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.