Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Public transport 1

Jon Hunt reports:
There are still fading posters in houses on the Walsall Road from 2003-4 when proposals to run the Metro up the road were first announced and created major opposition from residents adjoining the route (most of our ward).

A lot has happened since then but this week I think has seen a major development.

To recap: the original proposal, which Centro and the then City Council administration kept secret until the last minute was to run trams up to the Scott Arms with a view to creating a park and ride from the motorway.

Apart from the environmental impact on the Walsall Road, I quickly established that the plans would rapidly undermine local bus services. The Metro was only commercially viable if most bus passengers transferred to it. Our preferred alternative, which the city council finally agreed to support, was to end the Metro at Perry Barr so it could also pick up through passengers from Kingstanding, New Oscott and Sutton Coldfield.

However the Metro plan was never deleted from the maps or from the Local Transport Plan. What did happen was that the city council changed its priorities for Metro - putting in an A45 route to the Airport ahead of the Walsall Road. The practical impact has been there has been very very little prospect of the A34 route ever happening - and in fact the red route and bus showcase scheme has delivered massively improved bus services.

At a recent constituency committee meeting at Tower Hill Library I had a go at city planners who had yet again put the so-called Varsity Route into the Big City Plan. The reality is that the plan is unlikely ever to happen in anyone's lifetime.

However since I've been on the Passenger Transport Authority, since 2004, new thinking has permeated Centro.

So on Monday the PTA (now the Integrated Transport Authority) approved a draft of a new "Integrated Public Transport Prospectus" with some big changes proposed on the A34 plans.

This for the first time proposes to take "rapid transit" all the way to Walsall but with a big difference. What is proposed is bus rapid transit and/or Metro.

This I understand would mean taking Metro to Perry Barr - as always seemed sensible - and then building on the existing bus improvements to create new style fast bus services- bus rapid transit - to Walsall. Who knows it might even find a solution to the Scott Arms!

It is still a long, long way away, whatever happens, but this seems to me more in keeping with what the community wanted - fast bus access in both directions and a Metro serving the whole of north Birmingham at Perry Barr.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Carnival

The last meeting of the ward committee heard that it is proposed that the Birmingham International Carnival be held in Perry Barr Park on August 2nd this year.

Ward councillors have asked in the past for better consultation about the event, which could be a great event but usually poses big organisational headaches and provokes a lot of complaints from local residents.

Karen Hamilton was able to attend the last meeting of the city council's planning group. However we were dismayed to learn that the carnival committee has stated it will not have a Perry Barr ward councillor on its committee.

Our inquiries suggest the event is by no means guaranteed. For a start the council has not agreed its grant and is unlikely to until it is satisfied the organisation of the carnival is up to scratch.

Secondly the carnival needs a specific licence from the licensing committee to operate. Last time it breached its noise limits big time and we had a lot of complaints from some roads. We would hope the committee would require cast iron guarantees that noise will be controlled ie by limiting the number of sound systems on site.

In general this should be a cause for celebration and could be a great community event. The carnival procession is always magnificent. So why do the ward councillors receive the news with dread? Because something always goes wrong.

In 2007 the Carnival was held on a blistering hot day and attracted record crowds. That put pressure on the local roads but in truth quite a few problems were caused by simple human error. Each time we work with the organisers to put these errors right - and each time something else happens!

Last time there were problems with parking, noise and non-delivery of resident passes.

Starting with noise, in the Perry Villa Estate this reached 85 decibels which is about 25dbs more than the acceptable limt. So we're pressing for two things this year; 1/ to move the funfair away from the built up side of the park 2/ to limit the sound systems to the two mainstages. We do not believe the private DJ systems that come with the Carnival are acceptable. Last time speakers were pointed across the valley and blasted the Beeches estate for a period of up to six hours causing a raft of complaints from families in Curbar Road and beyond.

2/ Parking. Something very simple went wrong last time. A parking area was designated in Perry Hall Park. Stewards turned up and found a cricket match being played on the area - in spite of the fact that we had asked organisers to check cricket was cancelled. The stewards didn't consult anyone and closed the car park, just as the roads were closed for the procession. Chaos!! There was in fact still plenty of space in the park but nobody had told the stewards they could use it. It was Jon Hunt who went down with department manager Kevin Brown and found out what had happened and got the car park reopened. But by that time hundreds of cars had parked in semi-legal locations around Perry Barr and Great Barr.

The truth is that getting previous problems sorted is relatively easy. Anticipating what will go wrong this time is much harder. For years weve been asking about the quality of stewarding - proper briefings and good communication could make a real difference, as could ensuring that officials pay attention when they are told about problems on the day.

Witton developments

A couple of developments in the Witton area ahead of our ward committee meeting on Monday (9th) which will be at Witton community centre at 7pm.

First planning permission has been given for a large housing development on the former Siemens site, by Tame Road and Brookvale Road. We've welcomed this as we want to bring this derelict site into use. The plans have been developed by Villa, the site owners, and of course it remains to be seen whether developers can be attracted.

The proposals look very attractive and would improve the environment around Witton station, creating riverside walks. The two issues are flooding and the loss of villa parking spaces. Everybody has been satisfied that the plans involve adequate flood defences and preparation.

In addition the revise Villa parking scheme is now bedding down after some months of confusion. This means that both householders and a limited number of their visitors can now park on match days in the residential areas - but fans cannot.

The second issue has been raised in the press today and that is the possible move of the wholesale markets to the IMI site off Brookvale Road. This would obviously be good for the local economy but we would want to look carefully at any plans as it would mean a significant increase in traffic on Brookvale Road.

Dog fouling

For years the pavements around Calshot School, Great Barr, have been blighted by regular deposits of dog mess.

This year we've agreed with the police and the environmental warden service to have a major drive to tackle this problem.

We've been building up the environmental warden service over the last six years - and one of the reasons the newly-elected Liberal Democrat councillors back in 2003 and 2004 were keen to hire wardens was because of this problem of fouling.

Any dog fouling is an environmental hazard. However to do it on the pavement by the gates of an infant school or a nursery is nothing less than a crime.

Most dog-owners are responsible. They carry dog-bags and trowels and pick up the mess. A minority are giving others a bad name.

So we are sorry to report that in spite of the campaign that has been launched the problem is getting no better. So far the police have circulated households in the area of the school and attached prominent signs to the school fences.

The Walsall Road police welcome calls and information about the problem. They can be contacted directly on 428 6140

One mother told Jon Hunt last night that she had challenged a dog-owner directly in sight of one of these signs over the last few days. The dog-owner declined to accept responsibility for the mess being created.

It's becoming clear the only answer to the problem will be prosecutions. Residents in one neighbouring road are complaining their verges have been turned into a canine convenience.

Dog-owners who persist in abusing the pavements and putting the health of children at risk need to be aware that both the neighbourhood police team and the warden service are committed to dealing with this problem - as are we!