Sunday, December 07, 2008

St Basils SleepOUT

Friday 5th December saw another SleepOUT event for St Basils to raise money for young homeless people. Councillor Karen Hamilton took part for the third time sleeping rough in Birmingham city centre.

Rough sleepers are provided with a large cardboard box, a plastic bag and can bring sleeping bags and other items that will help.

Hundreds of people took part in the event creating a cardboard city for the night.

Some young people who had been helped by St Basils took part in a presentation that took place on the night and they explained how St Basils had helped them.

Karen said “I have taken part in the sleep out before but I was still surprised how cold it was. The weather has been especially cold over the last few days so I knew it was going to be difficult. I had several layers of clothing much more clothing than I have worn before but I was still freezing. I am so pleased that it didn’t rain”

She added “After struggling so much for one night I can’t imagine having to do this night after night. It wasn’t even a true experience as I knew I could go home to a hot bath and warm bed I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to support the work that St Basils is doing to prevent homelessness.”

To donate to St Basils contact the Fundraising Team, St Basils, Heath Mill Lane, Deritend, Birmingham B9 4AX Tel 0121 772 9614

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cleaning teams

We've highlighted the introduction of "ward based cleaning" on our current issue of Focus. This is great news and means that a dedicated cleaning squad is now based in the ward. They should be going up all those alleys that used to be neglected and getting rid of those weeds that used to grow unchecked.

The Holford Drive depot has supplied details of their schedule. This indicates which area of the ward they'll be in each day. In general the minisweeper should get round every road once a week. The list here includes a description of some of their activities...

The team has a regular supervisor in the ward and there is no reason why residents with particular concerns cannot approach him directly if you see him on his rounds.

Mondays - Tame Rd , Electric Av, Wyrley Rd and side Roads off. Brookvale
Rd, Amberley Road & the Yew Tree Estate - General Litter and Detritus
removal. The crew working with the Mini sweeper to clear as much of the
build up of detritus in the channels.

Tuesdays - Thornbridge Av and Roads off, Aldridge Rd - - General Litter /
Detritus removal - work starting to have an effect in these Roads

Wednesdays - Walsall Rd, Rocky Lane and side Roads off - General litter
/ Detritus removal - work carried out on the Walsall Rd drop kerbs to
remove build up of weeds and detritus.

Thursdays - Kingsdown Av, Dyas Av and Yateley Crescent - Emphasis on
weed removal and clearing detritus

Fridays - Booths Farm Rd & Perry Wood estate. - General litter /
detritus removal

Shop front cleaning is being carried out daily as well as responding to
calls for the removal of dumped rubbish.

Karen calls for e-petitions

Karen Hamilton spoke at the city council meeting this week to press for the introduction of e-petitions, that can be signed on-line. She revealed she has signed ten of these petitions in the last year!

Deputy leader Paul Tilsley told the council he was hoping to get them introduced in the near future. The city is likely to enable children and young people to set up and sign e-petitions as well as people of voting age.

Meanwhile Jon was a keynote speaker at the launch of the city's Young People's Parliament on Wednesday night. This will bring together children and teenagers from school councils, youth clubs and other organisations involving young people and will give the city's youth a strong voice - bearing in mind they don't get to vote but are often at the centre of local politics.

What do you think? Are e-petitions a good move?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Speedway meeting

We're going to turn over the next Perry Barr ward committee on Monday to a discussion of the latest planning application from the Brummies Speedway at the Perry Barr stadium.

As we understand, the Speedway mainly want permission to substitute Sunday races for Wednesday ones when they are rained off - as they frequently were during the summer.

However there continue to be complaints from several neighbourhoods where residents find the noise from the Speedway intrusive. Also from Birmingham City University, which says the Speedway interferes with its lecture theatre blocks.

Our position is that the Speedway could solve these problems by putting up strategic sound barriers. There is plenty of evidence that existing sound barriers and buildings have a big effect on damping noise.

We think this could deal with the differences between residents who are bothered by the noise and the many fans of Speedway who want it to continue.

Our view was reinforced during the last planning application.

Monday's meeting is on the 29th September at 7pm at the Methodist Church on Rocky Lane, Perry Barr.

This is the details of the latest application:
Variation of condition C4 of application N/03972/07/FUL to allow
replacement Sunday races in the event of rained off Good Friday and/or
Bank Holiday Sunday races; and variation of condition C6 to allow the
holding of a press and practice day on a Wednesday in March 2009
between 12.00 and 15.00 hours; and the holding of races in 2009 between
19.30 and 22.00 hours and the warming up of speedway bikes between
19.00 and 22.00 hours.

Ref: N/04323/08/FUL

More details on how you can respond to planning applications here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jon speaks on M6

Jon Hunt spoke on the problems of the M6 at the Liberal Democrat conference. Jon called for traffic to be reduced on the M6 through Perry Barr warning that it causes "noise, pollution, ill-health and gridlock".

The context was the vexed issue of road pricing. We'd opposed and helped stop the West Midlands scheme which would have seen tolls placed on the side roads running under the motorway in this ward. Jon said he's also opposed a national scheme fearing it would be expensive, inefficient and intrusive. However, he said, he was happy with the party's latest proposals which would reduce vehicle duty and fuel duty and instead place charges for access to the motorways and the trunk roads.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Karen's plea on fuel poverty

Karen Hamilton spoke about the fuel crisis at this month's City Council meeting - and its effect on those who find it hardest to pay their bills.

She called on fuel companies to “do the decent thing” and reduce gas and electric charges for people who use pre payment metres.

Currently 5.8 million people use pre payment meters – 3.6 million for electric and 2.2 million for gas.

“A large proportion of pre payment meter users do not know the extra charge they are paying for their gas and electric which, in some cases can be as high as £225 per year”.

“Based on an average combined fuel usage Powergen customers pay an additional 15.2% of £225 per year, taking the annual fuel bill to a massive £1,700. British Gas and Npower customers pay an additional 12.6% if they use pre payment meters”.

“It is simply not acceptable that the fuel companies can get away with charging more to customers who use pre payment meters”. Pre payment meters are generally used by people on low incomes and by people who are in fuel poverty.

Karen added: “The energy companies are taking advantage off those who can least afford to pay more for their gas and electric.

“The Government should recognise this fact and insist that people who use pre payment meters should pay the same rate for their gas and electric as their customers who pay by direct debit”.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Running a half-marathon

Ray Hassall writes: "Well holiday time's over for me and I am back in full swing again.
Training for the Half Marathon did not stop while I was on holiday and at least five times a week I went out to continue the build up for the big event on the 26th October. This is the first half marathon organized by the City Council and its been my ambition since I first became the Cabinet member looking after Sport in the City. No let up in the training meant that when I landed at 4am in the morning I was out by 7.15am for an hours walk/jog training session.

Many of you will be aware that the half marathon starts at Alexander
Stadium, there is still time for you to join in this big event but we also
have a need for helpers at the start to get things moving with over 7000
runners some coming from other countries. Many will appreciate the need
for a great deal of volunteers to help in all stages ie registration
helping out to distribute water to the runners along the route.

Can you help? If so please ring 464 2012 or email

If you want to take part in the half-marathon, the hotline number to call is 0844 888 3883."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Environmental wardens

A few months ago we reported that the environmental warden job - that's been based in the ward for five years - has been saved.

However it's well known we're having a bit of a battle to keep the warden based in the ward.

The ward councillors have responded vigorously to a city consultation on the future of wardens.

What's happened is the city has found money from the Working Neighbourhoods Fund to continue employing all 40 environmental wardens in the city. Most, like ours, had been employed locally through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund.

City managers came up with a plan to keep 20 wardens in a central team and place 20 in each constituency - that would be one shared per ward. The central team would do blitzes, which managers in regulatory services feel deliver their objectives.

But there's a big difference between being in a team and working on your own. And we've said this repeatedly. We think the wardens should be based one for each ward. They can be brought together in teams, locally or city-wide, when necessary.

A good warden working in the ward can take on board a problem and keep working at it, chipping away at it. Like the pub that sometime ago agreed to having recycled bins on its car park. But now it's got two problems - the car park being used for commuter parking and people dumping by the recycling bins. We need the warden to work on this.

Every neighbourhood is different. Ours has acres of land at the back of properties, used for access drives, and with no clear ownership. Most of it is now gated to prevent burglaries, dumping and anti-social behaviour. But it doesn't always stay clean and often there's local dumping.

Our wardens have worked with residents' groups on neighbourhood clean ups on the. They can coordinate the delivery of skips and make sure they are used for clean-ups, not for dumping household rubbish. They've also helped coordinate the installation of security gates over the last year.

Then there's the problem of dog fouling by a local school. It's been going on for years, on and off - there's something about the neighbourhood, perhaps because the school's on the way to a park. It's nasty when it happens and can pose a severe threat to the health of young children. It's also very illegal.

It's hard to catch people who do this and if residents or the school rings the city contact number when it happens, the response is far too slow. A locally based warden knows there's a problem and can organise, possibly with the police, a fast response.

As things stand the warden is with us until next April after we stepped in to prevent his removal to the city team. The same applies in neighbouring Oscott ward. We're hoping we will win this battle - but if not we have contingency plans!

Amazing school improvement!

Congratulations to Perry Beeches secondary school which achieved England's most dramatic improvement in its GCSE results this year!

Last year just 21 per cent of pupils gained five GCSEs, including English and Maths, at grade C or above. It led to the school repeatedly being targeted by the government as one of England's so-called "failing" schools and also a devastating Ofsted report.

This year that figure shot up to 51 per cent. That's an increase of 30 percentage points.

Perry Barr ward councillor Jon Hunt wasn't surprised at the result. As chair of the city's children and education scrutiny committee he's been taking a close interest in the school's progress.

Jon says: "I'd paid several visits to the school and the head Liam Nolan, deputy head and several pupils came to the scrutiny committee and several pupils came to give a presentation on their work in June.

"It was an impressive presentation - and these results now show that everything they said was justified.

"It also highlights the disgraceful way lists of so-called 'failing' schools were issued during the summer term by the Government just as pupils were sitting their exams."

In the press the school has stressed aspects such as hard work and discipline. But the school has pushed pupils hard. Most pupils sat some English GCSEs early last autumn. That meant that many had the crucial English exam under their belts by the time they came to sit more exams this year.

This is all good news for Perry Beeches which has traditionally been seen as one of the least successful local secondary schools.

And it has some other interesting implications.

For in Handsworth families have been complaining for some time they cannot get their children into Perry Beeches. And in July some information was compiled for the Perry Barr constituency committee on school admissions.

This showed that it was easier over the last year to get into Great Barr school (which is a much bigger school) than Perry Beeches if you lived in Handsworth. So people in Handsworth need to start applying to Great Barr rather than Perry Beeches.

For people in Perry Barr and Great Barr this means, that when applying for school places this autumn, they have an equal chance of getting access to Great Barr or Perry Beeches. And both schools now have respectable academic results - so there's going to be many families with a great deal of thinking to do about their school choices.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Turnberry Park walkabout

Yesterday a committee called the Perry Barr neighbourhood tasking group took a walk-about in Turnberry Park accompanied by Jon and Ray. The group brings together the police, councillors, council officers from various departments and community representatives. We also had with us some of the youth workers who operate from the Trehurst Centre and Pete Short the local parks manager. So, as you can see, it was quite a large group.

The police community support officers have undertaken a project which has suggested a number of small ways and big ways of improving the park. The police have special concerns about the safety of people who use the footpath from Trehurst Avenue to the main park - and the youth workers seemed to share a few of their concerns.

The parks department have already made a start on some of the simpler suggestions and it was good to see a big effort had been made to cut away the undergrowth on this footpath. They had also taken a digger in to clean the main drain, which sits between the playing field and the wooded area. One of the questions is how much it will take to drain the playing field so it could be got into use for football all the year round.

There are quite a few ideas in the plan, some more achievable than others, and once it has taken more shape it would be good to see it published for full consultation.

The party walked up to Cardington Avenue, where we met residents who want some more fencing to protect the back of their properties. One of the issues the NTG has resolved is that all future fencing around the park will be green and will, preferably, be reasonably attractive.

Other ideas being kicked around include:

  • put some markings around the basketball hoop in the middle of the park and maybe add a second hoop;
  • maybe also a kickabout wall in this area where footballs can kicked off;
  • get some banners on the lampposts at the main Turnberry Road entrance - a simple way to let people know there is a park there. At the moment there's nothing to tell you - and for years people called this land by at least three different names!
  • regular clean up teams around the wooded area;
  • There's a question about whether it's worth putting more lighting on the footpaths. Two or three years ago we lit the main path across, known as Forger's Walk, but this was comparatively short compared with the long path to Trehurst;
  • removing some of the barriers at the Trehurst entrance - while keeping it secure. The entrance here is forbidding and the barriers have had the perverse affect of providing a hang about area for young people, enabling them to jump on neighbours' garden walls;
  • extend the toddlers playground just behind Turnberry Road.

We've done various consultations with residents in recent years about the future of this park and they have generally been positive about developing it. Some ideas cost more than others - but there are also possibilities for funding. For instance the planning permission for the development on Booths Lane requires funding to be put into this neighbourhood.

If you have ideas, please feel free to post them here!

Swans back

The swan family in Perry Hall Park returned this week - sadly minus the father. The family were taken to the Wychbould Swan Rescue centre after the father got into a fight with a dog. Unfortunately he failed to heal and the rest of the family was returned this week.

Dog-owners have been urged to take particular care - and the rescue centre has posted notices all round asking people to restrain their dogs. The dog-walkers group, Bark for the Park, has been helping raise money for the rescue centre in recognition of their efforts for these delightful birds.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Karen backs petition against post office closures

Perry Barr constituency Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Karen Hamilton has declared full support for the campaign against post office closures which will devastate Handsworth and Perry Barr.

Meanwhile Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood states he is opposed to post office closures - and yet that's not how he voted in Parliament.

Quoted in the Evening Mail he says: "This restructuring of the Royal Mail is an absolute nonsense."

Could he explain then why he voted AGAINST the following motion which was supported by as many as 19 rebel Labour MPs?

A few more rebels could have changed the whole situation, as it has done on other issues recently.

No wonder the Post Office proposes to slash the number of offices in his constituency by four. The proposed closures are:

  • Church Vale, 60 Robert Road, Birmingham B20 3RU, Birmingham, Perry Barr.
  • Coopers Road, 53 Coopers Road, Birmingham B20 2JU, Birmingham,Perry Barr.
  • Greenholm Road, 210 Kingstanding Road, Birmingham B44 8JP,Birmingham, Perry Barr.
  • Sandwell Road (Temporarily closed), 225 Sandwell Road, Birmingham B21 8PD, Birmingham, Perry Barr.

Constituency Lib Dem spokeswoman Karen Hamilton said: "This closure programme is indeed a nonsense and our party has consistently said so in parliament and locally over the years.

"It will devastate local communities, undermining local shopping centres.

"Our local MP says one thing in Birmingham and does something else in London. It's time he explained himself properly."

This was the motion that Khalid Mahmood voted against:

Post Office Closures — Suspend for issues to be re-assessed — rejected — 19 Mar 2008 at 18:45

* This House -
* regrets the proposal to close up to 2,500 post offices;
* recognises the vital role post offices play in local communities;
* notes the concern and unpopularity amongst the general public of closing such a large portion of the network;
* has concerns that the access criteria laid down for the closures consultation do not adequately take into account local geographical factors and public transport networks;
* is concerned that the consultation period is only for six weeks rather than three months, as recommended by Cabinet Office guidelines;
* believes that post offices must move with the times in the services they offer and that options for business expansion and developing business opportunities with local authorities should be explored further; and
* calls upon the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to instruct Post Office Limited to suspend the compulsory closure of sub-post offices while these issues are re-assessed.

An alternative motion was proposed and voted through in the following vote.[2]

The alternative motion which Mr Mahmood and most Labour MPs backed appeared to endorse the restructuring programme. This is what it says:

The majority of MPs voted in favour of the motion:[1]

* This House
* recognises the vital social and economic role of post offices, in particular in rural and deprived urban communities;
* notes the decline in post office customer numbers in recent years and the financial losses of £174 million incurred by the network in 2007;
* further recognises the effect of changes such as direct debit facilities and increased use of the internet for payment and communication;
* commends the Government's action to support the post office network with investment of up to £1.7 billion up until 2011, including an annual subsidy of £150 million;
* further notes that this subsidy did not exist under the last government and that without it thousands more post offices would be under threat; and
* urges the Government to continue working with Post Office Limited to ensure a viable and sustainable network for the future.

You can find the Evening Mail petition forms here.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Midsummer morris dancing

Here's some midsummer madness...Ray Hassall morris dancing with the Bishop of Birmingham!

This occurred at the 175th anniversary of St John's Church, Perry Barr, last weekend. The video's not very clear but Ray's in the light purple shirt on the left and the Bishop in the dark purple towards the right. Father Crispin Pailing of the church can also be spotted in the line-up.

St John's has an interesting history and a fellow blogger at Liberal England explored some of it recently:
the rock musician who was a choir boy
the Villa player who was murdered

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ward-based cleaning

We had some good news last night.

We circulated a freepost survey to about 8,000 homes over the spring as part of an exercise to find out resident priorities. It's an exercise we've done by different means most years - but this was one of the most wide-ranging surveys we've done.

In the past these surveys have shown anti-social behaviour to be the major public concern. With neighbourhood policing teams, improved youth facilities and police community support officers - along with a focus on solving problems - you would hope this had improved. And it has a little.

So this year street cleanliness has emerged as the major issue. ASB is still a concern and we're going to do some more analysis of what people are telling us about this.

Now last night we heard that preparations to introduce "ward-based cleaning" in Perry Barr ward are nearing completion. This is an idea that has been tested in one or two areas in the city with success.

The council's own figures showed why our residents are reporting a problem. Dirt levels on the street in our ward are about half as high as in neighbouring Oscott where ward-based cleaning was piloted.

The reasons: well we get repeated complaints about refuse ending up on the street. One or two neighbourhoods were also especially littered - notably the Serpentine site used as a car park by Villa. We've been deploying the monthly Xtra clean up teams effectively and they've been picking up about three times as much litter as in other wards.

We have fought fly-tipping vigorously, fencing off affected areas. But sometimes these areas continue to be blighted by one or two anti-social residents - and this is a hard problem to tackle on what is defined as private land.

What the new teams will do: all street cleaners and refuse collectors will have a single Perry Barr ward manager, supported by a team leader in charge of street cleaners.

They will clean on the streets and off them. There should be a notable impact on neighbourhoods such as Trehurst Avenue where different bits belong to highways, housing and local services. They will seek to follow the refuse crews round, cleaning up after them.

That's what we know so far. We are waiting to find out more and work with the new manager. There are for instance a number of public alleyways that are a constant battle to keep clean - that should change. Examples are the path from Rowdale Road to Perry Park Crescent and the path from Northolt Grove to Scott Arms.

We also intend to keep the enviromnental warden based in the ward. We were out with him the other weekend assisting with a neighbourhood clean-up in Witton organised by the churches' group Hope 08. There's a discussion about how the post is funded but we are keeping the money aside from community chest until it's resolved.

Hopefully the warden will be able to spend more time on jobs such as education in schools and making sure dog fouling does not happen.

Here's hoping our next round of surveys shows people really feeling the difference!

Saturday, April 12, 2008


The planning application amendments for the Speedway at Perry Barr were agreed by planning this week.

Residents living around the Speedway track were concerned that shifting some events to Sundays and Bank Holidays would cause disturbance on rest days.

There was as big a battle over this amendment as there was over the original application although, in fact, it won't mean additional races, just some changes of dates. However by the time it was submitted residents had experienced regular events - and quite a few did not like it, including Speedway's immediate neighbour, the City University.

However the real debate is likely to be later this year when Speedway puts in an application for permanent planning permission.

Coincidentally, Jon went round the area with the noise consultants employed by the Speedway on Wednesday night. One concession has been that the Speedway withdrew their request to cease noise monitoring and this was part of regular monitoring.

Jon says: "I learnt a lot from walking round the area during the race and getting information about what was happening at each moment.

"In terms of excessive noise, it peaked at about 85 decibels at the front of the City University. That's above industrial safety levels - although only very briefly. However you can see why the university is objecting so strongly.

"It was also notable that 100 yds away at the student flats quite a few windows were open. Up here the noise is dampened by the stadium and clearly the students aren' t too bothered by it.

"At Nash Square, where residents have suffered particularly, it is not excessively loud - but it is irritating. The noise is like that of a Spitfire diving and that happens 60 times during a match. It is almost certainly caused when the bikes come round a bend at one end of a track where there are no buildings shielding the square from the track.

"There was a similar noise at the Seventh Trap, at the back of Teddington Grove, but it was a little louder.

"I also went into the pits when the bikes were warming up and the noise was deafening. But the pits are sound-protected and the noise doesn't carry far so far as I can tell."

So where does this leave the Speedway?

It's pretty clear that buildings and sound-damping walls make a massive difference. During continuous racing the sound in each direction is intermittent, when the bikes go past gaps in the sound barriers.

So there's a good chance that a complete circle of sound barriers - including, for instance, more advertising hoardings to the south of the site - would make all the difference.

The Speedway say they will put them in if they get permanent planning permission - because that will justify the investment. But if they don't put them in now, and the university and some residents have some bad nights over the summer - especially if it's sunny and still - there will be a battle royal when they come up for renewal.

Jon will be writing to the Speedway reiterating his advice that they put extra sound barriers in now - to show they can work.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Queslett Road safety

Good News today!

Highways are moving ahead with the installation of two speed cameras on the Queslett Road.

Here's the map showing the location of the one in Perry Barr ward - just west of Tyler Grove.

This is progress of a kind. We're still waiting for the installation of the traffic light junction just east of this to enable safe access to the roads off Queslett Road.

Highways confirm that the number of serious accidents on this road makes it a priority for road safety measures. The new traffic lights went in for the St Margarets site about a year ago and although that made many speeders stop they still tend to accelerate once they get away from the lights.

We've given our whole-hearted and instant support to this latest proposal. It will now go to cabinet member Len Gregory for approval, once the Oscott ward councillors have also approved it, and hopefully the cameras will be up in a few weeks.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Celebration at the allotments

The Lord and Lady Mayoress paid a visit to Thornbridge Avenue Allotments on Saturday - as did respresentatives of the Air Ambulance.

The Lord Mayor Cllr Randall Brew was there to open a new community room. The ambulance staff were there to receive a cheque from some of the energetic fund-raising at this busy allotments site.

The first picture shows Ray Hassall with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress. The second shows the Lord Mayor making a presentation to the Ambulance, watched by allotments member Lyn Claxton.

There is plenty to celebrate at this centre. The allotments site has been extended towards Hassop Road and new plots added. And in addition to the community room, there's a new greenhouse. What is the greenhouse being used for? Volunteers are growing nursery plants in it and selling them on with proceeds being donated to the Air Ambulance.

Over the years this allotments site has raised thousands for the ambulance and for the Edward's Trust centre by the Children's Hospital from Christmas and summer fairs. We salute them!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gates and gates

This is a reopened right of way on Calshot Road with security gates reinstalled.

It's a situation that has been dragging on since 2003 when somebody fenced off the right of way, top and bottom, with a view to claiming possession of the land.

You can see the remains of the fence, removed by the order of a judge in court last week.

The closure affected about 100 households in Calshot and Cramlington Roads, removing one of the accesses to the rear drives. Local residents took action, backed by the Booths Farm Neighbourhood Forum and the local councillors.

The forum is now planning to arrange for locks and keys on all the gates on this block and get it properly secured again. And as I write a tidy-up is getting under way to clear the drive and get it reopened.

This is great news and a sign of our commitment to ensuring that
a) residents can use the rear drives to get vehicles off the road
b) that these open areas are properly secured.

In the last year the ward has channeled some £21,000 into gating and fencing schemes in this ward and prior to that we'd been grant-funding resident initiatives up to 40 per cent since 2003, helping to kickstart many schemes.

Mostly it's great when residents can get together to organise one of these schemes. Sometimes it means there's a band of people willing to work together for the neighbourhood and, indeed, it was one such group which prompted the founding of the Forum...back in 2002. Many of its officers have devoted considerable energy and resources to the Calshot Road situation and deserve the gratitude of the whole community. We will now be encouraging the community to back the forum, alongside the Booths Farm neighbourhood watch - to ensure we continue to have a robust community.

But sometimes things go awry....

And the National Trust must be quaking following comments by the local MP in the Evening Mail yesterday. Mr Mahmood appears not to understand the difference between a public footpath and a public highway - even though it is the present government, which, to its credit, has done quite a lot to extend the footpath network over the countryside.

So the MP states that a public footpath has to be paved and lit. No it doesn't. Imagine lighting the coastpath network that the National Trust maintains! It's not practical and would defeat the object of many footpaths.

He's got involved on one side, five years late, in another situation that erupted in 2003 when some residents wanted to gate across a well established footpath linking Ipswich Crescent/Hatton Gardens to Beeches Road. At the time this led to crowded and noisy ward committee meetings and the ward councillors, regretfully, had to withdraw the grant we had proposed making to this gating scheme. It was a shame the organisers did not agree to look for compromise solutions to allow those residents continued use of the footpath - and at the time we indicated we would put more grant in if necessary.

As a result an application was made for it to be formally declared a public footpath. It doesn't necessarily mean the removal of the would still be possible to restrict vehicle access but in an openable side gate. As Jon stated in the paper, had they compromised originally it would have been possible to have a sidegate locked at night - or even with keys issued to other local residents. Now if it becomes declared a footpath, any side gate would have to remain open.

It's an unfortunate situation and since then we've tightened up on the guidelines for grants and applications. What happens to these patches of land is largely a private matter unless, in this case, there may be a public footpath involved. But we can influence people using grants and we can help share experience of what works and what doesn't. So several subsequent schemes have put in side gates to deal with this kind of problem.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wardens saved

The annual city budget meeting on Tuesday...and quite a lot of good news.

For the third year in a row, the city has kept the council tax increase to 1.9 per cent.

At local level, we'd been worried about the loss of the neighbourhood renewal fund.

This has been paying for, amongst other things:
the environmental warden;
skips used for residents' clean ups;
youth activities;
some of the gating and fencing schemes that have gone in in recent years.

The government had replaced this with a Working Neighbourhoods Fund, which, it is intended, will focus on employment.

However the council has now secured agreement that environmental wardens can be paid for from this that's good news. Over the last few years our wardens have led a great many initiatives. As well as performing statutory duties, they've worked with residents on neighbourhood clean ups and over the last year have taken the lead in identifying and putting in place the big gating and fencing project.

We've also been told we will get £100,000 "community chest" per ward, again. If we don't have to pay for the warden from this money, there may well be scope for developing some activities.

So we're planning to consult local residents on their views. Where do we need extra effort? Youth activities, younger children, street cleanliness, security?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bin bags and boxes - update

We made a point of asking some precise questions about this project on Thursday night at the meeting of the Perry Barr Constituency Committee.

The situation is that:
the collection crews are now under very clear instructions to collect from people's properties;
the official colour leaflet that was meant to notify residents of this has not been delivered properly. Many households have not received it.

This means that residents can continue to insist on their rights to have their rubbish and recycling boxes collected from the front of our property. This is important because in our area many residents live up steps and have struggled to carry the boxes down to the road.

To sum up:

  • The refuse collection contracts say collection should be from the property;
  • the council policy says it should be from the property;
  • the crews have been instructed to collect from the property.

So if you have any problems with collection, please let us know!

Most residents in Perry Barr ward know this now because we have nearly completed delivery of our Focus, which goes to every household.

The failure to deliver the leaflets means the second part of the project cannot be implemented for a while. The official leaflets warn that ultimately residents who continue to use the verge to deposit rubbish will be fined.

There've been more mixed messages in other quarters.
For instance I heard that a meeting of elderly residents was given recycling leaflets which tell them to put their boxes on the pavement. These leaflets are wrong! Very unfortunate, also, because these are the very people who need help in putting their boxes out.

The Evening Mail on Saturday states the scheme has been "suspended after residents ignored council notices."

That's misleading. The enforcement side has been suspended but would not in any case have started until a great more work was done to ensure residents understood not to use the pavements and verges - and indeed to ensure the crews were doing collections properly.

The reason for the delay is nothing to do with residents ignoring the official notices and everything to do with non-delivery of the leaflets themselves.

The piece quotes the vice-chair of the constituency committee Cllr Linnecor but was probably written before we clarified things on Thursday night. It may be that ours is the only ward where the councillors are taking the trouble to let residents know of their rights...

Well, it's not unusual for changes to refuse collection to cause mayhem and confusion. Thankfully the recycling schemes introduced in the last couple of years have largely gone without problems. This latest scheme is suffering from a few hiccups - but it also represents a turning of the tide against the the slack practices and tide of detritus that erupted when it became unofficial practice not to collect rubbish from bins.

PS We've now been passed a copy of the "offending" recycling leaflet. In fact it's ambiguous. It states recycling boxes should be left "on the edge of the property as near to the street as possible". This probably means on the end of your drive or footpath but it's far from clear. And residents who are elderly should be able to expect collection of the boxes from their front doors.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New buses

To St Phillips Square this morning for the launch of the new super-express buses that are now running down the Aldridge Road.

Of all the new bus services brought in over the last few months, this is the most exciting.

The new buses will afford luxury travel with leather seats and air freshening systems. The new buses also offer the first glimpse of TWM's new red and white livery. In time all TWM new buses will be incorporated into the National Express fleet - so a simple glance will indicate the quality of a bus.

These buses are travelling on the 997, 993 and 934 routes. So the only draw back is that to catch them you'll have to go to the City University stops at Perry Barr. These buses link Birmingham City Centre with Perry Barr and Walsall and its suburbs. If you can use these stops however you'll find a luxury bus service arriving every few minutes to take you into the city.

Chatting to National Express boss Richard Bowker I learn that the existing Aldridge Road buses - which are already quite good quality - will be shifted on to the new 51X service, which is providing high speed city centre travel from Great Barr and is also proving very popular.

The scale of change in the West Midlands is now so fast that we were graced with the presence of transport minister Rosie Winterton MP for the launch.

More good news came with the announcement that the new bus routes launched over the autumn are picking up more passengers, with increases ranging from eight per cent to ten per cent. That's terrific when you consider that on the Queslett Road, 451, there have been fairly small changes including new buses and bus shelters. And the improved 377 service, Walsall to Sutton Coldfield, has attracted its fair share of controversy because it got linked to changes in some other local bus services in the Kingstanding area.

Travelling to the city centre this morning in the wake of the rush hour it was possible to see the impact of small changes. While cars got stuck at Newtown and traffic continued to pile up, the buses zipped by on the bus lanes.

TWM's attention is now shifting to Dudley and the Black Country. So there's still a great deal of improvement to be made in Birmingham. But it's still gratifying, during my short time as Passenger Transport Authority lead member for buses, to be involved in so much progress.