martin straker welds

Community conference: Our Health & Social Care – the future

Allotments, flags and resident action – a week in Moseley & Kings Heath

by Councillor Claire Spencer

I seem to have a lot of conversations with people – in all areas of life – about how hard it is to balance ‘doing stuff’ with ‘telling people about doing stuff’. In Council life, actually doing the casework, working with residents and learning how best to make use of local resources, has to come first. But communicating what happens is really important – it empowers residents by showing what is possible, and gives them insight into how councillors spend their time.

So when it comes to getting more people to work with us, as well as holding the Council to account, good communication is vital. And we aren’t always that great at it. So I’m going to try to do a regular highlights blog (ideally weekly, but we’ll see) which gives you some insight into what we’ve been doing in the previous week.

I won’t generally write about casework unless there is a wider issue or learning point, but I have had a good mix this week: planning applications, housing repairs and general street scene issues.

Visting Billesley Lane Allotments, Moseley

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Sedum roof on the shed at Billesley Lane allotments

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Beautiful wilderness

 

During the election campaign, I met Rob from Billesley Lane Allotments when I knocked on his door: he told me about their ongoing lease negotiations with Moseley Golf Club, and what a haven it was. So when Jane – the Chair of Billesley Lane Allotments Association – invited me to come and see the allotments on Sunday morning (including a promise of tea and biscuits), I was delighted to have the chance to catch up. I was struck by how much it felt like a family – a tea round on the go, and a horn sounded when it was ready to call people from their plots. Plotholders had a really good relationship, willing to step in to keep the whole site rich with life, and to help one another on their plots when life got in the way.

Another plotholder, Grahame, had taken responsibility for creating a ‘Space for Nature’ policy for the allotments – encouraging the growth of wildflowers and plants, as well as cultivated bee-friendly varieties of flower. It also covers wildlife – there are two beehives on site, and a number of nesting boxes. If other allotments are interested, Billesley Lane are happy to share the document – just get in touch with me and I’ll forward it to you.

The allotment has worked really hard in recent years to nurture a positive relationship with Moseley Golf Club (and vice versa) so next week I will be meeting with their Chair to learn about what makes them such a high quality golfing facility (I have only played Wii Golf, with varying levels of success), and to find out what the Council can do to give them confidence about extending the allotment’s lease.

 

Westfield Road: residents voice their concerns

A few weeks ago, I went on patrol with Lisa and Carolle from Westfield Road Streetwatch – they had had a really good relationship with my predecessor Ernie Hendricks, and wanted to ensure that I was aware of their work and willing to listen. As we walked their route, we discussed a meeting that they and Councillor Martin Straker-Welds had been pulling together over the last few months: where neighbourhood police, the Council’s Safer Communities, Environmental Health and Private Rented Sector teams, property management companies and local landlords would sit with residents to discuss issues relating to antisocial behaviour and environmental degradation. This meeting took place on Tuesday, at Kings Heath Community Centre. Some residents – many of them part of Streetwatch –  were very familiar with the issues. Others came out of curiosity, a couple of them concerned that they had received a letter in the first place. Chairing the meeting, Martin asked people what they hoped to get out of it – these were the most-mentioned:

  • Commitment to action: residents were keen to leave with the understanding that defined actions would be taken by the Council, the Police and other relevant agencies to improve quality of life in Westfield Road for all residents;
  • Information: some residents came out of curiosity and concern after receiving the letter from the neighbourhood police team.
  • Listening to residents: residents wanted the Council, the Police and other agencies to listen to them, as they felt that this did not always happen.
  • Neighbourliness and communication: residents wanted to be involved in activities to improve the quality of life on Westfield Road, and felt that a more neighbourly, communicative street would facilitate that.

Each of the representatives from the services and agencies present described their role and their powers, and throughout the meeting we collected the actions that each were committed to. Once the minutes are approved, I can summarise some of those, but much of them related to sharing contact information, commitment to sharing intelligence on issues around Westfield Road in order to take action where needed and supporting the residents in setting up a residents association should they choose to take that route.

 

Standing with the oppressed

A lot of people have emailed me this week to express a view over whether the Council House should fly the Palestinian flag over Council House. The Council responded fairly quickly to explain that they have quite strict protocols relating to what flags can be raised and when. But I understand why people don’t think that that is a good enough answer in itself – citizens want ways to demonstrate their feelings on the appalling loss of life and liberty, and want to know that their Council is listening and supports them.

When the West Midlands Friends of Israel wrote to me, I drafted a response to them – which summed up my position:

My position is quite clear on this: I support anyone who stands for life and liberty over fear and death (in word as well as deed), and find the Israel vs. Palestine framing of the conflict to be unhelpful in that regard.

I condemn the attrition of rights and lands from Palestinian people, both for its own sake as a violation of their human rights and the fact that it puts Israeli civilians in danger for as long as it prevails. Watching young Israelis in the army die in a conflict that has a clear, if difficult path to resolution seems to me to be deeply unjust.

Furthermore, I absolutely condemn the murder of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in this latest conflict – as I condemn indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel. Life is life and death is death – and hundreds of lives are being lost unjustly, and disproportionately from Palestinian people. I’m afraid I do not accept the human shields argument. Gaza is a very small place, and even Hamas terrorists live in houses. If someone was firing rockets from a street in Kings Heath – or simply lived there and fired rockets from elsewhere – I would not accept the destruction of scores of nearby residents to take out that person. I cannot in good conscience place less value on lives in Palestine and Israel.

I appreciate how sensitive this issue is – but ultimately, Palestine does not equal Hamas, and I support anyone who wants to stand up for civilians who are suffering and dying in a conflict that they did not create. I am not sure whether flying the Palestinian flag achieves that, as I suspect that the good intentions of showing solidarity would be interpreted rather differently, and reinforces the Israel vs. Palestine narrative which is not conducive to ending conflict. However, I would support flying the Council flag at half mast, as I think this better echoes our horror at the loss of life and commitment to life and liberty for all.

Since then, Councillor Mariam Khan organised a series of silent protests at Council House, and there have been further protests today. It can be hard to know what to do at local government level in the UK – particularly when the actions of the UN and US matter more than anything in ending this conflict. But supporting peaceful protest and nurturing a city where citizens are Brummies regardless of ethnicity or faith are both incredibly important nonetheless.

 

Eid Mela: a new challenge

I’m discovering that short notice is part and parcel of life at the Council – so it was lucky that when I found out that I had been put on the Eid Mela steering committee on Wednesday morning, I was free to attend the meeting in the early evening! I am pleased though – it feels good to be able to do something practical and positive for Muslim residents in the ward (and indeed, anyone else who fancies popping along). Councillor Zafar Iqbal is the new Chair, and I am really pleased to be on a committee with him – he’s a Councillor in South Yardley, and I have always admired him for his diligence and decency. At this stage, we are so close to the event that there is not a lot left for me to be able to influence: so my priorities is that Muslims across Birmingham can have a wonderful celebration in Cannon Hill Park, whilst ensuring that traffic, parking and the post-event cleanup are managed effectively.

So if you’re free on Sunday 17th August, come along! It should be great fun.

 

If you have any questions about what any of us are doing – or would like more details on something I have written – you can find our contact details here.

Will the sale of BCC land affect railway stations in Moseley & Kings Heath?

by Claire Spencer

Over the last few weeks, questions have been raised over whether the sale of Birmingham City Council land near Bordesley railway station will have an impact on plans to reopen railway stations in Moseley and Kings Heath, as well as in several other locations around Birmingham. Some residents have been worried that the sale will act as further disincentive to reopen the stations.

Local Labour Party members – including the councillors – are in favour of reopening the stations in Moseley & Kings Heath. I haven’t yet met a resident that isn’t, come to think of it. So before the Cabinet made their decision to sell the freehold, Councillor Martin Straker-Welds had several discussions with Birmingham Property Services, to find out what impact it would have.

Firstly, let’s establish the site we’re talking about. The wider site is located along Bedford Road and is bounded by Trinity Terrace and Camp Hill. The Council freehold ownership is indicated by an arrow:

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Prior to the sale being agreed, the site was let on a 75 year lease with effect from 1976 with 38 years left to elapse. The land is already developed and in use. The tenant – Sulzer Dowding and Mills – had indicated to their landlord (the current leaseholder) that they would have to relocate to find a site that was more suitably configured, unless the landlord was able to reconfigure the current site. The landlord was unable to borrow the required funds against a 38-year lease – hence their request to BCC to purchase the freehold.

The second part of the map above shows the current line and the potential new line (marked in green). This indicates that – in order to realise the new connection – that other land (which already belongs to the same landlord) would need to be compulsorily purchased anyway if the reopening of the stations was to go ahead. 

Birmingham Property Services have summarised the two possible scenarios thus:

1. The Council retains its freehold land: Any scheme would still need to compulsorily acquire the long leasehold interest. It would also then need to acquire the Council’s freehold interest (voluntarily or by compulsory purchase order (CPO)), then acquire by CPO the required land from the landlord’s freehold interest on either side.

2. The Council sells its freehold interest: Any scheme would then seek to place a CPO the required land from the landlord. There would no longer be a need for BCC to be included in the CPO order for that land.

If the Council had held onto the freehold, they would still be unable to control or influence that land for another 38 years. In order to end the lease earlier, they would have needed to negotiate with the landlord.

So in the short term – and while there is still uncertainty as to when the project could go ahead – it makes a lot of sense to safeguard the jobs that that site supports.

For us in Moseley & Kings Heath, our task is to focus on getting our railway stations. Centro indicated in their draft strategy that the West Midlands Regional Rail Forum wished for the Camp Hill chords development to commence in the next control period (2014-2019), and to continue into the subsequent control period (2019-2024).

If you would like to find out more about this – and what the next steps for any local campaigns might look like – Chris Tunstall, Director of Sustainability, Transportation and Partnerships (BCC) and Toby Ratcliff, Rail Development Manager (Centro) will be taking questions at the next Moseley Forum meeting on July 1st (7pm; Moseley Exchange). These meetings are open to the public, so please attend.

Kings Heath Post Office petition presented to Full Council

by Claire Spencer

At Full Council on April 9th, Councillor Martin Straker-Welds presented the 1500 signatures we collected over two weeks from local people concerned about the possible loss of Kings Heath Post Office from the High Street. The petition was addressed to Sharon Lea, Strategic Director for Environment & Culture:

Thank you to everyone who signed the petition in person and online – we will make sure that we convey any news on the progress of the petition as we hear it.

Save Kings Heath Post Office – join us on Saturday March 16th!

by Claire Spencer

Plans have been announced to close four Crown Post Offices in Birmingham by re-opening them as franchises in retail outlets – one of these is one of our own, Kings Heath. While it is always positive for services to monitor how well they are serving their community, and to adapt in order to serve them better, we fear that integrating Kings Heath Post Office with a retail outlet will lead to unacceptable consequences.

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The risk of losing elements of the service it provides to local people that are deemed unprofitable, or ‘surplus to requirements’ is a real concern. We do not want to face a situation where the purpose of the Post Office narrows gradually, to the detriment of local provision for local people.

We also fear that it will be difficult to fill the gap on the High Street once the Post Office is gone – there are already numerous charity shops, betting shops and payday lenders on the High Street, and the likelihood is, in a recessionary environment, that those sort of businesses will fill the gap, diminishing the diversity of Kings Heath.

As noted in the Birmingham Mail, the councillors, members of Moseley & Kings Heath Labour Party and other local people will be outside Kings Heath Post Office this Saturday, collecting signatures in support of keeping the Post Office where it is. We’ll be there from 9:30am-12:30pm, if you would like to join us!

If you can’t make it on Saturday, but would like to be added to the petition or to collect signatures in your own time, let us know by emailing mkhlabour@gmail.com – or sign it online here. Post Offices are for everyone, and we need to show that we value ours.

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