in black bags.

So we've asked for action to be escalated. Video surveillance can be used to catch dumpers. Why not an ASBO? They're used for every other kind of public nuisance.


Queslett Road

The rapid development of the new housing estate at the St Margaret's site is causing problems.

The developers have put in their "own" set of traffic lights, granted to them by the planning inspector, blocking off Booths Lane.

This has, local residents reckon, doubled the traffic trying to turn on the Queslett Road using the opening facing Nova Court, causing not just chaos but hazards, in particular when traffic from the Scott Arms direction accelerates towards the new lights.

We had a meeting about this earlier this year with cabinet member Len Gregory and it was agreed a second set of lights would go in at Nova Court. The problem is the city council is lagging behind the developers who are proceeding at a rate of knots.

We'd asked - and thought we'd got - some temporary lights at this junction but this has turned out be impractical. I've now asked for measures to slow the traffic on the Queslett Road and also some decent markings and signs to reduce some of the confusion.

The only good news is that the manager in charge on the Birmingham side doesn't hide away so by the time it was raised on Monday night at the ward committee we had an answer and at least some assurances that new measures would be looked at. It was, understandably, raised again on Thursday night at the annual general meeting of the Booths Farm Neighbourhood Forum.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Dog attack

The three councillors returned together to Perry Avenue on Wednesday night to find two young men trapped behind the gates of Perry Hall Park.

At first it was hard to take in what had happened to them - but it rapidly became clear that they were soaked in blood and that they had suffered very real head and facial injuries.

The young men said they had been attacked by some men with a dog whilst taking a late night walk in the park following a visit to the Garden Gate pub in Handsworth Wood. They were clearly shocked and very miserable.

After calling the emergency services, we got some ladders from Jon Hunt's house and helped them get out of the park. The police arrived, promptly, as they came down the ladder. The ambulance took a little longer to arrive.

One of them is now facing major surgery in hospital and we wish him all the best for his recovery.

It appears they were attacked somewhere near where the River Tame runs under the railway, knocked to the ground with a baseball bat and then the dog set on them. The police believe it was a straightforward robbery.

Even if this is so, using a dog for this purpose is not straightforward and will confirm the fears that many people have that fierce looking dogs have become not just fashion accessories for some people but weapons of intimidation.

I know the police are reviewing the Dangerous Dogs Act which was passed about ten years ago to see what powers it gives. This will send shock waves amongst users of this park and of other public areas ( see earlier posting on Thornbridge Avenue). I just hope it does not undo the good work that is underway in deploying local officers, such as park wardens, neighbourhood police, police community support officers and our ward's environmental warden to try to make our public places feel safer and more pleasant for users.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


How is it going?

We have been contacted by some residents with questions about recycling and will be posting further details in the near future.

Let us know what you think about the scheme.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Grit Bins

Do you need a grit bin on your road? We have another five to put out this winter in Perry Barr ward.

Over the last couple of years we've managed to get bins to most of the danger spots, especially those that had lost bins when they were cut back a few years ago.

If your road tends to be forgotten please let us know.

Thornbridge Avenue

The police confirmed today they are looking for a dispersal order on Thornbridge Avenue.

We're giving it qualified support as this area needs respite. A big effort has been made to try to keep things calm here but problems continue to crop up. In particular recently new bus shelters have been vandalised.

The youth service is concerned that local young people meeting their friends will be victimised. The police assure us their aim is to deal with the real troublemakers, including a number of groups who have been bringing dogs that appear to be quite aggressive.

Alongside this plans to reopen the youth "pod" on Hassop Road are well advanced. All we are waiting for is an electrician to connect the electricity.
This will enable the youth service to take young people off the streets and give them a haven.

This came up at the Perry Barr Neighbourhood Tasking Group which is a newish body, aiming to push forward some of the things that everybody knows needs doing. It seems to be working as the aim is that people should do things between meetings rather than just talking about them.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Perry Hall Park

The SMURF project reshaped the River Tame through Perry Hall Park, widening its banks and making it wildlife friendly.

Upriver there was quite a wide lake created with shingle beaches. When I first saw this the river was flowing fast through the lake and it seemed unlikely many wildfowl would settle there.

Consequently when somebody flung a shopping trolley in I had mixed feelings - as I had some hopes it would create an island on which birds could nest.

I went to look at the lake yesterday and in the last few weeks it has changed. The river has carved a course through the shingle beach, leaving an island which is gathering mud and I think will soon start growing plants.

Somebody has thrown in something that looks like an industrial trolley. A separate island is forming from a branch and a coot seems to be settling there. Nothing has happened to the shopping trolley and I think it is time it was removed - before next year's nesting season.

So it is possible that an area of reeds and marshland will develop in the middle of the lake around the shingle island - or even an archipelago, a cluster of islands, with the river flowing round the edges.

We had more about SMURF at last Thursday's Perry Barr distict committee. It has moved on to the bureaucratic phase of reshaping planning rules to try to limit exposure to flooding.

That will not solve current problems, like the tendency of the culvert that runs from St Margaret's alongside the motorway through Perry Park to flood.


Wheelie bad idea

Here's a headline we've used on our Focus a few times.

The issue has been stirred up again because apparently a scrutiny committee has been pressing for wheelie bin pilots to be allowed in some areas.

Advocates of wheelie bins tend to try to link them to recycling. In this area we know it's not the case as we have been pioneering Birmingham's recycling scheme - without recourse to these monster bins.

In case anyone's in doubt, these three councillors will continue to resist vigorously the introduction of wheelie bins. It's all very well to talk about pilots but we know what happens in those circumstances - complicated schemes get introduced which lead to people in Great Barr losing out.

Not just the paths to the houses but some of our roads are incredibly steep. We would see bins lying on their side.

There is a need for continuous education about disposal of rubbish - but that appears to apply with wheelie bins too. Hence threats of prosecution for people who put the wrong items in bins.

Some people continue to misuse the new recycling facilities in this area. Others are understandably confused as the programme has been rolled out with amazing speed this year - first green bags and then, for many households, boxes for plastic, cans and bottles. But most people have taken to the new facilities with enthusiasm and the majority of complaints we get are from people who have been excluded from the scheme.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

More on those toll road plans

Quite a few calls are coming in about the congestion charging proposals now as their enormity sinks in. People are calling for additional petition forms too.

One or two have asked for more information and the full report can be found here. Details of the zone charging "example" are in chapter six.

The deadline for responses is much sooner than I had realised and is December 30th. It is likely there will be a second round of consultation following this.

So we need petitions back by the beginning of December!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Road charges and youth

Two discussions of interest to me and to this area at the city council today.

The first was a report about West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority.

I spoke and expressed my alarm at the handling of the congestion charging proposals. They are meant to be out to consultation for public debate - but there is precious little sign of the public being involved.

As things stand the proposals would mean tolls on Beeches Road, Thornbridge Avenue, Queslett Road, Aldridge Road and Brookvale Road - all along the line of the M6. They would divide communities and penalise this area. In addition our PTA group does not think the proposals do nearly enough to improve bus services.

We are circulating a petition on Focus so please sign it if you get a copy.

After the meeting I read in the Evening Mail that Len Gregory had committed our coalition to oppose the charges. He doesn't think a workable system can be devised. All the indications are the government is relying on the West Midlands agreeing to something - and is pushing for it sooner rather than later.

Most local people who have taken it in are staggered by the proposals. Yet it's one of those things that will happen if it's not nipped in the bud.

The second topic was a major report on youth services produced by members of the education scrutiny committee and by a group of young people.

At last arrangements for youth are starting to come together in our area. The youth club at Trehurst is open most of the time and is thriving - after the community centre spent about two years battling with red tape to get their work done. Similarly the "Pod" on Hassop Road is about to open its doors. That will enable the youth service to get local young people off the streets - and where their lives are in turmoil ensure they get what was described by one of the young people at today's council meeting as a "second chance". It's good that we have active police teams on the streets now but for most young people, once they start hanging out on the streets, it would be better if their first encounter could be with the youth service rather than the police.


Friday, November 03, 2006

20 mph limits

Two discussions yesterday about speeding traffic, one with the district engineers, one with the Booths Farm Neighbourhood Watch.

The problem with speeding on residential roads is that invariably traffic is going at average speeds of 30mph. But 30 mph is too fast when you cannot see whether children are running out between park cars. And it also encourages bad drivers to accelerate fast up to 30mph or a little over it. So the authorities may say a road is safe when residents know it is not.

I want to pursue the idea of getting 20 mph limits again. Highways are concerned that they may be unenforcable but from our discussions yesterday three conditions emerged:

1/ the police need to be committed to enforcing them;
2/ there need to be physical measures to slow traffic also;
3/ a whole estate is unenforcable but a smaller area, say around a school, is easier.

Because of neighbourhood policing, the police have identified traffic safety as something they need to get involved in, so I would be more hopeful of support for enforcement.

In many of these areas, and the Booths Farm/Calshot School area is one, physical measures are in place, not always terribly successfully.

It was also pointed out that straight double yellow lines create straight routes for speeders. That's another reason to press on with the policy of removing yellow lines and we, as local councillors, must continue to press for the programme to come to our area. Many of the roads have changed enormously with the spread of drop kerbs and it is quite wrong that residents should be fined (as they are) for parking off-road and off-pavement on their own drop kerb.


Baltimore Road

A 'summit' meeting this afternoon with Cllr Len Gregory, cabinet member for highways and a number of senior officers about the menace of heavy lorries trying to access business sites on Baltimore Road.

There is a haulage company operating there unlawfully and they have been responsible for a great deal of damage since moving in in March.

Some 15 bollards were installed following a site meeting a few weeks ago and four of those have already been removed.

It seems as though they gave the green light to other businesses to start using juggernauts for deliveries. The Highways Department does not believe these side roads are suitable for these vehicles, neither do I nor the local residents.

The good news is that the illegal business has been told to move by planning officials. Enforcement action will begin in a few days time IF they have not managed to make arrangements to move.

The meeting was attended by Clive Dutton, the director who heads both planning and economic development and he is going to get his officers to organise a business forum down there.

I have been quite forthright in the local papers that I don't believe any business operating down there needs regular deliveries by juggernaut. There are many, many small engineering companies using white vans and trucks for distribution. I once knew a guy who supplied JCB digger scoops from the back of an estate car.

If I were a business operating down there I would be worried by all this controversy so we are hoping a forum can help the businesses secure their own future by behaving responsibly.

In addition highways promised they will work closely with the local school, Dorrington, to get a Safe Routes scheme in. That will attract upwards of £20,000 for road safety works. The school began this a couple of years ago and even walked round the block - and I joined them - to demonstrate their commitment. Having juggernauts getting stuck on the estate and trying to turn round and find their way is a serious hazard for the young children who use this school.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Advice bureaux/ the street environment

Two advice bureaux last night as it was the first Wednesday of the month. The first at 6pm at Witton Community Centre and the second, the weekly one, at 7pm at Beeches Road Neighbourhood Office.

One very interesting discussion with a gentleman who wants to install a drop kerb without taking out the conker tree in front of his house. This is the sort of person we want to encourage and indeed Ray Hassall was instrumental last year in proposing new city policies to put an end to the decimation of our trees. This week's deeply alarming climate report is just one reason why we must keep our mature trees. Another is the regular flooding in neighbourhoods such as the Turnberry Road shops.

This resident has been out with his tape measure and has plenty of space for his drive, well clear of the tree. So we were shocked to hear that he was told by council staff that the tree must go because it is within three metres of his drive. I first wrote to the department about this one month ago and am still awaiting a reply.

One of the problems we find is that over time officers develop practices and then claim them as policy that has been agreed by the council.

Len Gregory the cabinet member has been helpful in challenging this several times, pointing out that he has never approved such policies. Quite often there is no evidence his predecessors ever did either.

As a result he has put an end to another piece of lunacy, the ban on installing "no parking on the grass verge" staves. This was allegedly because they might pose a hazard to pedestrians or drivers who accidentally came off the road. They are now being made available for residents who want to protect the grass in front of their own homes. That is the correct policy. Some of these people may well plant flowers, as was happening in one area a few years ago until the jobsworths moved in. I was pleased to get confirmation from an officer yesterday that the first of these staves is being reinstalled in front of one elderly resident's home.


School places

Interesting discussion on school places today at the education scrutiny committee which I chair.

Some of the statistics are misleading. In short Perry Barr ward has 156 surplus places at its five primary schools. That is fairly average and not a cause for alarm - although it can make life a little tough for governing bodies which cannot fill all their places. But we are sandwiched between a number of suburbs where school numbers are dropping quite fast and inner city wards where there is pressure on places. Oscott ward has nearly 200 surplus places, most of those in one school in Kingstanding.

The figures for secondary school are not easy to make sense of although they do give some indication of demand for school places. For instances Great Barr School, technically, has 317 more pupils than it has space for while Perry Beeches has (or had) 14 spare places.

If school numbers fall it can become hard for governors to balance budgets. But if schools are closed, a surplus of places may rapidly become a shortage. So the city's policy now is to avoid school closures so far as possible as there are frequently other steps that can be taken to improve viability.

As a city Birmingham is in an unusual situation in that the birth rate has risen dramatically in the last four years. That means a new primary school in the inner city and extra places when many of the secondary schools are rebuilt.

I'm currently in the throes of completing a report on the admissions system and parents are being consulted about what they think of the way it works. Although we (the council's scrutiny department) have distributed some 1,000 surveys scientifically, you can submit your own views on-line. The on-line survey will be available for a few more days, so hurry if you have any comments.

Jon Hunt

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Park warden

Quite a lot of discussion about the imminent arrival of Perry Hall Park's new park warden at the ward advisory board last night.

It was disappointing that the warden was not in place for the summer as the post has been planned for some time.

We hope to see the warden at the next ward advisory board meeting in early January. My point is that the warden can use the winter months to meet community groups and pick up on outstanding issues - of which there are many.

A lot of questions about their job description and whether there is a difference between a park warden and a park ranger. Also questions about whether they will have access to a loo or have to walk to the Alexander Stadium.

The department seem very pleased about their appointment. A good warden will have an opportunity to get a lot of things moving. There is a great deal of support and affection for this park and a lot of volunteer effort that can be harnessed.

As part of that the board also agreed to support a £1,000 community chest grant to the local dog-walking group Bark For the Park. The group will hold the money for Norman Ball, the volunteer who looks after what is now an ornamental moat. Originally I understand this was a boating moat. Thanks to Norman's efforts it is now a haven for wildfowl and an attractively maintained feature. He had a grant a few years ago and this effectively tops it up.

Also agreed a grant of £1,000 to Booths Farm Neighbourhood Forum. This tops up a previous grant for dealing with gating issues but they will now increasingly get involved in ensuring alley-gate locks are maintained and replaced if damaged.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Planning Applications

Information about recent Birmingham planning applications are available on the council website at Planning Online.

Planning Online allows you to search by application number, the application status, type, decision type, district, ward, location, applicant, agent, date registered etc.

If you need more information contact the planning department on 303 1115.


This site will be used to provide even more information to residents.

Please keep checking back to find out what is happening in Perry Barr.