Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jan 1st - B-Day!

The way our bin bags are collected in the Perry Barr area will change on January 1st - and we hope for the better.

If it works, there'll be no more sticking bags out on the verge, maybe less of foxes, cats, squirrels and drunks breaking them open and hopefully less litter left behind after the crews come round.

From this date crews will be instructed they must collect bags and recycling boxes from the front of residents' properties - that includes the old-fashioned bin of course.

Residents should be getting leaflets over the New Year period informing them of this - and advising them that they no longer need to put bags out on the verges.

Strictly speaking this is no change - the crews have always been required to collect from the property. But, of course, once bags started going out on the verge, those few people who insisted on their right not to put them out increasingly found themselves missed out - so everybody put out their rubbish and even official advice started telling them to.

So what's been organised is a "big bag bang" approach. Residents will keep the bags on their properties and the crews will have no excuse not to go looking for them.

We'll have to see how it goes. No doubt there will be teething problems - as there always are when anything changes.

The exercise is being applied across the Perry Barr constituency, we understand - that includes Perry Barr, Oscott, Handsworth Wood and Lozells wards. Obviously where the housing is terraced and has no front gardens, such as the Yew Tree estate, this won't be possible.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Councillors in action

Earlier this year Jon Hunt led a scrutiny consultation with parents about the future of special education.

A report was produced on the consultation and Jon presented its findings to the city council in October. It's helping to shape the review of special education that is taking place and showed how valued are the facilities are in many of these highly specialist schools - as well as areas for improvement.

This became the first city council debate ever to be videoed and so provides an opportunity to for people to see what councillors get up to in the council chamber. The video is an edited version of the debate but shows all speakers, including Ray Hassall who also spoke. You can view it by clicking on this link (it will probably ask you whether you want to download or open a video browser:

As it was the first video of its kind it's taken a little while to be published.

You can find out more about the consultation and the work scrutiny is doing on special needs by following this link here:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Red light jumpers

Jon Hunt writes:
In the last ten days or so I have witnessed at least five vehicles jump the red lights at my local traffic light junction, where Perry Avenue meets Walsall Road.

When I say jump the lights, I don't mean going through on orange, I mean going through on red.

This suggests there are some incredibly dangerous and stupid drivers on our roads. I wonder whether this is unique to this junction or whether it's happening elsewhere.

Either way I'll be writing to the Chief Constable asking for action. I'll also in future be taking notes and details of vehicles myself and reporting them.

The latest and possibly the worst incident happened today, Sunday, at about 10.30am. Six cyclists, in yellow jackets, including children, approached the junction. It was obvious they were intending to cross to Church Road. As I was turning left and was directly behind them, it would not have been possible to safely overtake them so I waited for them to cross through the lights before attempting to go through the lights myself.

As I waited I heard a hoot behind me. Then the lights changed to red and I stopped. A white car, racing-type saloon car with rear wings, shot past me, through the red lights and turned right onto the Walsall Road. The car was dusty and had scrawled on it something like "...kill" and "don't hunt" (ironically).

A few days ago I crossed the Walsall Road to catch a bus on the pelican crossing just past Perry Avenue. The pelican went on green (and its traffic lights on red - I checked) just as the exits from Perry Avenue and Church Road went onto green. As I was almost halfway across, a small white van with a woman driver shot out of Church Road and zipped past me, over the pelican crossing. The people of Perry Barr were mercifully spared a by-election!

On another recent occasion I was crossing on green from Church Road to Perry Avenue when two cars shot up the Walsall Road in my path. To be frank I didn't take in what was happening, but my teenaged children were with me and confirmed that in their view, those cars must have jumped the red lights on the Walsall Road.

The first incident didn't place me in any personal danger but rather dramatically drew my attention to the problem. In this case I was crossing on foot to Perry Park to catch a bus during the rush hour when a car skidded round the left hand bend from Walsall Road to Church Road just after the lights switched to red. As it happened a truck was turning into Church Road, doing the right turn from the Walsall Road, where there is a green filter light. Again a narrow escape.

These are several narrow escapes but given what I have seen I fear for the safety of people using this junction.

We all know that traffic lights can be a nuisance and frustrating. But if you don't understand that driving is about give and take you shouldn't be behind a wheel. Traffic lights are there to share road space out fairly - and that includes pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists.

So let's get reporting...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wheelie bad idea part 2

It was Ray Hassall's turn to speak for Perry Barr in last week's city council debate on wheelie bins.

Ray stressed they are totally unsuitable for this word. A few years ago a resident, who did a lot of walking, surveyed the ward and counted the number of properties for which bins would be totally impractical. His estimate was about a third.

These are properties through which access is gained through steps and where there are no front drives. In many cases residents are elderly. Some roads are especially steep. In roads like Stanford Avenue the pavement itself is steep. Bins left on the pavement would soon topple over.

Proponents of wheelie bins say some households could stick with a bag collection. We say this would condemn most of Perry Barr to a second class service.

Our areas in Aston are not much better. In the Yew Tree area, residents live in terraced, two bed roomed housing with front doors directly on the pavement. Nowhere to put wheelie bins except massed on the pavement. We do need solutions in this area and maybe communal wheelie bins, collected a couple of times a week, would help residents dispose of surplus rubbish.

It's welcome that the Perry Barr constituency office has been looking at other solutions and may soon embark on a "keep bags off the verge" scheme. This would see both crews and householders being advised that rubbish collections are from the property where possible. According to city policy and bin collection contracts, residents are still entitled to a doorstep collection and cabinet member Len Gregory stressed this in last week's debate.

The council agreed to allow some constituencies to put forward proposals for pilot wheelie bin projects. We will oppose any such move in Perry Barr because, as we've stressed, we want collection services improved for everyone, not just a few.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Safer Travel

A respondent comments on the new high-tech CCTV on the new 451 buses. Fair comment but what's not readily appreciated is that Birmingham is way ahead of most of the rest of Britain (London excepting) in terms of bus security.

In 2004 the city council set aside some £700,000 for bus safety in a pioneering initiative. Half of this went to bus marshals in the city centre.

The other half went to the Safe Travel Team that was being created with some additional money from Centro and the Police Authority. This project means that police community support officers do indeed travel on buses where there are reports of antisocial behaviour.

They've had a special focus on school buses and on visiting schools to talk to children about behaviour. I've spent some time with them recently as part of my PTA role.

They are still spread quite thinly and will therefore organise themselves to investigate routes where problems have been reported.

You don't have to dial 999 or the other police number to report problems. You can also use their web site to report problems informally. I'd advise regular travellers to bookmark this page. You don't need to suffer in silence!


New gates and fences

This area has a proud tradition of resident self-help when people have banded together and created gating schemes to secure rear accesses and backland over the last 15 years. This has helped cut burglary rates and prevent flytipping.

Since 2003, the ward committee has been pump priming this by offering grants of up to 40 per cent of schemes. All schemes have been entitled to apply and almost all have been assisted. There's been further progress in the Aston part of our ward with help from Aston Pride

This year we've had a windfall and secured some £20,000 to secure some of the mopre complex areas. It's taken everyone by surprise and within days of the project being agreed contractors have been on site erecting posts!

Some large areas of back land off Foden Road, Perry Wood Road and Rocky Lane are among areas being secured.

And last night a telephone call illustrates exactly why this work is needed. A resident called to say he'd seen the posts and when were the gates going in - as somebody had been round with a truck and flytipped a lot of rubbish, including old heaters. This was on the land between Rocky Lane and Kingsdown Park. It's being secured with gates on Rocky Lane and Coleraine Road and a trip rail on the edge of the park. There's a whole area of wasteland here which does not belong to the council and is overgrown.

Monday, December 03, 2007

St Basils Sleep out

Karen writes:

This year's sleep out was a lot drier that last year. We only had a few showers but it was really windy. Some shelters did not survive the wind but there was help on hand from fellow rough sleepers. Around 3am it became really cold.
I was impressed with the number of young people who were taking part especially as they stayed for the whole night.

Cardboard is no subsitute for a mattress and no protection from the damp and cold. Though I have discovered that wrapping yourself in a wheelie bin liner is a good insulator. Thanks Dave for that tip!
The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress paid a visit during the night and talked to some of the rough sleepers. Nikki Tapper (BBC) and the Bishop of Birmingham the Rt Revd David Urquhart were also in attendance.

Although it was a really difficult night, I am really pleased that so far I have raised £420 in sponsorship and I have been told that some people donated directly to St Basils. This makes it all worthwhile.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Jon Hunt writes:
I'm doing a couple of launches of the new or revamped bus services in my role as bus lead member with the Passenger Transport Authority.

It's timely as for 20 years or so bus use has been declining. I think this may change, automatically, in the near future because rising fuel prices and pinches on household budgets will make people seek out public transport and cut down on vehicle use. I've certainly resolved to use the bus and foot more than in the past. Running round all over the place, I'd got out of the habit of organising to use buses, which can be pretty convenient.

Today, aided by some Latin dancers, was the launch of number 1 service, which doesn't affect Perry Barr but now provides a frequent shopping service to the Town Hall through Moseley and Acocks Green.

Tomorrow Tuesday is the revamped 451 running on the Queslett Road to West Bromwich and Sutton Coldfield and the launch is to be at Asda Queslett at 10am . The key feature here is the revamped buses which, I understand, includes improved CCTV with screens which demonstrate it is really working!

At the same time we launched a big document on buses today at a PTA meeting. Nothing's set in stone but we're working to a new era where all routes are covered by agreements between the passenger authority and the bus companies. We're also working to create a more efficient network, which allows more people to go swiftly to wherever they want to go - not just the end point of some existing bus service.

The key to this is electronic signage and the smartcards that will surface next year for the first time and soon will enable new fare structures - allowing passengers to purchase a single "ticket" to go from one place to the next and also to change buses easily if necessary.

This is important because there's a lot of "turbulence" around at the moment and that's upsetting some existing bus users. For a number of reasons the companies are cutting back some of the smaller services, forcing the PTA to run round and assess the impact and if necessary to purchase subsidised services. In the Queslett Road area one or two passengers have been distressed through the loss of the 655 that ran from Booths Lane to Aldridge. This was carrying an average of two passengers a journey. Now, the Booths Lane estate is right off the Queslett Road and most people will benefit from better 451 services. It is steep and some people may struggle to make the walk and one of the challenges for the future is to ensure we identify these little estates and ensure that there are services to collect such people and get them safely to the main bus network - enabling them to go to all sorts of places.

In the near future, as I stated, the public authorities will get new powers. The bus companies know this and are keen to demonstrate they can provide better services. Hence the Latin dancers - "It Takes Two to Tango!". We're doing what we can to ensure this turns into instant benefits for travellers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Coming up...

We've fallen behind on reporting local issues on this blog. That's not for want of things happening!

We hope to report soon on issues including the following:
-new gating and security schemes;
-ideas for improving street cleansing and bag collection;
-neighbourhood clean ups;
-the proposed Booths Lane development and (substantial) contributions that may arise for improving local facilities.

River Tame and Perry Hall Park

There was some alarm when the Environment Agency announced it wanted to rework the banks of the River Tame south of the central bridge in Perry Hall Park.

We had a useful meeting the park last week with Agency officials and a number of users.

The agency proposes to get the work done over the winter months with a view to stabilising the banks. The earth banks will be replaced with stone banks - as has been done further upstream. By using "natural" rocks, a good wildlife habitat is created with refuges for voles and other animals. Practice in the past has been to wiremesh foundations which prevents access for animals.

This will create a firm line of banks and prevent them encroaching into the river. There was some discussion about maintenance of the banks and concern that regular cutting may destroy bird nests.

Having looked at that part of the river we walked upstream and looked at the lake that was created during the Euro-funded work a couple of years ago. It had been hoped this would become another habitat for birds but it was plagued from the start by dumping. A shale island has silted up but has not sprouted any vegetation. Some of the park users feel that it never will as the river periodically rises over it, sweeping anything away.

So the Agency are going to get one of their experts to look at it and maybe suggest simple planting ideas that could move this lake forward. I think a bed of reeds would create a stable environment. We shall wait and see.

Jon Hunt

Speedway controversy

An application to vary the conditions for the Speedway at the Greyhound Stadium has caused some controversy in the neighbourhood.

Amongst other things the application asks for eight additional Sundays, including four bank holiday weekends. It also asks for the removal of the requirement for noise monitoring that was placed on the organisers.

Speedway was given a two year temporary permission until September 2009. The application has been useful because it has enabled residents to be consulted on their experience of the first season - and, unfortunately, many are not happy at all.

It was hoped that the new speedway format would see less noise impact, especially as there are now developments closer to the stadium than there were originally, such as Nash Square and the UCE (sorry, Birmingham City University) halls of residence.

As well as letters we have received visits at our advice bureaux from groups of residents and have also had some telephone calls.

The following are some of the comments I have submitted to planning on this matter.

Jon Hunt

"Further to my initial comments on this application I would like to reiterate my concern.
I will be forwarding to you today a number of letters I have received from local residents, five objecting to the variation and one supporting it. I understand that a number of petitions have been submitted through a colleague...
In terms of the detail of the application I object to the removal of the requirement for noise monitoring.
I have received some explanation from Speedway of the reasons for the application and hope to discuss this with them more in the near future.
However I am concerned that there should be no extension of the time during which noise from the event may be experienced in the neighbourhood. There should also be no increase in the number of Sundays on which events are held.
The consultation on this application has raised real issues in the neighbourhood about the impact of speedway. Prior to the original application there was of course no experience of the event in its current form. Given that much of this summer was wet and rainy this is quite disappointing and suggests a long dry summer might cause significantly more problems..
An example of comments from residents is: "Although I expected some noise..I was totally unprepared for the sheer volume that would be produced" (400 yds from stadium)
I hope the result of this consultation might be to provoke further work to address and resolve these issues.
Councillor Jon Hunt"

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

St Basils Sleep out/Sleep in

The next St Basils Sleep out/Sleep in will be on 30th November. Last year Karen spent a night sleeping rough in Birmingham city centre to raise funding for St Basils.

St Basils work with young people who may be at risk of homelessness or are actually homeless offering them support and advice.

Karen said “Last year, I thought I had an idea what it would be like. I wore 2 pairs of trousers, a t-shirt, jumper, sweatshirt, padded coat, hat and 2 pairs of socks. You could say I went prepared!”

She added “However, it rained heavily for most of the night and though we had a golf umbrella, our layers of cardboard and plastic sheets could not keep out the dampness and the rain eventually got the better of us. I couldn't sleep and was freezing cold for most of the night. I hadn't counted on how wet it was going to be. Everything was damp.

It taught me a lot. As bad as I thought it might be to be homeless, it was actually much worse and my experience was not even a full one as I knew I had a hot bath and comfortable bed waiting for me when I got home. Imagine spending night after night like that? I know I couldn't have done another night. I managed to get over £200 in sponsorship and it renewed my passion for helping people who have become homeless.”

Undeterred Karen will be taking part again this year, with more waterproof clothing!

To take part or to donate see St Basils Sleep Out/Sleep in.

Monday, October 15, 2007

And one we missed....

August was a busy month for us as ward councillors. Carnivals, holidays etc meant that we missed the open day at Walsall Road allotments.

It was a really successful day with plant, cake, book and craft stalls and they managed to raise £1008 for the County Air Ambulance, which was recently presented to the organisation.

The harvest at the allotments this year has not been as good as they plot holders would have liked because of the poor growing conditions we have had this year.

Nevertheless, this Sunday they have the heaviest Pumpkin and Marrow competition at 11am. I don’t think this year’s crop will break any records but they still have some sizeable vegetables growing there!

Visit Walsall Road allotments at

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ward Committee

Resolution passed at Perry Barr ward committee on Monday night:

(i) That the Ward Committee note the comments (of officers and members of the public about the Carnival, held in Perry Barr Park in August)

(ii) That the Ward Committee calls for a fundamental review of the Birmingham International Carnival, including the question of whether Perry Barr Park is capable of sustaining the event’s development in its present form

(iii) That the Ward Committee requests a response to be provided regarding (ii) at the next Ward Committee meeting.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Karen adopts greyhounds

Karen Hamilton has adopted two greyhounds. One from Perry Barr and one from Hall Green Retired Greyhound trusts.

Karen said “Greyhounds face such an uncertain future when they finish racing. The work that the greyhound trust is doing is fantastic. Thousands of dogs retire from racing each year from as young as 18 months and the greyhound trust works hard to find homes for them.”

She also added “Greyhounds are really easy to look after. They are wonderful dogs. They just want to sleep all the time. The have short bursts of energy but get tired really quickly. Two short walks each day normally wears them out!”

For more information

See and

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Congratulations to Kingsdown

Congratulations to Marie Fitzpatrick and the Kingsdown Residents Association who organised a wonderful multi-cultural community day in Kingsdown Park on Saturday.

Marie and her colleagues put an awful lot of work into this event and raised substantial sums of money to ensure there were free rides and free entertainment for people from the Kingsdown and Hamstead areas.

We discovered that the park has a natural bowl in the middle which is a great venue for small-scale open-air entertainment - in this case Indian and Irish dancers and a steel band.

This is pretty well the only community summer event left in the ward excepting the Thornbridge Avenue Allotments annual charity events. Others have been deterred by high insurance and the complexities and commitment required to organise events.

Well done Marie, Chris and the KRA!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Carnival noisiest ever

We've now had the official decibel readings for the Carnival and also some feedback via our residents' surveys from neighbouring roads such as Curbar Road.

Two years ago we asked residents of Curbar for feedback on that year's carnival and had very few complaints.

This year it is different and it is hardly surprising.

The decibel limit for the reading is meant to be 65 dbA. It rapidly reached 70 dbA and during the evening hit 80 dbA in readings taken at the adjoining Perry Villa estate.

It then peaked at 84 dbA during the live band performance. Over 80 dbA is a level at which an employer would have to provide ear protectors. It was apparently the loudest outside event ever held in Birmingham.

It was notable when the procession arrived that every float packed heavy sound equipment and frequently little else. In addition we understand a number of unauthorised stalls were set up.

This will come to the ward committee on October 1st to be held at Perry Hall Methodist Church, Rocky Lane.

The truth is that this level of noise is unacceptable. Some people may enjoy it but it also deters others and makes the Carnival a non-inclusive event.

We think it's time for a fundamental review of this event. It could be made better and more enjoyable and involve more people across Birmingham.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Making the buses better

Ward councillor Jon Hunt was appointed lead member for bus and highways at the West Midlands passenger transport authority a few weeks ago.

Jon reports here:
This doesn't mean I'm running the buses but does give me a key role in pushing for improvements. It's not rocket science - people will use buses if they are reliable, safe and comfortable.

We've been pushing through the city council for some time for these things to happen in face of steep falls in the number of bus users.

I've been pleased to be involved in my first few weeks in promoting a new ground-breaking partnership with Travel West Midlands. This involves TWM and the PTA/Centro investing in six routes to see what achievements can be achieved.

This has been approved by the PTA and a signing with TWM is imminent. The project involves more buses on some routes, new and refurbished buses, electronic signing, including some of the new electronic interchange signs and new bus stops. You can see one at the Fox and Goose - it's as good as the displays at New Street Station. There will also be text messaging available to find out how buses are doing and CCTV at bus stops.

Several of the affected routes pass through this ward, travelling from parts of Walsall down the Aldridge Road to One Stop. Here's the list:

Route 1, Acocks Green to Moseley and Five Ways. Changed from every 20 minutes to 12 minutes with further improvements at weekends.

377: Walsall to Sutton Coldfield, 20 to 12 minutes.

934: Birmingham to Pheasey via Kingstanding. From 30 minutes to 20.

933: Birmingham to Streetley via Kingstanding. From 30 minutes to 20.

997: Birmingham to Aldridge and Walsall. From 20 minutes to 15.

451: West Bromwich to Sutton Coldfield via Scott Arms. Improved buses and stops.

The three 934, 933 and 997 routes are likely to get new buses with good air conditioning, I understand.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Carnival time

It was the hottest day for months yesterday for the Birmingham Carnival and it brought out the crowds in their thousands.

Perry Park was heaving with people to an unprecedented level, having a great party.

We wanted to know whether the extra steps that had been taken would reduce traffic pressures.

Two years ago the procession was 90 minutes late setting off, leading to road closures being extended and thousands of cars blocking off the Aldridge Road.

This year the procession left on time and was just half an hour late.

From our point of view the event was not problem-free and calls of complaint have been trickling in today about different aspects. Some are distressing to hear about like the woman who was prevented from driving to her home off the Walsall Road when it was closed at Tower Hill. She had an access pass but some jobsworth could not be bothered to use their head to let her through.

The ward councillors spent the day trouble-shooting. We learnt early in the day that a number of roads, mainly smallish cul-de-sacs, had not received residents' access passes. There will need to be an inquiry as to why. It means that about 100 passes went astray. So we went on the doors getting passes for residents who needed them and explaining to others what to do if they did decide to go out.

The big issue for the carnival is to get cars into official car parking spaces and sadly this continues to be problematic. At about 5pm we noticed Perry Avenue and the access to car parking in Perry Hall Park had been closed and a few minutes later that barricades protecting Derrydown Road had been closed. Thankfully event manager Kevin Brown was in the neighbourhood and he and Jon Hunt rapidly walked the patch.

We found that stewards were operating Chinese whispers, passing on incorrect messages there was no more room. Additional problems were caused because the cricket pitch south of Rocky Lane was meant to have been used for parking - instead two cricket teams got on to it and nobody moved them off or reported the matter to the right managers. It didn't matter - there was space for cars if they could be directed into the car park - a whole grass area that could be used. So that free car park was reopened.

Thankfully Derrydown was only open for a short while but maybe a dozen vehicles got up there. All this may have contributed to problems on Beeches Road and Dyas Avenue as during the procession cars were coming north up Walsall Road without being directed to car parking.

However a walk to the other side of Perry Park revealed mayhem on the Aldridge Road. In future private properties here should be included in the exclusion zone. There were hundreds of cars here jammed on to every pavement and grass verge. Some more cars could have been admitted to the car parks in Perry Park - again too hastily closed - but only a fraction.

Two years ago the problem was the procession starting so late. That was solved. Four years ago the exclusion zone broke down as stewards abandoned their posts under pressure from aggressive visitors. That was solved as the police provided back-up on key junctions. And in addition the ward councillors insisted on being represented on planning groups. It feels like different problems are being solved each time.

Conclusion: there were hiccups in the running of things this year but if there was a traffic problem, it was almost certainly because of unexpectedly large numbers of people. If future events take place, they must put adequate resources in to car-parking and properly stewarding cars into car parks.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Perry Park closed

A couple of weeks ago developers moved on to Perry Park to build the extension to the Alexander Stadium, the new gymnastics training centre.

Unfortunately nobody knew they were coming and nobody thought to tell anybody they intended to fence off the entire north-west corner of the park. Although this is tucked away from the main park, it is the access point for residents from the Beeches Estate and from Perry Park Crescent, a green area where children can kick balls about.

We've now fixed a residents' meeting with the developers Thomas Vale next Monday July 9th at the Alexander Stadium at 7.30pm.

The extension was already controversial and was bitterly opposed last year. It nearly fell after we exposed a technical error that required the planning committee to reconsider it.

What's annoying is that as part of the re-consideration the council was required to come up with - and consult on - a community use strategy for the park and also long-term plans. Part of the objection was the piecemeal development of the stadium which was encroaching on this well-used area of greenery.

Unfortunately in the haste to erect the extension, the community side was forgotten. Problems for residents of Perry Park Crescent have been aggravated by demolition crews moving in to the neighbouring site, the old Cold Storage factory, which has permission to be converted to a nursing home. This conversion was welcome - as it gets rid of an eye-sore - although there is now a new application which needs scrutiny.

Ward councillor Ray Hassall is city cabinet member for leisure and is keen to stress the advantages of the work that will be done to enhance facilities, including the green space in the north-west corner. But locally we are back to the same old running problem - who exactly runs our parks?

Exactly the same problem as we've had in Perry Hall Park where we cannot find out who actually gave permission for it to be used as a base for checking all the taxi-metres in Birmingham and Solihull. Or who decides how many cricket pitches go in. There's confusion because it's partly the constituency office and partly leisure services. There's also confusion because maintenance is done by contract.

We're trying to encourage Friends of Parks groups to be set up. They have all sorts of rights and access to cash and the park warden is keen to encourage this. Maybe a group will come out of next week's meeting we've called. But it's not going to work if nobody takes responsibility for consulting them about closures and changes of use.

This question had to be deferred from last week's ward committee because of the flooding issue - but we're still out to find the answer!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Delays added to devastation

A sorry tale of delays and confusion emerged on Monday night as some 100 residents met with us, the local councillors, and officials of various agencies to discuss what happened in the Witton flooding.

First of all it emerged that the Environment Agency had indeed failed to put out the flood warning - despite alarm bells sounding at 7am on the Friday.

What happened was that a duty officer saw that the gauges were reporting the River Tame about to break over the flood walls at Brookvale Road - but did not believe it. So instead of activating the Floodline warnings - which would have generated a series of telephone calls to the local community - he sent out a worker to investigate. The worker got there at 830am - by which time the Tame was already in full flood in the neighbourhood.

It seems that nobody recognised this as a major emergency until much later in the day. To their credit the fire service were on the scene quite early and used boats to evacuate three factories and about 12 other residents. Most residents seem to have simply moved upstairs.

But the police admitted they did not arrive until late morning. Because of the camber of the roads - with a high centre - lorries continued to thunder down them, in some cases drivers abusing distraught residents. This created waves of water which flooded even more into the houses. Nobody closed the roads.

The water was dirty and smelly but no public health official ever visited the site to declare it unsafe. So in subsequent days the fire service refused to provide pumping assistance to get the water out of cellars and houses (except on payment of a £399 fee). On the Saturday nobody could get through to the environmental health office duty line.

Once things got going all sorts of measures were taken - evacuation centres opened but not used etc. And local council staff have been brilliant since Friday in running advice centres and ensuring a plentiful supply of skips (from the skip allocation that we purchase for Perry Barr ward, please note!). Local churches have also been great. Aston Parish Church is hoping to organise some donations of furniture for those who have lost theirs whilst others have rallied round to release hardship funds.

But this was a forgotten emergency. Maybe not as bad as they've had in the north this week but by far the worst and least reported incident in that first round of flooding when a whole month's supply of rain fell in just six hours.

This is not just about hand-wringing. Karen Hamilton is going to chair a Flood Action Group, working with a group of local residents and with the city council's emergency response team. The work, we hope, may help other areas to ensure that responses to flooding incidents are tightened up. The group will also look at measures to flood proof local homes - and where we can get cash from to make this possible. Aston Pride will help I hope. After all there is talk of putting more housing in this neighbourhood. The Environment Agency has promised to tighten up its floodline procedures and also review the defences on the River Tame.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


The Brookvale Road area was badly flooded last Friday and we estimate that at least 50 householders, mainly on Tame Road, suffered severe damage from the water and loss of property.

We spent time in the area over the weekend assessing the extent of the damage and providing information to householders. We've also identified some local charities which can help with small grants for those who did not have insurance.

The council's local constituency staff have been brilliant and have been running advice sessions at Witton Community Centre throughout the week. Extra collections have been arranged to enable householders to get rid of flood-damaged material.

We all know that the rain last Friday was exceptionally heavy - but there are still big questions about the emergency response to this incident.

As it happens, Perry Barr ward committee is to meet at Witton Community Centre on Monday (7pm) and the bulk of the meeting will be devoted to discussing what happened with senior council officers and, hopefully, other agencies.

Many households had signed up to flood line to get flood warnings - but received nothing. The roads were not closed and heavy lorries continued to use them. This created waves which flooded into the houses, aggravating the damage. We also need to know whether the work on Perry Hall Park was effective at creating a safe flood plain on the cricket pitches to mop up water from the River Tame - that was plan when work was done on it two or three years ago.

It's clear this very deprived neighbourhood is woefully unprepared for this kind of flooding and we hope to involve Aston Pride in discussing how houses can be properly protected (such as through flood barriers at doors).

Friday, May 04, 2007

Jon's back in!

Message from Jon Hunt:

Can I thank everyone who gave me their support in yesterday's election? I intend to continue to work hard for Perry Barr and Birmingham and justify the trust that local people place in me. There's been a lot of good things happening locally recently but also many continuing problems to tackle, such as the many neighbourhoods where litter continues to be a problem.

My majority was 1,119 - the largest majority I've ever had! I have now fought six elections in seven years and been elected three times during that period as a councillor for Perry Barr. This election means I will serve for four years as a councillor for Perry Barr.

On a personal note I will be unavailable to take phone calls next week as my father is undergoing major heart surgery and I will be supporting him and my mother. So if you need a councillor please call Ray or Karen.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Best St George's event ever?

More than 4,000 scouts paraded down Broad Street yesterday and gathered in Centenary Square to celebrate St George's Day and the Centenary of their own movement.

They were met by St George and attendants, parading on a white horse. The scouts, cubs, beavers, guides and brownies arrived with a sea of flags and their own marching bands, backed up by pipers from the fire service.

It was an amazing event, highlighting the continuing strength and contribution of the scouting movement to our young people. It seems it is some time since anything like this took place in Birmingham. As so often, the scout leaders showed astonishing organisational ability, moving the parade down Broad Street bang on time.

Around the world there are some 28 million scouts and the movement is growing in strength in countries such as Indonesia, we were told.

Ray Hassall and Jon Hunt were there - both with a special interest in the event. Ray as cabinet member for leisure services made the event possible after he and Jon were approached by scout leaders in Perry Barr. Jon is chair of the city's education scrutiny committee and also had a son in the parade.

Our pictures show some of the local scouts and cubs arriving in the square and the performance laid on by the Handsworth Gang Show for the assembled crowd. Both are shown at low resolution to prevent identification of individual children.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Reduce the yellows!

We've been reporting back to residents today on possible solutions to some of the area's parking problems.

Earlier this year we circulated surveys on the Booths Farm estate and the Wensleydale/Sandringham area. Both areas have narrow roads, grass verges and yellow lines.

Already hundreds of residents have invested in drop kerbs and we believe this gives an opportunity.

The council has been already been running a pilot scheme in the south of the city to reduce the number of yellow lines. In Great Barr they were installed about 20 years ago because of the amount of on-street parking which made roads impassable for emergency vehicles.

Now households have many more cars but they also have front drives. What is irksome is that yellow lines mean many residents or their visitors are fined for parking on the drop kerb part of their front drive.

On Booths Farm residents voted overwhelmingly for reduction of yellow lines. In the Wensleydale/Sandringham area the response has been the opposite - these roads are that much narrower and more congested. So we're asking the people on Booths Farm to sign petitions in favour of reducing the yellow lines which a view to getting the city's pilot scheme here next.

Another idea being put forward by the local MP is to install plastic meshing on the grass verges to enable parking on them. There's a few problems with this including:

  • it would save some grass but hardly improve the appearance of the area. We succeeded last year in getting the council to agree to reinstall "no parking" staves on grass verges - and many residents have requested these in front of their homes. These are people who do NOT want cars parking on the grass in front of their homes;
  • it would remain illegal to park on the verges where the yellow lines remained;
  • the drop kerbs that are installed allow people to drive over the kerb and the pavement without causing damage. It seems unlikely that plastic meshing would prevent the stone kerbs from damage - and too many people who park on the verges seem to use the pavement to get there;
  • the pictures that have been printed along with other people's reports of this technology and common sense suggest the grass would still get damaged;
  • you don't want to clear the road of all cars. If you open up wide avenues, you create race tracks. Some on-street parking helps to slow traffic and prevent dangerous driving - and already hundreds have signed our petitions for 20mph zones. Quite a few of these have been submitted to the council, road by road.
That's not to say there may not be one or two locations where this might be worthwhile. But maybe we should wait after the election for a sensible discussion about the costs and who's going to pay!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tower Hill mast refused

Many residents by now will be aware that the proposals for a second telephone mast at Tower Hill have been refused.

Planning officers refused it under delegated powers, agreeing with my argument that the proposed mast would create "clutter" on the pavement. Many residents wrote in - most also stressing that the proposed mast would spoil the Tower Hill centre.

This is good news - but serves also to highlight the monstrosity that is the existing mast outside the Clifton Bingo Hall.

The proposed new mast would have been right by a bus shelter and its cabinet could have provided shelter for muggers.


Friday, April 06, 2007


We were pleased to hear this week we've been successful in blocking the ludicrous idea that tolls could be levied on many of the roads leading out of Perry Barr ward.

That would have been the impact of the congestion zone charging proposal in the £2 million Gridlock or Growth document, sponsored by the government and the West Midlands local councils.

The original draft, which I saw, put this forward as the best idea. This was altered in the published document - but the reality is that scrapping zone charging leaves Gridlock or Growth without any feasible road pricing option.

I distributed a number of petition forms in the autumn and these cascaded across north Birmingham - meaning that ultimately I presented well over a thousand signatures to the city council and to West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority.

You can read the letter confirming the ditching of zone charging by clicking on the image.

The zone charging proposals would have seen the region divided along the lines of the motorways. Drivers would have paid £2.50 a day to cross under the M6 on very local roads such as Thornbridge Avenue, Hassop Road, Beeches Road and Brookvale Road. Somebody had forgotten that the motorway was built on pillars in a pretence that it would not divide the communities.

People such as Thornbridge Avenue allotments were particularly alarmed as they sit on the line of the motorway and their members come from both sides. It was an idea that needed to be firmly nipped in the bud and that is what we have done.

This has been a good example of where councillors can take part in local action whilst raising matters in "higher forums". So I've been able to speak on these issues repeatedly in the city council and at West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority.

Road pricing is controversial so there is a great deal of buck passing going on. London politicians want the West Midlands or Greater Manchester to run pilot schemes. We think parliament should make up its mind - local schemes could merely disadvantage the local economy.

Undoubtedly one of the main sources of congestion in north Birmingham is the M6 and the M6/M5 interchange. Transport planners think rush hour congestion could also be reduced by persuading more people to use public transport.

The problem is we are sitting on three decades of muddle thinking about the A34 corridor through north Birmingham.

Bus users are already noting that bus times are quicker than cars in rush hour thanks to bus lanes and traffic light priority. But many people won't switch because buses are also smelly and crowded in rush hour. I spoke on this in the city council on Tuesday but, according to the Evening Mail, TWM is still setting its face against putting conductors/wardens on buses. Local people have complained to me there is precious little evidence of the Safe Travel Team doing much work on the 51/16/33 routes. However following the Mail report, they were out in force in Newtown yesterday!

The proposed solution for the last 20 years has been the Metro. But there's a problem there - at Birchfield commuter traffic disperses in at least three directions. The Metro would go in just one direction, up the Walsall Road. I've now seen the latest figures suggesting something like 10 million passengers a year on the so-called Varsity North metro. That means something like 40,000 a day on the A34. There are barely that number of people living along the route. It's totally unrealistic and would simply mean another white elephant of a scheme.

These are points I've made repeatedly at Passenger Transport Authority meetings over the last few weeks following the publication of the latest Metro development plan. I don't think it's too late to develop a major public transport interchange in the Birchfield area - but time is running out. When the Varsity North plans were belatedly made public in 2003, I and others of all parties argued it could stop at Perry Barr/ Birchfield. I think it could be an effective city centre shuttle service - but it needs to pick up commuters from the Kingstanding Road, College Road and Brookvale Road routes. That means fast interlinking bus rapid transit services alongside good park and ride facilities. Surely a better use of the tens of millions they want to spend.

I hope to continue to be involved in further discussions over the summer as a further report on congestion is to be prepared with a view to making a bid to the government for so-called Transport Innovation Fund cash.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Telephone mast is obtrusive

There's a planning proposal for a new telephone mast at Tower Hill and we've circulated some 600 local homes with leaflets asking for their comments. We will forward these comments to the planning department when we receive them.

The proposal is for a 10m mast with a "shroud and equipment cabinet".

I believe it can be stopped on planning grounds and have already expressed some views to the planning department. Tower Hill is simply too cluttered already - it has one mast with a large grey box that is the base station along with a recycling centre.

The council has just spent a fortune improving the area for pedestrians with new crossings, bus lanes and bus stops. Having revived the shopping centre here, it now needs to concentrate on making it a pleasant environment. A forest of masts does not achieve that.

I'm assuming there will be little support for this proposal. There was a great deal of opposition to the first one. And when it comes to issues of appearance, local people are more than entitled to their views. So let's hear some good arguments from local people!


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hospital changes

I've just been to a meeting at City Hospital to be briefed on the latest thinking over the changes to our local health services.

City and Sandwell Hospitals have been consulting on a series of immediate changes - and also on their long term plans to create a single "super hospital" in Smethwick, on the Birmingham border.

The immediate changes would involve moving children's wards from City to Sandwell along with emergency surgery - although City would retain its 24-hour accident department.

This has caused me concern because some of the families from the Aston end of our ward rely on public transport to get to City Hospital and get treatment for their children.

So managers are making some concessions here - and a paediatrician was present to confirm they wanted these changes. They are hoping that City Hospital will continue to provide a 24-hour assessment unit for children - originally 12 hours was proposed - and this could keep a child in overnight for up to 24 hours. They are also looking at providing free transport from City to Sandwell for parents if a child is admitted to the wards.

Second concern is about emergency surgery. What happens for example if a gun or knife victim is deposited at City Hospital's front door? The answer seems to be that they will call surgeons into City to perform the emergency surgery. The patient would of course be made stable by accident staff.

Looking ahead to the superhospital planned for 2014, it seems inevitable the plan will be approved. Many people from Perry Barr and Great Barr will lose out by having to travel further and there was a lot of concern about this when it was discussed at the ward committee a month ago.

They are promising a mini-hospital with urgent care facilities in Aston. The concern is that these urgent care facilities may only be open 12-14 hours a day. Also that the record of these mini-centres is that they can be cut back when the financial times get hard in the NHS. So we need to keep a close eye on the development of these facilities.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Carnival coming

We've been involved in a number of meetings about the Birmingham Carnival coming to Perry Barr Park this year, on Sunday August 5th.

The aim, as always, is to minimise the traffic chaos that sadly accompanies this event.

Ray Hassall has been able to put the block on other major community events being held in the park in the first part of the summer holidays - ensuring that the Carnival will be the only weekend that disrupts the neighbourhood.

Two key tasks: to get the procession to start on time. Being late by up to two hours is unfair on many of the dancers who have to dance all the way - and also contributed to most of last time's traffic problems.

It will be forming up in Handsworth Park this year and lorries and generators will be parked overnight. The organisers will be told that the road closures will be lifted if they fail to start - lorries would then have to make their way through ordinary traffic.

Second task is to get more tow trucks in. It is now apparent that only one or two vehicles were towed last time despite massive illegal parking. We're looking at the barriers erected along Thornbridge Avenue to see if they are necessary - as they only block off some roads and this was the one neighbourhood last time where there did not seem to be parking problems. We'll be consulting residents about this.

The third objective is to get cars into car parks. There are always plenty of unused spaces very close to the event. We need better stewarding and the procession to arrive on time!

The Carnival's a great event but every time something goes wrong with the traffic. The "exclusion" zones, which prevent visitors parking on side roads, are proving their worth but can come under big pressure - especially when other arrangements break down.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Installation of new vicar at St Paul

On the 23rd February we were invited to the licensing and installation of the new vicar of St
Paul, Hamstead, the Revd Smitha Prasadam. The service was carried out by The Bishop of Birmingham The Right Revd David Urquhart and The Venerable Hayward Osborne The Archdeacon of Birmingham.

It was a wonderful service where there was standing room only. It was very nice to see so many people from our community coming together to take part in the service.

We spoke to Smitha briefly (see picture) and she is enthusiastic about coming to work in Great Barr. We all welcomed Smitha and her family to the ward and would like to take this opportunity to wish her every success in her new role. We look forward to working with her in the future.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Checking the recycling programme

Jon and Ray joined Cllr Len Gregory, cabinet member for highways, at the Holdford Drive waste depot, Perry Barr, yesterday to look at progress on the recycling programme.

Our picture shows the party with a sample of the bottles and cans that are now being collected daily from throughout the city.

The aim is to extend the collection to most of the city within months - making it the largest recycling programme in Britain.

There is a pressing need to get good recycling plants in Birmingham. At the moment waste from throughout England is shipped to Blackburn for sorting. New technology means that cans can be lifted out easily - and as aluminium fetches a good price on the market, please make a special effort to recycle your cans. Plastic and glass can also be sorted and the latest technology can even enable glass to be sorted by colour whilst paper can be sifted according to its grade.

There is a prospect of getting such a plant at Holdford Drive, replacing the ugly old incinerator that dominates the sky-line in this area of Perry Barr.

We are keen to link these developments with other "green" developments, such as generating electricity through wind turbines and solar panels. A recycling plant would need quite a lot of power.

As an example, our swimming pools have taken a big hit this year with soaring energy costs pushing bills (and ticket prices) up. It is time to unhook these facilities from fossil fuels, which will only continue to get more expensive.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A 200th celebration and a Brummie link

In a few weeks time, the nation will be remembering the 200th anniversary of parliament voting to abolish the slave trade.

Karen Hamilton and myself tabled a resolution to last week's city council meeting - noting some little known links to north Birmingham.

The MP at the centre of the campaign - who tabled persistent resolutions to parliament over a 20 year period - was William Wilberforce. Wilberforce married a Brummie, Barbara Spooner, and her family home can still be viewed. It is Rookery House, Erdington, which still bears the cast-iron decor installed by her iron merchant father Isaac Spooner.

Wilberforce was a devout Christian and a film about his remarkable life Amazing Grace is set to hit the cinemas next month to coincide with the commemorations. And yes, there is a direct link to the well-loved hymn of the same name.

Our resolution to the council described the slave trade as a "stain" on our nation's history. The vote 200 years ago did not end it - but it enabled the British navy, strengthened after Trafalgar in 1805, to move against the slavers and end the kidnapping and trafficking that blighted millions of lives. It was indeed one of the most significant moments of British history.

We also noted that slavery in different forms still persists and that actions such as supporting Fair Trade - as Birmingham does now as a city - can help combat this.

Jon Hunt

Breaking the Chains is the organisation that is coordinating many of the local commemoration events. The website is still under development.

Anti-speeding campaign

At the city council meeting last week we submitted the first of a series of petitions being collected by local people for reducing speed limits. This was in Glendower Road.

I've been talking about getting 20 mph speed limits for some time. Tonight the local councillors were out on the doors again talking to people around Calshot School. The school has a good road safety scheme put in when I was chair of governors. But it needs to be backed by a reduced speed limit.

The police have organised a number of speed checks throughout Perry Barr and each one shows average speeds of about 30mph - legal but unsafe. There are conflicting statistics about the risk of fatality and injury at different speeds - but undoubtedly it is tiny when a driver is going at 20mph.

Highways department have also recently recognised this and asked us to make submissions for 20 mph limits.

So quite a few local residents are now also collecting signatures in different neighbourhoods. If you want one for your area, please let us know.

Dispersal and young people

The dispersal zone on the Beeches and Booths Farm estates is now in place, I understand.

The youth service report a complete absence of young people on the streets. It's good to see the police doing their job and some respite for people in these areas who have put up with growing problems over the last year.

It seems the gangs who walk around with dangerous dogs may have melted away.

However the youth workers are now concerned about the difficulty in tracking down young people who would normally be hanging out on the streets. Have they found back alleys to hide in?

So we are pressing for a young people's meeting to be organised on the estate.

At ward advisory board on Monday further funding for youth activities was supported. Some £15,000 will go to the youth service for holiday activities while further support goes to the Monday youth club at the Trehurst community centre, Beeches Road.

Metro challenge

A series of meetings this week began for me at a closed meeting at West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority.

Because it was private, I can't give details apart from saying that proposals for development of the Metro system will be tabled publicly in the next few weeks - and that I spoke at some length in criticism of the initial paper that was tabled.

So far as I am concerned I want transport planners to acknowledge the city council's view that the A34 "Varsity North" route is not a priority. There is some £140 million worth of capital that could be released for other routes and projects if they scrap this unnecessary "track to nowhere".

Some of this could even go on the A34 route to enhance the existing bus showcase schemes. Imagine putting serious money into the Birchfield roundabout and the Scott Arms to enable traffic to get through these bottlenecks.

I will post more information as the debate becomes public.


Friday, February 09, 2007


This is beginning to look like the worst weather we have had for several years. By all accounts all the extra grit bins that have gone in over the last few years are being put to good use. If your neighbourhood still needs a bin, please let us know.

Several people have reported running out of grit, eg Rockford Road, Wensleydale Road, and I understand the council crews should have been round today topping up bins.

There was a water leak on Cliveden Avenue and, again, it seems Severn Trent were very prompt at stopping it.

It has been pleasing to get positive responses to problems today from officers at the highways department, especially as they must be very busy indeed.

Please let us know the area(s) where there were traffic problems so that these can he highlighted as areas that need to priortised in the future.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cycle speedway

Following discussions with local councillors and officers a solution has been found to enable the track to be repaired. Over the last few weeks there have been numerous discussions to find a way forward for the club. Funding for the repairs has been identified and we will be continuing to work with the club to prevent them from having to struggle again.

Here's a picture of Perry Hall Park at sunset today. Jez the warden is now painting the gates in traditional Victorian colours. The transformation continues!

Questions were being asked at the ward committee on Monday about getting changing facilities in the park.

The following points emerged:
Perry Barr district has made bidding for capital funds for the project a priority;
the cricket teams currently pay a lower rate for using a facility without changing facilities;
during the summer portaloos are installed, paid for by community chest and neighbourhood renewal fund from the surrounding wards, Perry Barr, Handsworth Wood and Lozells.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hospital alarm

Alarming changes to our local hospitals will also be under discussion at the ward committee next Monday (that's 7pm at Rocky Lane Methodist Church, Monday 29th).
The project team are coming to explain their proposals. I'm not expecting to feel comforted.

The first wave of changes would strip children's wards and emergency surgery from City Hospital.

Then there's 2010 - or probably much later than 2010 - when they plan to replace all major services at City and Sandwell Hospitals on a new site in Grove Lane, Smethwick.

I spoke on this subject at the city council meeting two weeks ago and was interested to discover that the Grove Lane they mean is the one at Cape Hill, not the one that runs down from Soho Road. There are no maps in the consultation documents to explain.

Local people use both hospitals. My children were all born at Sandwell Hospital. Grove Lane, Smethwick, is approached via the Rabone Lane industrial estate from north west Birmingham. I've used that route a few times, it's a useful cut-hrough but we've also had some nasty bumps along there. I guess the ambulances might use the motorway.

Also alarming when Good Hope, our third local hospital, is going under the wing of Heartlands. I was on the community health council when City and Sandwell were sandwiched together under the same management. We were assured repeatedly that it was purely a management reorganisation to save on the costs of bureaucracy. Some of us were pretty certain it was not - and how right we were. If City had gone under the same management as Good Hope the new hospital would be going up in Witton, by Spaghetti Junction, and THAT'S WHERE IT SHOULD BE! A few years ago in fact there was a report in the papers warning that the region could end up with one super-hospital at just this site. No chance!

Our constituents in Witton are even more worried as many do not have cars. I talked to one whose child regularly uses the children's ward at City Hospital. Now she will have to travel to West Bromwich. How many bus changes is that?

The problem, if you follow my argument, is not that NHS managers keep trying to change things. It is the utterly pointless and endless reorganisations that take place. So we end up with short-termism dressed up as long-term strategy. All that is taking place at the moment is being driven by the inadequate funding of health services for west Birmingham and for Sandwell.

The plan also involves proposals for a chain of community hospitals, including one placed somewhere like Witton. I like it in theory but get alarmed when they try to suggest that casualties could be diverted to these hospitals.

When I spoke at the council I reminded the council of some history. That when the General Hospital was closed in the early 90s, people were told city centre emergency services would be provided by Dudley Road Hospital, which was then renamed City Hospital. In addition a minor injuries unit was open on the site of the General Hospital. The minor injuries unit was hardly used and closed within a year or two.

There is already concern about the staffing of the five community hospitals. And once the public realise they are not open 24 hours they lose confidence in them and cease using them. Exactly the same fate as has befallen our local police station and neighbourhood office (which however continues to provide a good service to many people, I hasten to add). In addition, how is somebody with, say, a sprained ankle supposed to know which kind of hospital to use? How do they know whether it's just a muscle sprain or a broken bone?


A chat with the new park warden

A walk in Perry Hall Park today and a chat with the new park warden Jez Lilley.

What a great appointment this is! He is brimming with ideas both for Perry Hall and for Perry Barr Parks.

He has already opened up a new "avenue walk" from the Perry Avenue car park. There is an avenue of trees tucked behind Derrydown Road which Jez has identified as an old Victorian Avenue so he has made a walkway through from the car park and has plans to create more natural features along it. So please don't kick the piles of leaves he's made. In a year or two they will be breeding beautiful butterflies.

He's also been taking a look at the old Chinese water garden and confirms that it was built as just that. Now he's thinking about how it can be restored.

In Perry Barr park he's getting involved in the project to clean up the lake and has hopes of setting up angling lessons for local youngsters.

Jez and the parks team will be coming to the ward committee meeting next week to tell us more.

The meeting's at 7pm at Rocky Lane Methodist Church on the 29th.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Trolley watch

We have been doing an intensive trolley watch for a few weeks now. Last week we reported a total of 8 trolleys on Cliveden Avenue.

Abandoned trolleys are the blight of modern society. A quick search on the internet gives details of how the rest the of world is trying to cope with the problem.

As local councillors we have been battling with Asda for some time trying to get them to take responsibility for their trolleys. It must be costly for them to keep losing them.

We have been told that the trolleys have wheel locks that operate when the trolleys are taken out of the vicinity of the supermarket. With the amount of trolleys we have dumped in the ward it is obvious this is not working.

A tour of the ward this weekend turned up two trolleys both in the Perry Hall area. They have been reported and we will be checking to make sure that they have been removed.

If you see an abandoned trolley, contact Asda on 0121 344 4550.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Buses and tolls

One story all week in different guises.

OnTuesday the city council meeting received a report on bus use, identifying measures to improve the popularity of buses.

We know what needs to be done - better safety and better routes but have little power to do it. I'm hoping and have been pressing for the West Midlands to be allowed to do what London does and franchise bus routes. That would mean the bus companies having to agree standards and fares to get a bus route. TWM and its owners National Express is dead against this and demonstrated this by hiking fares by 25 per cent this month.

One local resident told me the other day that buses are by far and away faster than a car to commute into town - but he won't use them because they are so smelly and uncomfortable.

My comments in my speech to the council, condeming this "utter disgrace", were widely quoted.

But I went on to talk about the other side of the coin, the proposals for road pricing. We pledged not to be too party political on this blog but the local MP has decided to try to make the issue political, accusing us of overstating the case by describing the congestion charging proposals as "official". Well, they were the main charging proposal in the consultation document Gridlock or Growth issued in the autumn and financed with some £2 m of public money. The government wants the West Midlands to introduce some form of road pricing by 2014. Is that official enough?

I remain hopeful we can nip the toll proposals in the bud. It is true there is probably no local political support for them - but the councils do not have any alternative to offer the government and the highly paid consultants who drew up Gridlock or Growth could not think of anything better.

On Thursday the Liberal Democrat shadow transport secretary Alistair Carmichael MP came to visit the West Midlands and, after a meeting with councillors, I brought him to view the M6 running over the Beeches Estate. His first comment, as he saw it approaching from a distance, was "this was Stalinist planning, wasn't it?". Yes it was and we're trying now to get a change in attitude from the public authorities.

Alistair's message was the sooner or later the system of taxing for vehicles will change.Petrol will run out and global warming is already a major problem. But we must get the solutions right and crude, badly thought out proposals get us nowhere.

I drove him back to the station on the M6, mostly all the along the boundaries of Perry Barr ward to Spaghetti Junction, and up the Aston Expressway which delivers cars straight into Birmingham city centre.