Welcome to Acocks Green Focus Group’s Website

May 11th, 2009
Conservation Area Collage for Header Pic on Website

Keep ‘em safe – Consultation on Acocks Green’s First Conservation Area coming soon

Welcome to the Website of Acocks Green Focus Group.  We are an active local campaign group in Acocks Green.   We campaign for the fixed physical environment of Acocks Green: both to conserve what is good, and to improve what is not so good.  Our concerns are buildings, trees, street layout and street furniture and green open spaces.    Our  site is regularly updated, below, with new posts of ongoing news and campaigns.   Along the right hand side you will also find some permanent pages about issues of local interest and a set of links to other local websites and to national websites of relevance to our work.

It may be that a particular search term brought you here and you started with the posting with that term in it.  If you live in Acocks Green you will probably find other items to interest you here as well.   Have particular things you are interested in, and no time to look through everything?  Try our search box, top right.

Our latest header pic  is all about our new now that the Glynn Edwards is saved. We need a Conservation Area.  Hand-in-hand with the Birmingham City Council Conservation section and a local Conservation architect we have been working on this.   Scroll down for more details.  This way we really can kick the developers out, and keep our special local buildings, like the ones in our collage above,  safe.

Stop Press: the Conservation Area proposal went in a formal letter to Birmingham City Council on 14 July, with the formally conducted consultations which we ran showing a huge majority in favour.

You can also follow us on Twitter: @AcocksGreenFG


Yardley Hustings 2015

March 28th, 2015
Yardley Hustings

Yardley Hustings 2015: L to R Eamonn Flynn (TUSC) Arun Photay (Con) Jon Morris (Chair) Jess Phillips (Lab) John Hemming (Lib Dem) Teval Stephens (Respect) Thanks to John O’Shea for permission to use image.

Stop Press: Twitter Hustings for Yardley – 5 pm Thursday 2 April.  All candidates likely to take part.  Organised between @BirminghamMail and @TwitterUK – Hashtags #yardleydebate and #GE2015

Yardley did it!  After an absence of hustings in Yardley since 2001, on Saturday 21st March 2015 Yardley held a packed hustings at South Yardley Library with standing room only at the back.  Five candidates attended: for names and parties see above.  The Green Party candidate, Grant Bishop, sent a short address to be read out in his absence,  inadvertently breaking the ice by saying he knew there would not be many there … the room burst out into chuckles.

Otherwise the candidates introduced themselves as follows:

Grant Bishop said (in his written address) that at 23 he had been in the Green Party for five years:  the poor, and green spaces in Birmingham,  should both be protected.  We should not continue with fossil fuels.

The other candidates all concentrated upon their local credentials: Jess Phillips for Labour described herself as ‘a real Brummie’ her father taught at Sheldon Heath School, her ‘Nan’ occupied one of the first council houses on Gleneagles Road in Yardley  She was ‘Victims Champion’ for the City and had been a community activist all her life.   Otherwise this was a fairly typical Labour Party address: the rich were getting richer, and people were struggling; she supported the NHS, Police etc. against the cuts.

John Hemming, Lib-Dem and the sitting candidate matched Phillips on local background in an almost spooky mirroring: his mother grew up on the Stockfield Council Estate in Acocks Green.  His father had worked in South Yardley Library, where the hustings were being held.  (For people unfamiliar with Yardley Constituency it is useful to understand that Yardley is both the name of a large medieval parish of Birmingham and  the name of a modern suburb in that parish.  The wider constituency of Yardley also includes much of the old parish which now contains the modern suburbs of Acocks Green, Sheldon and Stechford – the other three wards in the constituency.) Hemming said he was not interested in being a government minister, but rather preferred to campaign on various issues including most especially child abuse and the secret imprisonment of individuals.   There was a need to protect the bottom level of society, to protect people on the minimum wage and to fund the NHS properly, although he was not averse to some privatisation – e.g. Birmingham Children’s Hospital had rented a scanner.  He was concerned to strengthen UN and international law in regard to issues like the proposed attack on Syria in 2013.  He believed in giving good support  locally to constituents and employed a Benefits adviser at the Lib-Dem centre in Yardley.

Arun Photay, the Conservative candidate lacking this year’s must have accessory of a recent forbear having lived in a council house in the constituency made the most of the fact that, although he is a councillor in Wolverhampton, he began his working life in Birmingham. Like Phillips he was involved in campaigning for the rights of abused women: this time as the ambassador for the ‘Sharon Project’.  Like the Labour and Lib-Dem candidates he stressed the importance of maintaining the NHS: his wife is a GP.  He believed in increasing the numbers of doctors and nurses.   We also need to encourage businesses to set up and settle in Yardley.

It was back to the local boy/girl angle with Respect candidate, Teval Stephens who has lived in Yardley all his life, and he owns a business across the road from the Library.  He was concerned about the social divisions he saw everywhere around him, the erosion of civil liberties and the selling off of the public sector.  He noted that the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ hoax in Birmingham had caused grades in one school to drop.  He also believed that there should be a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on bankers’ bonuses and that tax loopholes should be cut: ‘We need a centre left party not afraid to be called Socialist’

Eamonn Flynn, for TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition)  explained that the party was a coalition of different socialist groups and activists.  He observed that Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world but that ‘you wouldn’t know it’.  Like Stephens he has lived in the constituency all his life.  We need another alternative than Labour offering another five years of austerity.  We should share the national pot out more fairly and should build more social housing and build up the NHS:  the NHS in fact seems to be everyone’s favourite organisation this election.

The virtually Question Time style two hour session was brisk, with the Chair steering his way carefully through the many hands shooting up between each question and taking as many as possible,  but giving priority to non-party members (asking all the candidates to be honest in identifying their own followers)

Questions were varied, but between them covered a lot of key ground in this election:

Enforced workfare for young people

Jess Phillips. Eamonn Flynn and Teval Stephens  said that they were opposed to this.   Arun Photay for the Conservatives said that he could not see anything wrong with it ‘if it helps get a solid job’.  John Hemming, steering a middle path and said that people should not be employed using workfare when there are real jobs available.  There needs to be some compulsion but care should be taken because people can be sanctioned unnecessarily.  Jess Phillips, who was particularly emphatic in her opposition to workfare was asked whether she was aware that her party had  acted in effect in support of this She appeared a little surprised, but said that she did not always agree with her party.

How is Birmingham City Council investing in Birmingham?

This seemed a slightly strange question for parliamentary candidates, but they gamely tackled it anyway.

Flynn said nothing was being done and the Council needs to stand up for the people of Birmingham.

Phillips (A BCC councillor) said that the Council has investment schemes and space for creating new industry in Hodge Hill, but there is not enough development happening.  She defended the Council’s recent cost cutting budget saying that it would be ‘irresponsible not to set a budget.

Photay called for more investment in industry: ‘Yardley’s not even on the map.  Stop giving money to unions!’

Hemming said that Birmingham needs to encourage private sector growth.  It would be good to extend the runway at Birmingham Airport, but you need economic stability for that.  Whoever is in Downing Street there will be more cuts in Birmingham, but that living standards have been improving since 2010.

Stephens argued that more council houses needed to be built in order to reduce homelessness and that this would provide proper jobs.  Ordinary people should receive more funding to start business rather giving more money than large corporations.  Abandoned shops could be used.

Proposed Anti-Strike Law – Minimum 50% Union Balloting Before Walkout

Photay supported this.  He is against sudden walkouts because of the effect on the economy.   All other candidates opposed.  Hemming said this was a Conservative, rather than a Lib-Dem idea – no backing from Lib-Dems.  Stephens said it was the basic right of anyone to be able to withdraw their Labour.  Flynn said he was concerned that an employer has the right not to recognise a union and that anti-union legislation, which Labour over the years has not opposed, should be reversed. Also it should not be assumed that because someone did not vote that they are necessarily opposed to strike action.  Phillips agreed with this late point saying that, for example, many nurses are mothers with small children and may not have the time to attend union meetings.

Legal Tax Avoidance

(This is an issue which the campaign organisation 38 Degrees have been campaigning around vigorously) Perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone declared themselves agin’ it.

Hemming gave what he himself called the  ‘obvious examples’ of Starbucks and Amazon.  These organisations should be taxed in this country.   He is  signed up to the idea of a ‘tax dodging bill’

Stephens said that corporations need to pay tax in the same way as working people pay tax.  Also, at present whilst small businesses pay heavy premiums large corporations get to be able to do ‘all manner of things’.

Flynn said that the problem was that ‘avoidance is the legal one’.  It was easy for big companies because they could pay accountants £100,000 to find loopholes to avoid paying any tax at all.

Phillips said she agreed largely with everything that had been said so far, especially on the tax loopholes.  Everybody should pay their dues – if you trade in this country then you should pay your taxes here too.

Photay said that if you are getting money from the British Government (tax breaks and business grants  presumably)  then you should pay into the pot for the economy.  Some progress had been made on this, but more needed to be done.

Where do the candidates Stand on Palestine  and Should we End the Arms Trade with Israel?

No-one indicated themselves happy with the present situation in Palestine.  Beyond that answers were slightly more mixed.

Stephens said that his party leader, George Galloway, had spoken on this point ‘non-stop’, and that support for a peaceful solution for Palestine was central to his party ethos:  there should be peace in the area, an end to the illegal settlements and a one state solution.

Flynn opposed sending arms to Israel and also pointed out that multinational companies are exploiting Palestinians: what happens in Palestine is also affecting this country, and there is an immediately local link in the form of the activities of the Veolia Waste company which has its nearest recycling base very close by, in Tyseley, which is where The Constituency’s waste goes.

Phillips said that from what she had seen it was an issue which mattered a lot to people in The Constituency.  She agreed that we should stop arming people who kill children, and that the illegal settlements should be treated as that.  We should also use our consumer power and boycott Israeli settlement goods.  However, she qualified this by saying that she ‘doesn’t know the ins and outs the consequences’.

Photay said that he also ‘didn’t know the ins and outs of arms sales agreements’.  He was hoping for a two state solution, but agreed that ‘If you go on fighting nothing gets resolved.’

Hemming explained that he had worked with a group of people in order to collect a dossier and submitted this to The International Criminal Court in 2012.  Part of the problem is that America and Israel both ignore international law.  They will veto an investigation at the Hague, but he is still looking for  international law to be brought to bear.  He proposed the debate to recognise Palestine which The commons finally voted through, and the Lib-Dems have called for the suspension of arms licenses.   The main thing though is to strengthen international humanitarian law.

Climate Change: Where did the candidates stand on the Bruntland Report?

The er, what was that again?  All five candidates had to blushingly admit that they hadn’t been standing anywhere on the Bruntland report lately, mainly because they had never heard of it.  (Along probably with 99.9% of the audience.)  The Bruntland report, it turns out, was a long report, published as a volume edited by one Mrs Harlem Gro Bruntland who happened to be Prime Minister of Norway in 1987 and, as such, was appointed to chair the United Nations Commission which produced this report in that year.    The edited highlights of the report appear to be that it is about  growing global concerns about the environmental crisis facing our planet and the need for environmental action, culminating in a ‘global agenda for change’.

Having got the gist of it out of the way the candidates then got down to work to explain their own positions on environmental issues:

Flynn said that TUSC stand for environmentalism and for investing in renewable energy rather than just a few solar panels on council house roofs, and that at present we need to invest massively in sustainable energy measures – as Germany is currently doing.

Phillips reflected that all governments have conventions, but then do not stick to what they have signed up for.  However, when it comes to green technology in particular she agreed with Flynn that the rest of the world is leaving us behind.  We also need to invest locally and, in Birmingham, we need to go back to being ‘The Workshop of the World.

Photay agrees that a lot needs to be done and that we need to find acceptable energy sources.  He wondered whether wind farms would spoil people’s view, but added that industry was already getting greener.

Hemming agreed with Flynn that Germany is more advanced than we are because of a ‘feed-in tariff’ – in plain English this means getting paid for generating your own electricity.   There is a government scheme in this country (also known as ‘clean energy cash back)  but it is far less developed than in Germany.   He also thought that the national cost of solar energy could be brought down to below that of conventional energy and ultimately this could help our national interest rates and keep national debt down.

Stephens said he was ‘committed to a low-carbon Britain with clean energy, alternative energy, wind farms and wave power.

Why, as a student should I vote for your party?

Phillips said that Labour would support the next generation to be better off than their parents – this is a Labour pledge.  They will lower tuition fees and they will provide apprenticeships, because some people want to work with their hands.  It is important however that students engage with the democratic process and that they take part in voting.

Photay agreed with the need to engage in the democratic process.  The Conservatives are trying to create a strong economy.  Labour had damaged the economy before they left office last time and because of that businesses were closing down – so Conservatives will provide more jobs.

Hemming took a different approach, saying that international law and global peace should be as important for students as good jobs and these were things that the Lib-Dems believed strongly in working towards.  He also pointed out that the percentage of income which students are expected to repay from tuition fees would still be low under the Lib-Dems planned provision: a flat rate of 9% of income to be paid only once graduates start earning £21,000 or more.  (i.e. re-payment rates are similar to Labour.)

Stephens argued that there is currently a legal class discrimination  system in this country involving universities.  In job advertisements there is a tendency to ask for only candidates from ‘top universities’ (Oxbridge or Russell Group, perhaps).  This means that high scoring students from lower-rated universities may be barred from even applying whereas lower scoring students from the top rated universities are not.  Respect would oppose this discrimination.  They would also abolish tuition fees, originally introduced by Labour, although increased under the Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition.

Flynn said that TUSC stood for free education and a grant you could live on.  Blair introduced tuition fees two years into Labour getting power in 1997.  ‘Don’t trust Labour to keep your fees down.’

***

Time was then running out and candidates took a final set of questions from the floor all asked together and gave the answers together.   As a general competence test this wasn’t bad: all managed to real off a set of answers covering all questions in some reasonable detail.

Euro Referendum – were candidates for or against?

Phillips stood out as being the only candidate opposed to this.  She said that she feared for the effect on the economy, which was the most important thing.  Photay said that we should have a referendum because ‘The British people are old enough to decide.’  Hemming said that we are ‘overdue a referendum on the EU’  and he supports one.  Stephens, also in support of the referendum said that ‘We were hoodwinked when we voted for the EU.’  Flynn also felt that we ‘needed a vote on Europe.  He argued that we should come out for different reasons from the ones some people had: the EU is essentially a ‘bosses club’ to allow free movement of Labour.  It benefits bosses.

Trident: Where did candidates stand on the vote on Trident (Nuclear Submarine) replacement in 2016, and did they know how much it was costing us?

Here Phillips placed herself firmly to the right of her own party .  She and  Photay largely concurred on this one.  They were both whole-heartedly in favour of Trident’s replacement.  Photay said that ‘we need to defend ourselves’.  If we aim to disarm later we should work with NATO on it.  Phillips guessed that Trident would ‘cost a bomb’ and  that it could pay for 20,000 nurses but also expressed anxieties about enemies who might want to attack us and who, she believed, could only be warded off with the nuclear threat.  We should only disarm ‘in a stable way’.  At present with ‘aggression from abroad’ she ‘does not think that there will be popular support’.  Referring again to her family she said that her mother had been a member of CND and at Greenham Common.  Phillips however made it clear that in this respect she rejected her mother’s views because she believed in a great (though unspecified) threat from enemies at present.  Hemming said that he believed in reducing spending on Trident in favour of focusing on the armed forces.  Stephens said that Respect was totally opposed to Trident and that it was crazy to borrow money to buy nuclear weapons when we could not afford to train nurses – given that there are many things we cannot afford at present, should we focus on Trident?  Flynn concurred more with this view, saying also that we need to get rid of Trident: it was built for the cold war and it is not going to protect the country against any present threats: invest the money where we need it.

Do candidates support the so called ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘spare room subsidy’? And do they support sanctions on Benefits more generally

No-one really seemed very satisfied with the system as it stands now.  Phillips said that she did not support the bedroom tax.  Photay said that whilst we should be promoting our economy more those who cannot contribute should have our support.  Hemming believed that there were substantial problems with overcrowding in social housing.  He has proposed a change to the ‘tax’  however in which the disabled are automatically excluded from it and that otherwise those who do not wish to move from their present accommodation should not pay more for it until alternative accommodation has been found for them.   On sanctions Hemming added that people often ‘end up in a muddle because they do not understand the system’ and that more help should be provided.   Stephens said that the bedroom tax was killing people.  Flynn added that sometimes people who are sanctioned should not be and that the problems with overcrowded properties are not going to be resolved by kicking someone out of a council house when they had been in it for 50 years.  The right accommodation just isn’t there.  The solution was to build more council housing.

Support for the NHS?

Phillips said that Labour are committed to putting billions in.  It took a long time to get an operation for her own son, and that polls show that the NHS matters more than anything else : that we should not be relying on bringing in nurses from abroad, but training more of our own.

An interjection here from the audience opened up the discussion by suggesting that it costs £20,000 to bring a nurse in from the Philippines, but £60,000 to train a nurse in the UK.  (Stephens added that he had visited the Philippines and given the poor state of that country he  believed they needed their nurses there.)  There are indications that we are indeed spending highly on bringing in nurses from abroad and according to this 2012 Royal College of Nursing Report ‘[…] a sharp reduction in intake of NHS nursing supply is expected over the next ten years’ (p. 5) whilst, overall, training of nurses in this country has been declining since the 1990s.

Photay said that a new Conservative government would spend a projected 12.5 million on the NHS.  Hemming agreed that we should be training more nurses locally, and also noted that it should be possible to pre-book an appointment with a GP (In the way everyone used to be able to, but this has become difficult recently.)  Flynn noted that part of the problem is that there is a crisis in medical care because people are stuck in hospitals:  we don’t own nursing homes anymore.

Acocks Green Post Office under Threat

October 8th, 2014
Post Office (present) and Spot On sites compared

Check it out! Acocks Green Post Office above. Spot On below. What do YOU think?

Stop Press  The petition outside Acocks Green Post Office on Saturday 18 October 2014 collected much interest and  378 signatures in two hours.  Update: we now have 438 signatures and rising.

Stop Press 2 The drop-in ‘Consultation’ on the future of Acocks Green P.O.  was very interesting, though perhaps it raised more questions than it answered.  Here is the report.

Stop Press 3 Post Office representatives attended the Acocks Green Ward Meeting on 29 October 2014.  One of the two representatives attending was Richard Lynds.  We do not have a picture of the meeting on Wednesday but we think this old newspaper report from The Cumberland News in 2008 most helpfully provides the general flavour pro (Even though Mr Lynds has possibly changed his hair stylist since then!)

A short time ago The Post Office (The Government body, not the place in Acocks Green!) dropped a bombshell on us: they want to close the government owned Acocks Green Post Office and move the whole operation over to the other side of the Warwick Road, to what is now ‘Spot On’, between Iceland and Hugh’s Fruits.  If you would like to see this already infamous letter then check out letter announcing proposed move of Acocks Green Post Office here

The new ‘Post Office’ would open in January.  It would be owned not by the Government, but by an organisation called ZCO, which is based in Bolton.  It would provide two fewer serving outlets and the extra space in the shop would be taken up with sweets, cigarettes, newspapers and what they slightly oddly call ‘shopping’, but a range of general supermarket type basics,  we assume.

A lot of people are already very unhappy about this.  Why?  Well take a look at the two pictures above.  What do you notice about the two pavement areas?  What do you notice about shelter in the rain?  People often queue outside the Post Office.   Not only is the pavement area at Spot On quite narrow, but after the new Smart Route is finished (Works starts on Monday 27 October, 2014)   in front of Spot On there will also be a bus stop and an area for taxis.  There will be a small build out, but not very big.  Notice also the side of Spot On, next to Hugh’s.  That’s right.  There is an alleyway to the back with cars and lorries coming in and out.  How would you like to stand there on a busy day, jostled all round, no shelter if it rains, a busy road and buses and taxis in front and vehicles at the side?  We have been promised earlier starting, at 7 am,  but that pavement is still going to be very busy (And will the early start last?)  Factor in pensioners and the sick and disabled collecting their money and parents with young children …  Inside it is likely to be overcrowded too.

It gets worse.  If this replacement P.O. should close there is legally no obligation upon anyone to do anything about it at all.  We could be left without a main P.O. in Acocks Green Village.  We think this could happen.  Why?  This is what the Post Office organisation say in their letter about ZCO

What The Post Office organisation letter says about ZCO

What The Post Office organisation letter says about ZCO

Hmm, sounds pretty good?  Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum had nasty suspicious minds and did some digging, then we (also having nasty suspicious minds) did some more.  This is what we found:

  • ZCO appears to be owned by one individual who lives in Bolton.
  • ZCO has only been registered as a company since 12 May 2014.  This is according to the very trustworthy Companies House, Government owned website.

ZCO Ltd - Companies House Entry - Screenshot

  • It would appear that the individual has been director of two other companies and company secretary of one.   One of these companies appears to have gone bankrupt.
  • One of the most disastrous of the business ventures involved a company called AA Postal Services
  • one piece of data we found suggested that all of the individual’s assets together are currently worth £0.00.  (This is a private website, but the information on it seems to tally closely with that on Companies House, which is a Government run website, and we were led from here to the Companies House data on the unhappy history of  AA Postal Services.)

Hmm … Sutton Coldfield and Kings Heath P.O.s are also about to become franchises –  run by W. H. Smith’s.

So Acocks Green Post Office is about to become an overcrowded shoddy outfit with an unsafe frontage and may go under?   Well that’s just great.  (Not.)  What can I do though?

All is not lost yet.  The Post Office has by law to carry out a Public Consultation.  Remember, remember the 5th of November.  This is when the Consultation closes.  (Let’s make sure there are fireworks!)  Meantime, you can write to the Post Office yourself at comments@postoffice.co.uk or complete this on-line Post Office Questionnaire about Acocks Green PO

Sign the Petition - image

The petition will be next at Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum Public meeting, see below.  The collected petition will be presented in The House of Commons by local MP John Hemming (Yardley).  If you would like to help petition, or hand out leaflets as well, please do drop us a line on our ‘Contact Us’ link on the right here, or respond to this post to get in touch.

So who is backing this campaign locally?

In alphabetical order, and so far:

  • Acocks Green Focus Group
  • Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum
  • Fox Green Neighbourhood Forum
  • John Hemming, MP for Yardley Constituency  (Lib-Dem) update: John signed our community  objection letter 11.10.14
  • John O’Shea (Acocks Green Ward Councillor, Labour)*
  • Roger Harmer (Acocks Green Ward Councillor, Lib-Dem)
  • Stewart Stacey (Acocks Green Ward Councillor (Labour)*
The two Labor councillors are running their own petition with different wording.

In other words this a coming from local community groups and local politicians.

We’ve lost the tree – sorry, we needed the political support on that one, and we didn’t get it.  This time we have the political support, so let’s keep going!

 

Tree on The Green under Threat of Chopping

September 9th, 2014
Tree under Threat

The healthy tree on The Green Amey want to chop down: ‘Health is not the issue here, highway obstruction is the issue that we are obliged to deal with’

Oh it always seems to go, like you don’t know what you’ve got.  Till it’s gone  […] Took all the trees  […]

Update: As promised, the matter was raised at the Ward Meeting to-night.   There was a great deal said about the issue of Amey’s liability, and some agreement that this liability has become more of an issue since Amey took over from the Council in managing the trees.   However, in the end it was agreed that the councillors would ask for more safety tests to be carried out.  We will update further when we have more info.  

Update 2 This is very depressing but ‘elf and safety’ have won.  As you may have already noticed, the tree now has an execution notice on it.  Whether or not you feel that a 77 year old tree with no history of accidents (Not counting the old damage to bark on the tree, but what actually happened there no-one seems to know, presumably it was hardly noticed at the time) is an serious safety risk and must be therefore chopped forthwith we will leave up to you.  We have done all we can.  We also leave you to celebrate the promised planting of two thin young replacement trees if you so choose.

***

Ten years of the Focus Group.  Mindful of the advice of Joni Mitchell we saved the Green and all the trees on and around it, when the Council had decided to get rid of The Green and all those trees in 2004.     Yay …  It is now just four  days after the ten-year party.  We haven’t had long to rest on our um laurels (or should that be horse chestnuts leaves?)  this week.  We have just had some shocking news.   Amey want to chop down this tree on the Green.  It is a healthy tree, but Amey say:

Health is not the issue here, highway obstruction is the issue that we are obliged to deal with.

Historic Damage-2-cropped

‘the historic damage’

The tree has been hit by vehicles a few times over the years.  We have been sent a picture, see left, of what is described as ‘the historic damage': old scaring on the tree trunk.

We have also been sent a picture showing the lean on the tree.   Of course there’s a lean.  Any Acocks Green person will tell that there has been a lean for a very long time.  The branches on the tree which are on the road side of The Green already appear to have been lopped, some time ago.

 However, if there is ‘historic damage’ – and the mind boggles here, are we blaming William the Conqueror, or was this something to do with The Wars of the Roses – if there is ‘historic damage’ why was the tree not chopped down back at the appropriate moment in history, whenever that was?   Why now?   That has set us thinking.  At the Acocks Green Ward Meeting in June the Amey Tree Officer who attended said that since Amey took over from the Council, looking after our trees, the approach is more aggressive than in the past when a decision is made over whether to keep a tree or not ‘because of potential legal problems’.  In other words  Amey is not prepared to bear the liability of being sued for damages.   In fact a Birmingham City Council 2012 document Highways Maintenance and Management Services in Partnership , a Report of the Transport, Environment and Scrutiny Committee, 2012 notes:

With the transfer of liability for claims there is an incentive for Amey to carry out repairs effectively and as soon as possible, as well as to manage claims that are made. (p. 5.)

 It sounds rather as though the Scrutiny Committee thought this was really cool?   Amey takes the blame, and pays for the claims after things that go wrong when they didn’t carry out ‘repairs’.  That means that we, the citizens of Birmingham don’t have to?  Excellent … so how do good old efficient Amey make sure they don’t have lots of claims to pay for when it comes to trees?   They send someone round with a clipboard to make a note of any tree that is leaning a bit, and has a bit of ‘historic’ damage on it?  Out it comes?

Amey, we might reflect, are not in the business of knowing and recalling which suburbs care about their trees, and make a fuss if they are taken out.  They have no loyalty to any suburbs in Birmingham.  They have loyalty to their shareholders.

The Amey Tree guy claimed that Birmingham was now no worse than a lot of places when it came to such matters.  So, does everywhere do things like this these days?  Well no.  Bloomsbury, in London, does it like this (And the damage on our tree probably came from a bus: it needs a high vehicle.)

How they do it in Bloomsbury

How they do things in Bloomsbury. Thanks to Helen Roberts of Arden Residents

Finally, is it time to remind both Amey and Birmingham City Council of some of our own ‘history’?  We don’t like it when people take our trees out.   Especially (feedback we have already received on this development confirms this) we don’t like it when people take out what is now the biggest tree on the most prominent landmark in our village,The Green, when that tree is healthy.

What happens now?  We don’t know yet.  It is early days – the news only emerged late on today.   Amey say they will take the tree out some time in the next month.  Will they?  Let’s see.  Watch this space.

Party! Celebrating 10 Years of the Focus Group

August 25th, 2014
10 Years Ago - Saving the Green at Acocks Green

10 Years Ago – Saving the Green at Acocks Green – double-click on the cutting for a clear reading image.

We are having a party!   If you live in Acocks Green or are involved with Acocks  Green you are welcome:

Place Acocks Green Costa

Time  5.30-7.00 Friday 5 September

Purpose To celebrate 10 years of Acocks Green Focus Group, and to find out about what we do today, and how to get involved if you would like to.   There will be displays and info.

Entertainment From Folk Acoustic Duo Annie and Bob James (See below.)

Admission Free – coffee and cakes on sale as usual.

We started in July 2004 when Birmingham City Council dropped a bombshell on Acocks Green by announcing, but rather quietly and only to those living near enough to get the Planning Consent application flyer,  that they were going to take The Green away.  The idea was basically to improve the 11 bus route by shaving 19 seconds off the time the bus takes to go around ‘The Green’.

The Green, Aug 2012-5- Mick - Resized for TwitterOur famous kidney-shaped ‘Green,’ as seen in the pics on the left, would have become a small conventional circular traffic island pushed up towards Shirley Road.  The flowers and the trees … gone.  At about a week’s notice a campaign took off gaining extensive media coverage.

Whistles on the Green We gained over 1,000 petition signatures and more than 130 people crammed into St Mary’s Church for a protest meeting.   We were able to show very conclusively indeed that Acocks Green people value their trademark  eccentric  big traffic island, in the middle of the shopping centre,  affectionately known as ‘The Green’ very DSCN3566considerably more than cutting 19 seconds off a bus timetable!

  The Council backed down, and the rest is history as The Green goes from strength to strength today.

However, we promised that if we won this campaign we would start a group: temporary name: a ‘Focus Group’ for Acocks Green.

Result: we are still here today.  We are Acocks Green Focus Group – the name just stuck before we could think of a better one, but that is what we do.  As a group we don’t go out and dig over flower beds, or pick up litter (although plenty of members do those vital things today in other local groups.)  We ‘focus’ on the longer-term future of the area and keep track of those quiet proposals.    This is something which was not really happening pre-2004, which is how we nearly lost The Green.   We are nosy – we read plans, we pick  out worrying developments, e.g. the 2005  plan to destroy the  front window of 50 Yardley Road, designed by an important Birmingham architect, the   2006 Council sale of 1073 Warwick Road (formerly known as The Churchill Club or The Knoll), the 2007 plan to knock down the fine Victorian houses at 42-4 Flint Green Road and build flats, the 2011/12/13 plan to put a plain concrete and glass structure where the Glynn Edwards Hall (still!) stands.

We also campaign for improvements.  The Warwick Road is to get a makeover shortly: ‘The Smart Route’ starting in September 2014.  This layout is partly based on our suggestions from as early as 2007, and the inspiration we took from many other place including Leamington and Kensington … which had simplified their road layouts and removed many miles of ugly guard rail, to good effect and reducing accidents.

We are currently awaiting the result of our Conservation Area application.  After a lot of work we presented this scheme: a first for Birmingham, a community proposed Conservation Area, at Consultations in March this year.  Acocks Green people voted resoundingly with 114 in favour and only 3 against.

That’s us: Acocks Green Focus Group.  Still here and hoping to be here for another ten years at least.  Why not come and meet us and find out more about what we do – and we are always on the lookout for new members …

We will be entertained by Bob and Annie

Bob & Annie at Rhyl Folk & Acoustic Music Club, 2013

Bob & Annie at Rhyl Folk & Acoustic Music Club, 2013

A recent review of a performance said:

A brilliant ‘Big-Spot’ by Annie and Bob James was the highlight of another super night at the happy club on Friday. An eclectic selection of songs entertained the appreciative audience, with Annie’s unique vocal delivery and Bob’s sympathetic guitar accompaniment. Often seen in a duo like this, is when the guitarist wants to be the ‘star’, but not with Bob, he plays in restrained perfection, allowing Annie’s voice and style to take the listener to the meaning of the lyric, a superb performance!.

Hope to see you there.

Bob & Annie pics collage

Red Letter Day for Acocks Green’s Post Boxes!

July 26th, 2014

Post Box - neglected - outside 166 The Avenue-1If you live in Acocks Green you may well, at some time in the last few years (decades?) sighed over the state of our post boxes.   Many of our post boxes are around 100 years old.  They are a design classic: street furniture antiques  which have stood the test of time, but post boxes do need painting …

 What was going on?  A member of Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum Executive wrote to Royal Mail, sending an X-Certificate pic of a local post box right in the proposed Conservation Area, as she pointed out, and received an initially decidedly off-hand and snooty response:

I have been advised by the collections team that all post-boxes are on a rolling maintenance plan and each box has a scheduled date. As such the box will only be painted when this time occurs.

Um, when?  Any time this century by any chance?  Further investigation revealed that Royal Mail had an agreement with English Heritage in 2003 that they would paint all of their heritage items every three years.  It didn’t really even take a keen knowledge of local Conservation issues to suggest that this was not happening: just average eyesight.

Two members of Acocks Green Focus Group joined in, and photographed lots more post boxes.  Soon we had quite a little horror show going.  Royal mail Twitter was more sympathetic, and then Sandy at the Acocks Green BID (She manages a fund of money raised by the traders and works on improvements in the village.) stepped in and wrote to her contact at Royal Mail, sending some of the bad news in pics and mentioning again the impending Conservation Area.  Soon the nasty pics were flying around all over the place.  Result.  Thanks Sandy.  Thanks Royal Mail.  See pics below: a couple of  happy befores and afters: first Alexander Road,  Acocks Green, a story in three pictures …

Story of a Post Box: Alexander Road, Acocks Green

Three pictures tell the story of a Post Box: Alexander Road, Acocks Green, late July 2014

We don’t know how old this post box is.  We are going to try to find out.  Most boxes have a ‘cipher’  (Royal initials) below the timetable plate.  This one does not.  This may mean that it is very old, because the ciphers only appeared from 1887 onwards, but that would make it older than the road.  Was it there first?  Was it moved from somewhere else?  Is there another explanation?  Below is the Sherbourne Road box (Next to Acocks Green Railway Station)

Story of a Neglected Post Box-1 (Sherbourne Road)

Post Box, Sherbourne Road, Acocks Green (Next to Railway Station) George V Reign (Late July 2014)

This (above) is the post box that started all the trouble, the one the original email to Royal Mail was about.   It is in the (soon to be – we hope) Conservation Area.   The ‘before’ and ‘after’ speak for themselves!  Look at that lovely red glow on the right.  Eight more boxes are getting this treatment shortly.  Several more have already been done:  if you live in Acocks Green, especially the North side, look out for the red glow on a street near you.

Your local box missed out?  Royal Mail said ten was enough for now,  but they have promised that the rest will be done in the next three years.  Keep watching.  Let us know if this is not happening.

Know your Boxes

The one above  is a George V (5) box.  We know this is so because the ‘G R’ starts for ‘George Rex’ in Latin, or ‘King George in English.  This means we can tell that this one was put up in the time of George V and not his son George VI (6) or there would be a little VI in the middle of the (fancier) initials.  (There’s a George VI box on the corner of Stockfield and Warwick Roads, near the shops there.) In plain English that means the Railway Station box went up between 1910 and 1936, when George V was king.  We are guessing it arrived closer to 1910 than 1936 because of the age of the surrounding buildings, though.

Incidentally, the one which began this post is in The Avenue, Acocks Green.  It is an Edward VII (7) box (1901-1910)   We can tell because  there is an ‘ER’ for ‘Edward Rex’ on it.  Why not ‘Elizabeth Rex?’  It is easy to tell the difference between Elizabeth’s boxes and those of her great-grandfather Edward.   Apart from the more modern styling there is a neat little II (2) between the E. and the R.  Know your boxes!

We are gradually going to try to catalogue all of Acocks Green’s post boxes.  Let’s watch to see that they are taken good care of in the future.

What’s Happening About the Conservation Area?

July 18th, 2014
AGCA Proposed boundary

NB to get a bigger image double-click this one and then use + signs & arrows for fine detail including road names.

As many people will now be aware, Acocks Green has a Conservation Area in the pipe line: see our previous post on Acocks Green’s Conservation Area  for more details.

Consultation at C.A.-1The Consultation and voting process brought in quite a lot of people to see us down at The Glynn Edwards and The City Mission Halls

Consultation at C.A.-2So what has been going on since March 18 when voting closed?  It’s all gone pretty quiet?  Behind the scenes a lot has been happening as the results, which were opened under the watchful eye of Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum were counted and closely scrutinised?

 

 

 

 

 

Consultation at C.A.-3

Here are the final figures:

Inside the boundary: yes 96, no 3

Outside the boundary: yes 18, no 0

In other words we are taking that as a yes! 

Your additional interesting comments have been carefully scrutinised – some people said ‘Please can you include us too!’  Above is the finally proposed boundary line, which is slightly re-drawn from the original one.  Our heritage architectural adviser Joe Holyoak’s  list of proposed properties  to be included within the stricter Article 4 rules are downloadable here

A letter has now gone to Waheed Nazir, Head of Planning and Regeneration formally requesting a Conservation Area.  The letter includes  the plan and proposals, and other data about the history of the area and proposed management of the CA, together with details of how the Consultation was carried out.  Mr Nazir and some committees will be considering all this shortly.

If this goes ahead this will be a first not only for Acocks Green, but for Birmingham.  In the past Conservation Areas have always been proposed by City officers.   This proposal was put forward by local organisations in Acocks Green, and (with guidance from conservation officers and a conservation architect)  steered by them through all the stages, including the drawing up of all the boundaries, the choice of all the properties, the mounting of a formal Consultation and the analysis of this.   This came about after Acocks Green was first promised  a Conservation Area in 2008-9 and then at the credit crunch was told that this could not happen …

Unless you guys put forward a proposal yourselves, but you will have to follow all the rules.

We have put forward a proposal, and we think we have followed all the rules.  Fingers crossed.  Watch this space!  (Note the area is not as large as that described in the Solihull News piece on the link above, but, whilst focusing on a manageable chunk on North Acocks Green, we hope to add a further area on the south-side of the Warwick Road later.)

In the meantime, we have already been able to capitalise on our immanent new status … has anyone noticed the set of local heritage antiques on our Acocks Green streets which are currently looking as though they desperately need some TLC?

Post Box - neglected - Flint Green Rd-3

Edward VII Post Box: Flint Green Road

Post Box - neglected - outside 166 The Avenue-1

Edward VII Box in The Avenue

Noting our impending Conservation Area status Royal Mail has agreed to look into this (Thanks also to Sandy at Acocks Green BID and Tim on @RoyalMail Twitter) and to get some painting done in the next couple of weeks.  For more about this story, and more pics check out our Flickr File on Neglected Acocks Green Post Boxes

 

Acocks Green Ward Elections 2014

May 14th, 2014
Birmingham City Council

Birmingham City Council – Councillors sitting in the  Council Chamber

STOP PRESS: Acocks Green Lib-Dem hold.  Lib-Dem win for Roger Harmer

Election Results 2014 - autocontrast

Early Post Election Analysis: This is an interesting result, with a respectable majority,  which runs counter to the overall Brum trend, where Labour have been taking seats from the Lib-Dems, though Yardley constituency Lib-Dems have, overall, held up better than elsewhere.   Possibly the lack of a UKIP factor helped here. (Although no doubt there will be more discussion later, perhaps this helped see of longstanding Lib-Dem councillor Paula Smith in Hall Green)    However, the Acocks Green result may come as less of a surprise to seasoned Acocks Green activists, regardless of political colour.  In reality,  and as all the AG candidates would have known, this was always two horse race:  Acocks Green has, for many years, only elected Labour and Lib-Dem councillors.  In  2012, after a hard-fought campaign, Roger Harmer, who won in 2008, lost to Labour’s John O’Shea by 1,993 votes to 2,170: a majority of just 177 for Labour.  Roger Harmer was known for being an active and conscientious councillor, but also Acocks Green resident John O’Shea was already a very well known and familiar figure in Acocks Green and  a regular at many community activities.  Both John and Roger were known for their willingness to lend a hand and for their own internet commentaries on local affairs and politics.   This time around  Labour’s Rachel Seabright obviously worked hard over the election period, and also scored a very respectable vote for a newcomer.   However,  it seems likely that she was hampered by  that relatively unknown status in the area.  We wish her better luck next time she stands in a local election.

As to the other Acocks Green candidates:  interestingly they, also, all did better for their parties than they, or their colleagues, did in 2012.   This may partly be because the overall local turn-out was better; certainly, in this tense election there were plenty of reminders about it from the main candidates!  However,  maybe in this respect we also did our bit with our on-line interviews of all six candidates,  who all went to some trouble to answer our questions and explain their policies.  We thank them all for their willingness to play the game, and for throwing in some additional and thought-provoking points.

The Focus Group is non-party political and we always aim to work with all our Acocks Green councillors.  We look forward to meeting up again with Roger, and will shortly be extending to him the invitation to the now traditional Focus Group grilling at Acocks Green Costa.  We were already getting Tim at Costa to heat up the grill nice and hot for the winning candidate, whether that was to be Roger or Rachel.

***

May 22nd 2014 is your opportunity to help decide who, out of the six candidates below, gets one of the seats you see pictured above, on Birmingham City Council, for the next four years.  Who do you want to make decisions, and to formulate policy,  for Birmingham and, more especially,  for Acocks Green Ward.  Who is best to fight our corner of the City, and to help care for the appearance and environment of Acocks Green?

Each of the six candidates listed below represents a political party who has selected them to stand to represent Acocks Green as a councillor.   Each one has taken the trouble to answer our topical and locally slanted questions with care – thanks guys!   Click on their name, below their picture,  to read their answers. 

Acocks Green Ward Candidates 2014: what they told us

Amanda Baker - Green PartyAmanda Baker: Green

Eamonn Flynn: TUSCEamonn Flynn: TUSC

Roger Harmer - Lib-Dem

Roger Harmer: Lib-Dem

Charlotte Hodivala: Conservative Charlotte Hodivala: Conservative

Peter Johnson, SDPPeter Johnson: SDP

Rachel SeabrightRachel Seabright: Labour

Your local polling station is open on May 22nd: polls open at 7 am and close at 10 pm.  As you probably know, it is  dead easy to vote, but if you have never done so before the officials will explain the procedure.   (Don’t worry if you have mislaid your polling card – you can still vote!)

If you are new to the are, or to voting,  there is a map of Acocks Green polling station locations here.  It dates  from 2012.   No map appears to have been produced for 2014, but as far as we know the stations are all the same.

Birmingham City Council will be using the Twitter hashtag #brumvotes14  on the day.  The day can also be followed on storify and we will also announce the Acocks Green result as soon as possible afterwards,  as a ‘stop press’ announcement at the top of this page.

Finally, and for those of an historical turn of mind, these are the 2012 Birmingham City Council election results for Acocks Green

Acocks Green’s Proposed Conservation Area

February 23rd, 2014
Boundaries of the Proposed Acocks Green Conservation Area

Boundaries of the Proposed Acocks Green Conservation Area

Acocks Green’s long awaited Conservation Area proposal is finally here and on the table.

You can see the plans and an exhibition about the scheme at three consultation sessions.  Over refreshments,  you will also be able to ask questions and, most importantly, if you live in one of these roads, you can complete a questionnaire giving your views.  Your views are needed.  The Conservation Area cannot go ahead without the majority support  of the residents in the roads inside it.

The three consultations have now taken place.  Missed them all?  You can still find out about the Proposed Conservation Area by reading about it here.  You can still vote (Until Midnight Tuesday 18 March)  by downloading the Acocks Green Conservation Area Consultation – Response Form  and returning to (choice of three):

  • email address jh@joeholyoak.co.uk
  • Acocks Green Neighbourhood mail box, foyer, Acocks Green Library (Inside first doors,  see in  front of you on left)
  • post to AGCAC 101 Hazelwood Road, Acocks Green, Birmingham, B27 6X” 

(Please do not return forms direct to Acocks Green Focus Group or Acocks Green History Society because they are the proposers of this Conservation Area and we need to be able to demonstrate an unbiased and fair recording of the response.)

The Boundary Line

 The boundaries of the proposed  area are shown above.  If you give the map a couple of quick clicks with the mouse it will enlarge for easier viewing.  How to read it?  The line with the yellow border running diagonally across the middle is the railway line.  The two long roads at the top left are Alexander Road (next to and parallel to the railway and then Douglas Road.  Douglas Road is not in the area and only a tiny part of Alexander Road is (to include the Baptist Buildings and the Fire Station).  Otherwise the red line takes in two rows of  shops on Yardley road, crossing the road at Elmdon Road.  Working back towards the railway, you will see Elmdon Road, Malvern Road and The Avenue.  Colwell Walk, running between Elmdon and Malvern is also included.  On the other side of the railway, bottom right hand corner is a small part of Oxford Road. The line moves around to take in ten houses on Station Road and cuts across Dudley Park Road, taking in part of it.  The whole of Sherbourne Road is included, as is Sherbourne Drive.   The line continues round to take in Flint Green Road, Greswolde Park Road and Arden Road.

FAQ’s

Q. Why is this happening? 

Acocks Green has a unique history as a railway suburb, and it has some fine architecture, especially from the period of the  coming of the railway.   These points both need recognising.  More recently, as many people will recall, there have been a lot of threats to the fabric of Acocks Green: its architecture and its trees.  Both of these will be protected by the Conservation Area.

Finally, it is now already established that people in Acocks Green care about where they live and take a pride in their area.  This is why it is becoming increasingly hard for developers (42-44 Flint Green, The Glynn Edwards Hall etc) to get permission to knock down and redevelop: we put up a good fight.  This has been noted: there are  other areas of the City where this would not be tried.  But a Conservation Area would give far more legal security without depending upon the vigilance, time and energy of local volunteers, who may not always be there!

Q. What does this mean for the people living in these roads?

If the Conservation Area application is successful the  houses within the prescribed roads would be subject to something called an Article 4 Direction.  This gives extra legal protection to both the buildings, and protection to trees within the area of its remit.

If you want to demolish buildings within a Conservation Area you will need Planning Consent.  You will also need permission to:

  • carry out work on trees
  • change external doors or windows
  • put in new porches
  • make alterations to roofs
  • add satellite dishes
  • changes gates , fences walls or boundary areas
  • create hard standing
  • paint or pebble-dash the building

There are no fees charged for applications for permission to do these things, but application must be made.  This does not mean that you will not be able to make any changes.  Proposed alterations will be considered on their merits, with a view to protecting the overall character of the area.

The advantage to you is that firstly the area is likely to look more attractive, with fewer period features and trees being lost or damaged. and fewer ugly and unsympathetic modern additions appearing.  Secondly, Conservation Area status tends to increase the desirability of an area.  Many people want to live in Conservation Areas and property prices tend to rise.

Q. What is likely to happen to the value of my property if it becomes part of a Conservation Area?

If you are thinking about selling then there is good news for you here.  A recent (2012)  rigorous research exercise by the highly respected London School of Economics  found that on average house prices in Conservation Areas go up by 23%  

Q. Why these roads?

At present the Conservation Area focuses on the coming of the railway, and the difference this made to Acocks Green. This is why the Area is concentrated on the North side of Warwick Road.  A set of roads was needed which would both help to tell this story of Acocks Green and contain interesting architectural features.  Some roads which also have well-built Edwardian terraces, like Alexander Road and Douglas Road, have been left out because unfortunately too many houses in these roads have been drastically altered.

Q. I live on the south side of the Warwick Road, and there are some good building there too – didn’t you even look there?

Yes, we did, and we are aware of quality buildings on the other side of the road.   However, in order to make a t case for a Conservation Area we have to present need was to make a convincing case for a Conservation Area we had to present a coherent joined up whole which told one story.  Also we could not make the area too big because detailed studies need to be made as part of our presentation and this takes a very long time – this project has been ongoing for several years.  Finally, we were aware that a lot of buildings in this part of Acocks Green have been under various threats and some have already been altered.  We needed to make a start on creating an area before it was too late.  We hope the area can be extended later.

Q. Who is doing this?

This Conservation Area has been drawn up by local people in consultation with, and the approval of Birmingham City Council Conservation Team in the Planning Department.  Birmingham Conservation architect Joe Holyoak, who is also case worker and Deputy Chair of Birmingham and West Midlands Victorian Society has been engaged on a Community First grant to give support.  Otherwise the project is led by Acocks Green Focus Group and Acocks Green History Society, with support from Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum, Arden Road Residents’ Association and our local elected representatives in the form of Acocks Green Ward Committee.  Ultimate approval is still required from Council Committees, but this is a very local project and it is unique in the history of Birmingham.

Q. I am worried about energy conservation.  I was thinking of putting in double glazing.  What now? 

Double glazing can be efficient, but it can also take years to get back the cost of installing double glazing in savings on your energy bills.  Older properties are often draughty.  There can cheap and efficient ways of draught proofing your property without going to the expensive of installing UPVC windows.    There is more advice in this downloadable English Heritage Guide:  Energy Conservation in Traditional  Buildings

Q. I live in one of these roads.  Do I get a say?

Yes, if you live in one of the relevant roads you do get a say.   For preference come along to one of the sessions listed above, where you can gain more information and complete a questionnaire.   Otherwise you can write to    Acocks Green Conservation Area Scheme, C/0 101 Hazelwood Road, Acocks Green Birmingham B27 6XW (Note this is not the address of any of the scheme proposers but the neutral address of an Acocks Green Village Partnership office holder.    Letters will be counted and noted before being passed on) or   email    jh@joeholyoak.co.uk                   or     pop a letter in the Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum Mail Box in the foyer of Acocks Green Library – but for this last you will need to wait until March 4th when the Library re-opens after the repairs!    NB The C.A. can only go ahead with local support.  We would rather you came to one of the sessions to have a chat first, but that is not possible (or you took away your response form and mislaid it!)  There is an.    Acocks Green Consultation Area Consultation – Response Form here Just download and print and email, post or drop in at The Library.

Description of the Area

If you would like more detail the below is mainly condensed from the ‘character appraisal’ which has been submitted to Birmingham City Council

The conservation area can be perceived as divided into three sub-areas: two groups of residential streets, north and south of the railway line, and the commercial centre on Yardley Road which divides the two residential sub-areas.

 The largest of the two residential sub-areas is south of the railway line. With the exception of a few late twentieth-century infill developments and a handful of non-residential buildings, it consists predominantly of late-Victorian and Edwardian houses. The scale of the houses, in terms of both frontage and height, is comparatively large, and there is much good and varied detail, in brick and masonry front walls, ornamental gables and barge boards, leaded lights, ornamental porches, and bay windows.

Arden Road Houses

Arden Road Houses

This includes Arden Road, Flint Green Road, Sherbourne Road and Station Road.  These were all  pre-industrial country lanes (despite its name, Station Road pre-dates the railway): after the arrival of the railway they were joined by Dudley Park Road, Oxford Road and Greswolde Park Road.   Streets are quite wide.

The Arden Road Oak

The Arden Road Oak

Arden Road possess the most coherent and harmonious architecture with repetitive types with varied detail built by the local builder Williams and Body.   Arden Road also possesses the striking landmark feature of the very old oak tree standing in the centre of the street.

Flint Green Road and Sherbourne houses  are slightly earlier: mid-Victorian , larger and impressive in a more severe way.

Flint Green & Sherbourne-cropped

 The residential sub-area north of the railway line includes The Avenue, Malvern Road and Elmdon Road.  Houses are of several different periods, from mostly late Victorian and Edwardian houses nearer to Yardley Road, to twentieth-century Edwardian and interwar semi-detached houses at the lower end of Elmdon Road and Malvern Road.  A lot of good original detail – porches, bargeboards, stained glass, stone boundary walls – remains.

The Avenue has an eclectic mixture of late nineteenth and early twentieth-Baskerville House (14 The Ave) Acocks Greencentury houses much of them built joined into terraces. The most prominent is number 14 of 1871, with the coach house and much original detail su

The Avalon Hotel (48 Sherbourne Road)

The ‘commercial centre’ begins on Sherbourne Road and runs north along Yardley Road. Immediately south of the station are two hotels on opposite sides of Sherbourne Road: the Italianate Avalon Hotel.  (Currently on sale, future without the Conservation Area uncertain

The Great Western Pub

Further along in Yardley Road is the Great Western Hotel; named after the railway it stands next to.  It was built in the 1950s, but is still clearly in the older Art Deco tradition of the 1930s.

Across Yardley Road, at the junction with Alexander Road, is the most significant cluster of historic non-residential buildings.

Police Station, Fire Station - croppedAcross Alexander Road are the four buildings belonging to the Baptist church; the Arthur Moore Hall, the caretaker’s house, the Glynn Edwards Hall.  (However could we forget? This building seems safer for now, but we would like to see it safer still. )

Glynn Edwards for CA Consultation Poster-modifeid

The Glynn Edwards Hall – survivor of two recent planning applications to demolish and the subject of vigorous local campaigns

and the far more austere and but striking Baptist Church itself. The cluster is predominantly in red brick and terra-cotta.

Baptist Church & GE - for Cons Area Consult Post

Acocks Green Baptist Church and The Glynn Edwards Hall to the left

Yardley Road shops - upper stories

Upper story windows, Yardley Road shops

On Yardley Road next to the church is the first of two similar Edwardian parades of shops, on either side of Douglas Road: the first has six shops, the second eight.The shop fronts require varying amounts of restoration, but most are essentially intact. Above the shop fronts are large first floor oriel windows, and above these are dormer windows in large gables almost equal in width to the shop fronts.

Across Yardley Road is the  locally listed number 50, a large three-storey villa converted to commercial use, designed by important Victorian architect John Nicol, who lived in the house.    (This is no longer completely intact but the main features including especially the front bay window were saved after a successful local campaign in 2005.

50 Yardley Road-cropped

50 Yardley Road (John Nicol, 1903)                                           

Will you support our bid for a Conservation Area to help keep our treasures – the Acocks Green ‘family silver’  safe?  We hope so.  Don’t forget the Conservation Area Consultation dates above.

Acocks Green Smart Route Goes Stupid?

February 11th, 2014
Tight Parking Space- lightened

How much Parking will there really be, once the Smart Route is completed?

Stop Press Time for Birmingham City Council cabinet to sign off  and approve scheme has now been extended to 17 March (Previously 17 Febuary)  We still need more time though.

Since writing this we have had a request for a template email to Mr Blakemore.  If you are here now because you are looking for this, here it is.  Template Email to John Blakemore re Acocks Green Smart Route time extension (This link is repeated at end of post)

Sadly, it seems to be time to say something more on the course of the Smart Route plans for Acocks Green.  The scheme to improve the layout of Acocks Green Village centre been under discussion in effect since 2005 when, after the euphoria of ‘saving The Green’,  local people began to think what else could be done to improve our village.   We needed to move our road system out of the 1970s.  We needed a less traffic orientated, more people friendly, more pedestrian friendly layout, to encourage people to travel less far and to use our village more often for shopping and socialising: use it or lose it: many local shopping centres are dying, and ours is currently under threat from a range of nearby supermarket schemes: Morrison’s on Shaftmoor Lane, due to start April 2014, Asda at Shirley Parkway, due to open soon, Tesco at South Yardley, already open.  Our 1980s village Sainsbury’s is relatively small by modern standards.   Studies show that ‘out of town’ supermarkets threaten the survival of local shopping centres.

Even before the supermarket worries added extra urgency though,  there had been meetings of various kinds at The Inn on the Green, at Acocks Green Library, at the Westley Arms,  with Council Cabinet members and with the Transportation Department itself in the City Centre.   Many local people may recall something-or-other which they went to, or read about.

An idea involving a single carriageway first appeared in 2007.   The project was put on hold in 2011, through lack of funding, but great was the excitement when new funding was confirmed from the national Sustainable Transport Fund in 2012 .Here is a description of the Acocks Green Smart Route scheme as it stood in the summer of 2013

By the summer of 2013 mostly (so we thought) the Smart Route was looking good.   As a pro Shared Space group it was certainly not everything we could ever dream of, but it was some of the way there:  a space that was pedestrian friendly, driver friendly, cyclist friendly, bus friendly … everyone friendly, less cluttered, easier for everyone to navigate and safer than our present layout. Highlights included:

  • New single carriage roadway from Sainsbury’s and onwards towards Solihull: the end to the dangerous ‘Brand’s Hatch’, speed-up  effect by Sainsbury’s which has caused serious accidents, like the accident to Birmingham Jazz musician Steve Ajao in 2005. A  speeding car collected Steve on its bonnet, on the zebra crossing in front of Safeway’s (now Sainsbury’s)
  • More facilities in the reclaimed space, including especially trees and car parking.  Lack of roadside car  parking has long been an issue in Acocks Green centre.  The hope was that more parking would encourage more local shopping.  Yes, many people walk to the centre.  Walking is good (so is cycling).  However, many other people do not shop in Acocks Green very much because it is not parking friendly.   Instead they drive through (if they do not live here) or  drive elsewhere to shop if they do.
  • A 20 mile an hour ‘zone’A zone is not the same as a limit.  A zone means that there are special physical traffic calming measures in force.   (These need not be humps, which are now seen as  slightly old hat.  There are better ways.)  A limit means that some signs are put up saying ’20 mph limit’ and we all cross our fingers in the hope that drivers take note of them.   For further discussion on the distinction between limits and zones see our page here – ‘Don’t Zap the Zone’

Many will now have seen the July 2013 plans, but if you have not, or want to refresh your memory, here again are the two July 2013 drawings for the scheme:

Acocks Green Consultation Smart Route July 2013 1 of 2

Acocks Green Consultation – Smart Route – 2 of 2 (July 2013)

What’s been happening since then?  Read on.

Parking

Until December 2013 we continued to believe in the increased amount of parking which we had been given to understand would be available – there were lots of blue strips on the much touted plans, showing where the new parking would be.

Smart Route Section July - enlarged to show parking - cropped

Then we discovered something so odd that at first we did not believe it: after all of this work the extra provision for parking would be 6 cars.  Could there be chevrons, we wondered?  Chevrons, we were told,  would increase the parking by just two spaces.  It gets worse.  We did our own count of the parking spaces available between Mallard Close and Oxford Road: counting both the Warwick Road and the service road:

Warwick Road car parking - service road NatWest etc - cropped

Warwick Road, showing – legal – parking on service road and main road – NatWest Bank/Lloyd’s Chemist etc area

There were spaces for 39 cars – ordinary sized cars.  (We counted mainly actual  cars but also obviously recently vacated car-sized spaces. )   How many spaces would really be available, by comparison,  in the new system we wondered.   We were told, on 17 December,  that a parking survey of the Warwick Road in Acocks Green had been carried out, and that we could have a copy.  So, in order to understand properly we obediently waited … and waited.   We sent a gentle reminder.  Eventually we put in a Freedom of Information Request.  The information finally arrived via the FOI request on 7 February.

This was not quite what we had expected at all.  According to this study there were 33 spaces in this patch, all 6 meters long.  The spaces were to be reduced however to 27 spaces.   Moreover,  according to the study overall parking in the centre was to be reduced from  72    to  68 spaces – see the handwritten note on the corner of the plan here (blue is now and red is proposed)  Incidentally, in the area where we counted cars there are also prominent one hour only signs … and spaces.  Kind of interesting that we had to put in a ‘Freedom of Information’ request to get this?

Smart Route - Parking Space reduction written- cropped

but … wait a minute.  If a traffic engineer thinks that our Acocks Green cars  are typically 6 meters long (Do they all live in Solihull?) and they think they are reducing our parking by 6 cars (i.e. 6 lots of 6 meters … how many spaces for Acocks Green cars (not some Solihull stretch  limos … ) are they actually taking away?  Remember they calculated 33 car spaces to one sample area, where we found 39?  Here is that long awaited study itself in its entirety:  Parking Count, Warwick Road, Acocks Green 

Now, they indicate, at least in this study (and we have had no message to say that it is wrong) that overall parking in Acocks Green is to be reduced  by four spaces, but that is if we have big cars.  How many spaces are we really loosing?

Finally on this point, here is our own video study of the parking in this area.  We videoed just the service road, which is shorter than the main road. We counted 16 cars, and spaces for more.  See what we mean?

Oxford Road/Warwick Road Junction

It gets worse.  We did make some suggestions after the July 2013 consultations.  In particular we suggested fewer sets of lights and instead a traffic calming arrangement at the Oxford Road/Warwick Road/Victoria Road junction.  This area currently feels unsafe to many.  A single carriageway will help, but this is still a difficult  junction.  Also a traffic calming measure here, near the entrance to our urban village would help reduce speed for the whole of this stretch of road.

Oxford Road Junction - approach into Oxford Road from Solihull direction

Oxford Road Junction – approach into Oxford Road from Solihull direction

Oxford Road Junction-2-cropped

Oxford Road/Victoria/Road/Warwick Road Junction

Many Acocks Green people will testify; entering and exiting this area can be nerve-wracking and local people often see broken headlight, or tail light glass.  It will be continue to be dangerous, even as a single carriageway.  This is a crossroads, with two minor roads entering what our traffic engineers always love to remind us is a ‘major arterial route’ into and out of Birmingham.

Suggestions have included a small traffic island and what is known as a ‘table’ – a low ramp into a leveled across area.  See this one in nearby Kineton Green Road in Solihull, near a school.

Smart Route - table crossing - Kineton Green Rd - cropped

Ramp ‘table’ – Kineton Green Road, Solihull.

It was claimed there is not enough space, and that to add an island here would remove even more car parking spaces.  ???  We would draw readers attention to the clearly visible amount of space in the two pics above of the Oxford Road area here.   It was grudgingly agreed that a physical obstruction of some kind could be the most effective measure.  Since then there has been only a deafening silence.  There seems no inclination to investigate this further … and the scheme is due to be signed off by Cabinet in a few days time now.

Twenty Mile Zone

Between July and November there was a proposed twenty mile an hour zone for the area (On the July plan it says limit/zone but the engineers explained to us why a zone would be better.) This was abruptly downgraded to a limit (signs only, no other measures) in line with plans for the rest of Birmingham.   We will now be dependent upon signs only for keeping traffic at a steady pace through the village.  See again the notes above on the Oxford Road junction and our page:  ‘Don’t Zap the Zone’

There seems little confidence in how safe this scheme is going to be: perhaps not surprising since the proposed 20 mph ‘zone’ has been downgraded to a 20 mph ‘limit’ which is statistically less safe.  Instead the scheme has recently been larded with some traditional and expensive safety measures.  We are to have two extra pelican crossings (one brand new one and one replaced on the Warwick Road near Victoria Road/Oxford Road.) We have previously been advised by BCC Transportation that these crossings cost around £100,000 each.   Also traditional pedestrian safety refuges have been added in in a number of places, also removing car parking spaces, we are told by the traffic engineers.  If the 20 mph signs are really so effective all by themselves then we should not need these.

Pedestrian/Cycle Path

We also discovered that, unbeknown to local people, who were not consulted, a brand new pedestrian/cycleway had suddenly nipped in from nowhere between July and October.

Here are the two sheets for the Autumn version of the design (Sheet 1 is from Station Road to Oxford Road, Sheet 2 is from Oxford Road and outwards to Dolphin Lane

Smart Route Design for AG – Aut 2013-1

Smart Route Design for AG – Aut 2013-2

Here is a close-up of part of that new cycle/pedestrian path.  Note part of the key has been left in below, so that the explanation for the pink sections is visible.

Smart Route - cyle-ped pathways - cropped

Q. But cycling is healthy and does not leave petrol fumes.  Shouldn’t we be encouraging more cyclists? 

A. Yes.  It would be good to encourage more cyclists.  We have fully supported the addition of Sheffield frame cycle stands for this reason.   Our concerns are not with having more cyclists in the centre of Acocks Green, but with the manner in which cyclists are being encouraged.  Discussions in meetings have revealed three areas of local concern:

  • This was introduced without local consultation.
  • This obviously requires a wide pavement.  Especially given the disparity in parking calculations we are still unclear whether or not this affects the amount of available car-parking the people who we need to encourage to shop here by making more parking available are not suddenly going to take to bicycles if parking is not available … they will continue to shop elsewhere.  We need to balance different needs, and, as noted above, we need to keep our centre alive against pressures from elsewhere.
  • Local people have expressed worries about safety aspects of the scheme.  Engineers told us that the hope was particularly to encourage ‘young cyclists’, although the area may be used by cyclists of any age.   School children were mentioned.  This would imply that the area is available for and intended to be used by people too young to have passed any kind of driving test.   Without particularly suggesting that today’s teenagers are worse than those of yesterday, teenagers are often naturally thoughtless, as anyone who has ever experience one riding fast at them on a pavement will testify!  (And we know there are some lovely, thoughtful teenagers out there, before one writes in … but we are generalising.)

We discussed these issues with a committee member of Brum Pushbikes, Graham Hankins.  Mr Hankins observed that one of the problems with pedestrian/cycle routes is that there is a tendency for cyclists, particularly younger ones, to then fail to observe the side roads at the end of a pavement stretch, and to then fail to take due precautions.  There are a number of such side roads in Acocks Green.  Much the same point is also made in Nottingham’s Cycling Design Guide 2006.

Nottingham Cycling Design Guide - Shared Footways - p. 20- croppedWe note that since this manual appeared eight years ago a plethora of shared cycle/footway schemes has appeared across the country in the past year or so.  There seems to have been insufficient time to test any of them very well, but the points made in the Nottingham Manual would not seem to have dated.  We also note the suggestion of a plateau at the entrance to the area, which is what we are calling for, near the entrance to the area, at Oxford Road.

Mr Hankins also pointed out that given that this part of the village is due to be becoming a 20 mile an hour limit area, again not very much confidence in the safety this offers is apparent.  Also, encouraging pavement cycling tends to re-enforce the idea that the road is a dangerous place: perhaps ultimately not such a confidence building measure for cyclists either!

 This brings us back to that lost 20 mph zone.  We have also suggested other measures which have been effective and popular for reducing speed elsewhere, and have been used successfully where there are cyclists around, like a median line (slightly raised strip) in the middle of the road. The Smart Route engineers tell us that in order to make the roadway safe for cyclists they would need to provide 4.5 meters of space, as against the proposed 3 meters, leaving less space for trees etc.  However, according to Manual for Streets 2.  this is not quite the whole story:

Manual for Streets p. 20 (Cycle lanes & Median Strips)-croppedAlan Young & Phil Jones, eds.,  Manual for Streets 2  ( Chartered Institution of Highways Engineers, 2010), p. 53.

In other words according to the handbook which these Smart Route engineers were actually referring to in July when they first talked with us, whilst it is correct that a 20 mph road which contains buses and HGVs will need to provide 4.6 meters clearance for cyclists, a simple central median line (of the kind now refused  because the area is no longer to be a 20 mph zone) can provide safety for cyclists at 3 meters or less.  Anyone who lives in Birmingham will tell you how busy Broad Street in the city centre is.  This is the Broad Street median, not a million miles away from where our engineers are based in Alpha Tower …

Broad Street median from MfS2-cropped(MfS2 p. 54)

Again, we were told this is not possible because we cannot have a ‘zone’ with traffic calming measures, but only signs.

We are aware that the shared cycle/pedestrian footway is a trial scheme, for six months.  If it is a ‘failure’  (How is ‘failure’ to be measured?) then the signs saying that cycling is possible will be removed.  The area will not otherwise be re-designed.  So that will be alright, won’t it.  No young cyclists will cycle there again once the signs have been removed, ever … will they?

Where do We go from Here?

At the moment the plans are supposed to be signed for and approved by the Birmingham City Council Cabinet on 17 March 2014, with a view to a May 2014 start.  The work is to then all to be completed by March 2015, or the grant money runs out.   Are we ready to start?  Is everything logical, clear and in the best possible interests of Acocks Green given the budget available?  Um, no.  This shocking conclusion at present seems to be the view of most Acocks Green groups and local politicians from more than one political party.

Since the government funding was clearly a government matter we decided to go to see ‘The Government': well, to see our local Government representative.   Yardley MP John Hemming has been discussing the matter with Transport Minister Baroness Susan Kramer, who thinks there may be a window for extending the time period, since the funding for the Local Sustainable Transport scheme as a whole is being extended, though this will still depend upon available financing.  John Hemming is suggesting to Birmingham City Council Transport boss John Blakemore, that he asks the Transport Minister for another six months, until September 2014, so that now the problems now so abjectly apparent in the workings of this scheme in Acocks Green can be looked at again.  One thing is clear.  Once this road work is done it is done.  We won’t get another go, but Acocks Green people will have to live with this layout for decades to come – many people will probably not see another major alteration in their lifetime.

In 2005  Transportation boss John Blakemore, in a meeting after The Green was ‘saved’,  joked with us that the tornado which devastated the Ladypool Road curry houses ‘would not have dared to go to Acocks Green’. Let’s make sure a badly designed Smart Route doesn’t ‘dare’ turn up in Acocks Green, either.  Do you support a time extension to the scheme?  Well you could always drop a line to Mr Blakemore and tell him so: John.Blakemore@birmingham.gov.uk.

Since writing this we have had a request for a template email to Mr Blakemore.  Here is one.  Template Email to John Blakemore re Acocks Green Smart Route time extension

Glynn Edwards Hall p.a. Recommendation: Refuse

November 21st, 2013

STOP PRESS

 

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The planning application was withdrawn at the 11th hour, 24 hours before it was due to be debated (and no doubt shredded) at the Planning  Committee on 28 November 2013. The applicants finally lost their nerve.  They do not get the opportunity to submit another plan for free.  This was their second (and free) go after withdrawing last year.  There would be a large fee to pay now for resubmission.  

In effect this was the third go at demolishing the Glynn Edwards.  Drawings and a model which appeared in 2011 were again universally disliked by local people, by the Planning Department and Conservation.  That idea was dropped before it even turned up as a Planning Application.  The 2012 idea which went in as a Planning Application was also hated and despised and thoroughly criticised by local people, council officers and various Conservation groups including English Heritage.   After much obvious dithering the 2012 p.a. was finally shame-facedly  withdrawn after advice from the Planning Department that  it would go in to Committee as ‘Recommendation: Refuse’   Now this one, after going right up to the wire, is also dead.  (In effect, although we never count our chickens it was almost certainly dead in the water from the moment of the issue of the report which came out last Thursday.)

Apparently Acocks Green Baptists might be interested now in exploring other ways of improving the existing buildings.  Watch this space.

***

Glynn Edwards p.a. report - Recommend Refuse Nov 2013 - cropped

This is from the Planning Application report for the Acocks Green Baptists Application (p. 6) – hot off the presses this morning.  If you to read the whole report you can download it here: Planning Report re demolition Glynn Edwards Hall, Acocks Green, Nov 2013 – Recomend Refuse We go to Planning Committee next week, 11 a.m. Thursday 28 November were the fifteen Councillors on the Committee will hear our speeches opposing and the p.a. proposers speeches in favour.  They will then take a vote weighing those speeches and the report. Not over until the fat lady sings … vote should be taken by early afternoon on the 28th.   Be there if you want to help support by your presence: or follow the proceedings on-line on video.  (More details later.)

There were 89 letters of objection, 19 letters of support.  It is recorded that there was a petition of 316 signatures opposing.  There was a petition with 166 signatures in favour.  Neither the letters in favour (100% standard letters) nor the petition in favour mentions the ‘tiny’ little detail that the first line of the p.a. description says that this is an application to demolish the Glynn Edwards Hall.  Some people have since told us they did not understand what they were signing, or they would not have signed.