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