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 current main campaign. 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.

You can also follow us on Twitter: @AcocksGreenFG


Acocks Green Heritage Trail

August 31st, 2016

Update

We had a very enjoyable walk around the village.  There are further walks planned: See the Acocks Green BID site It may also be possible to arrange modified walks, covering the boards not covered on our walk (We covered only the boards in the village which are boards 1-4)

Have you seen these boards around Acocks Green Village yet?

History-Board

Picture from Acocks Green BID

They are part of the eight boards which form Acocks Green’s new  History Trail   Learn about the rich History of Acocks Green and its different sights and buildings.  Anyone can do the ‘trail’, and as the link explains here there are quite a few different ways of doing it, from working through the board details from the comfort of your own armchair, to walking the trail by yourself, to joining an organised walk.

Taking another look at Acocks Green Village

Find out about more about the history of many of our familiar buildings.

Holy Souls RC Church

Dennett’s Furniture Shop

Acocks Green Primary School

Subway Cafe (Former Midland Bank Building)

Acocks Green Focus Group will be doing a modified version of the trail, walking the Warwick Road/Shopping Centre/’Village’ part only on Friday 2nd September at 7 pm.  Meet outside Aldi.  This is for Acocks Green Focus Group members, but anyone else interested is welcome to join us.

At the end of the walk we will gather for a short time at Acocks Green Methodist Church (The Hopkins Room) for coffee and biscuits and to complete a feedback form on the walk.

The Warwick Bowl

  (There will be a small amount of Acocks Green Focus Group business to catch up on – find out about us too!)

Your Acocks Green Candidates: BCC Elections 2016

April 29th, 2016
Votes being counted at the National Indoor Arena (B.ham Mail)

Votes being counted at the National Indoor Arena (B.ham Mail)

Post Election Update and Analysis

Lab Hold AG 2016

We congratulate Cllr O’Shea for his election victory last night, and his retention (now since 2012, and until 2018) of his council seat for Acocks Green, one of the four wards of Birmingham, Yardley.  Thanks again to all of the five candidates who took part, and seriously applied themselves, to this on-line hustings, without their efforts this blog post would have been impossible, and thanks to als to them we have succeeded in continuing a serious pre-election debate about Acocks Green issues, before these become crowded out by wider political concerns in Birmingham and nationally.  Some of these debate, e.g. about the possibility of a parish council: something all candidates indicated they were willing to support, now looks set to continue more quietly behind the scenes.  It was also heartening to see all five candidates pledging support for Acocks Green’s proposed conservation area.  This is a scheme which will hopefully come to fruition these year and continued cross-party support will be helpful.  In this connection it is also heartening to see support from all on the question of the uses to which larger properties in Acocks Green should be put, and the need to avoid, where possible,  clustering of large properties converted to non-family homes.

Above are the early results info is borrowed from The Birmingham Mail.  So what happened?  It was clearly overall Labour’s night in Birmingham, with Labour adding two more seats to its previous 78 on Birmingham City Council and retaining all of its identified marginals including in Acocks Green and in South Yardley.  We know there are national factors at work in these results, with Labour being particularly intent upon defending its existing seats in the face of much current national debate about its position.  In Yardley constituency, as a whole, there is also an interesting additional local factor which is that for a long time this constituency has been the Lib-Dem stronghold in Birmingham.  Council elections battles in Yardley have for many years have centred around one question only:  will the winner be Labour or Lib-Dem?  There was no shortage of paper arriving through the door from the major contenders, both with TUSC and the Conservatives were also clearly keen to be heard.   However,  it appears that near the day both of the areas main parties chose to concentrate their campaign resources and personnel around their existing seats in Yardley.  It is noticeable that neither of the key candidates achieved the results as high as those enjoyed by last year’s candidates but last year, in 2015,  both candidates were also running on the same bill as the candidate for the parliamentary seat in Yardley, so even more resources and person-power was involved.  In Acocks Green John O’Shea (Labour) also enjoyed the advantage over Penny Wagg (Lib-Dem) of being better known as the ‘incumbant’, or seat-holder, and a now a well-known face in Acocks Green,  with a strong presence on social media and also an established figure in the Labour MP’s office on the Yardley Road, whilst the Lib-Dems have no MP and therefore no MP’s office at all.

In terms of actual policies perhaps what is most noticeable is the difference between Labour and Lib-Dem in Acocks Green on matters to do with waste and speeding.  In regard to waste the Lib-Dems proposed back one bulky household waste collection with Labour preferring to concentrate upon taking legal action against fly-tippers. On speeding the Lib-Dems tend to favour physical traffic-calming over Labour’s planned use of signage in the hope of lowering speeds.  These are debates which will no doubt continue  Turning to the other candidates:  there are one or two surprising alliances, and intersting comments, For example  Penny Wagg for the Lib-Dems and  Eamonn Flynn for TUSC find themseles in some agreement on the issue of BCC expenditure upon waste collection, and Richard Sparks for the Conservatives, also discussed expenditure here, albeit with a different emphasis.   Meantime, Amanda Baker for the Greens proposes some completely different ways of handling waste after the ending of the present contract with Veolia at the Tyesley recycling depot in 2019.   All candidates other than Labour appear sceptical about the value of the 20 mph signs for reducing speeds in the ward.  None of the ‘minority’ candidates would have expected to win this ward election, and generally their results reflect less of the turbulence of the local two key players.  However, Richard Sparkes’s reduced vote here is (speculatively) the result of national factors.  It really wasn’t the Tories’ night in Brum, or in most English councils!

We hope to continue to enjoy the contributions of all candidates to the regular Acocks Green elections debate, and look forward to welcoming some of these candidates, and their colleagues, back in 2018.  Meantime, we await final decisions upon ward boundary changes, now delayed for another round of discussions.  (Watch this space.) and we will also need to wait to see how the boundary changes will affect election battles in 2018.

***

It’s that time of the year again. Which Birmingham City Council candidate has the best policies in order to care for the fabric and structure of Acocks Green? Who do you want to send in to the Council House to represent Acocks Green Ward? This year we have a line up of five of the six candidates standing.  (Unfortunately, despite several approaches we have been unable to get any response from the SDP.)   They have all been doing their homework, putting care and time into answering some Acocks Green orientated questions. Now it is up to you to decide. Click on the names underneath the, alphabetically ordered, pictures in order to read each candidate’s answers. We will announce the winner here in due course.

Amanda Baker - Green

Amanda Baker – Green

Amanda Baker

Eamonn Flynn: TUSC

Eamonn Flynn: TUSC

Eamonn Flynn

John O'Shea, Labour

John O’Shea, Labour

John O’Shea

Richard Sparkes: Con

Richard Sparkes: Con

Richard Sparkes

Penny Wagg: Lib-Dem

Penny Wagg: Lib-Dem

Penny Wagg

NB polling stations in Brum open 7 am and close 10 pm, Thursday 5 May 2016.  You do not need a polling card or ID to vote.  To track Acocks Green results on election night click here

Hands off North Acocks Green Boundary!

January 26th, 2016
Welcome to Yardley West

In the new proposals all of these famous Acocks Green sites would be in ‘Yardley West’ ward.

Note: if you are looking for the model letter, or the downloadable, or on-line, petition these  are all towards the end of this post.

Ward Boundaries are under review by the Boundary Commission.  There is a proposal to make draw a new boundary for the Acocks Green ward.  Acocks Green ward should preserve its present north boundary, which is at the Union Canal.  Boundary commissioners are threatening to move this to the Chiltern/Great Western railway line.  People living on the other side of the railway line would join a new ward called Yardley West, which would continue to Hobmoor Road, in Yardley.

Why does this matter?  This breaks up the campaigning community and the councillors.  At present if there is anything of concern it is all discussed under one roof a the same meetings attended by everyone in the ward.  This proposition would force people into different meetings and working with different councillors. Worse than this, if the councillors dealing with The Green and the shopping centre area took an unpopular decision (e.g. to support closing Acocks Green Library people living north of the railway line would have no say at all – they could not even threat to vote those councillors out because they would have a different councillor. This is worst case scenario.   Of course most of the time our councillors are not taking unpopular decisions, but working with us – giving their free time to do so.  This would become harder though if some of the projects our present councillors help with fell outside their ward.   Comments need to be in by February the 8th.  If you wish to have your say, here is a suggested model letter explaining more of the issues (+ email address or snailmail address – your choice) to send to the Boundaries Commission by 8th February.  Send the letter, or cut and paste onto an email,  as is, or modify as you wish.   If you want to petition your friends and neighbours you can download the paper Petition against changing AG Ward Boundary here You can also sign the online petition to save the north Acocks Green ward boundary here

Eastbourne House, Acocks Green, under Threat

September 27th, 2015
Eastbourne House

Eastbourne House, Photo by Mike Byrne

Eastbourne House in Acocks Green is under threat.  Those who live in Acocks Green will probably know something about Eastbourne House.  For those who do not, the building is somewhat tucked away and probably unknown … unless they happened to go to school there.

What is Eastbourne House?

Eastbourne House (111 Yardley Road, Acocks Green, next to Acocks Green Junior School)  began life as Fern Bank: one of four very grand Victorian houses built on Yardley Road in the late 1850s.  The other three houses were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s and the Junior School, Beeches Avenue and Langley Avenue now stand on the spaces.  (One of the other houses was called The Beeches).  Eastbourne House is locally listed Grade B.

We know from Acocks Green History Society that an  early occupant was a  successful New Street draper:  see their Pioneers of Acocks Green  page:


John Barker
draper. He lived at Fern Bank, which became Eastbourne House School on Yardley Road after the War, and is still standing. He is described as a Mourning Draper. His business was Bach and Barker. Mourning drapers and undertakers, of 42 New Street.

This grand, ten bed-roomed house speaks to the glorious past of Acocks Green when encouraged by the new Great Western Railway line,  many prosperous Victorian men moved out here from the busy City centre, and brought their families into what was then a country idyll.  Times change. Eastbourne House  has been a school since 1948. With a short gap from 2008-2013 it is a school again now.   It retains many of its original features, including some of strong character.  The layout still gives some idea of how a wealthy and successful Victorian tradesman’s family would have lived, complete with coach house attics and cellar.

The building is currently let on a lease to the locally veryEastbourne Poster well-liked and popular Kimichi School which has played an enthusiastic part in the life of the local community

Yes, this is a fee-paying school but they emphasise that fees are kept as low as possible (This is not a Michael Gove scheme ‘free school’, and no state grants are received.)  The main aim has been to teach music, as well as a general syllabus,  to as many children, of as many different levels of ability and talent as possible.  The local community has frequently been invited into the building for free concerts, and to take part in singing and playing.  Free entertainment has also been provided at many local venues.     The building seems to continue well, and without too much modification,  in its now long-established mode as a small school with plenty of small classrooms, and some twentieth-century adaptations like school cloakrooms and sets of WCs.

What is the Problem?

Kimichi have been leasing the building for the past two years.  They cannot afford to buy it.  Now they must hand it back, unless they can raise £500,000 by 3rd November 2015.   This is a phenomenal sum to raise, especially in a short space of time.  What happens if the building is returned to the owners?  Nobody knows for sure, but we do know that the building has been on sale for a very long time.  It has not sold.  Part of the land the building stood on though was sold some years ago and fourteen houses now stand there, after a planning proposal was passed, despite local objections.  The land the building stands on represents further possible building land.  A Grade B local listing is a flag to planning committees, but it presents no legal protection against demolition.  (A few Birmingham people may still recall the sad case of the locally Grade B listed Island House in the city centre.  Its planned demolition was vigorously opposed in 2012 to no effect.  The building was demolished.)

Below are some interior pictures of Eastbourne House: a busy and active school for many decades.   It is not smart, perfectly restored or in any way ‘pickled in aspic’, but a working building with a possible healthy working life of many more years to come. If you want to help keep this building standing and alive you might consider helping to crowd-fund its future by donating towards that sum of money.  Otherwise, look out for future planning proposals.  Be ready to object.  Remember, however, that your objections may not be enough.

Eastbourne House - Hall

Eastbourne House – overview entrance hall

Eastbourne House - Newel Post

Eastbourne House – Newell Post Detail

Eastbourne House - floor detail

Hall tile pattern detail

Eastbourne House - Staircase detail

Eastbourne House – stairs detail

Eastbourne House - Hall - blown-up, ligthtened- stairs detail

Eastbourne House – stairs detail

Eastbourne House - Stair detail-1

Eastbourne House – stairs detail

Eastbourne House-Staircase Oct 14

Eastbourne House – stairs and ceiling detail: note the brightly coloured water-based paints which were added in 2013 when the building became Kimichi School should be easy to remove

Eastbourne House - front living room window

Eastbourne House – front living room window – all orginal wood frames and shutters

Eastbourne House - back living room window

Eastbourne House – back living room window – all original wood frames and shutters

Eastbourne House - doorway with Gothic panels

East bourne house – inner vestibule door – clear glass presumably replaces stained glass or wood.

Eastbourne House - doorway

Eastbourne House – door arch and original door

Eastbourne House - doorway-1

Original wooden door and elaborately moulded frame. Presumably clear central glass in door is replacement for stained or frosted glass

Eastbourne House - door detail

Same door – close-up

Eastbourne House - ceiling detail-1

Moulded ceiling detail

Eastbourne House - ceiling detail-2

Moulded ceiling detail

Eastbourne House - Dado Rail

Dado rail

The Avalon Hotel (48 Sherbourne Road)

July 4th, 2015
48 Sherbourne Road (Avalon). - pic for campaign

The Avalon Hotel (48 Sherbourne Road, Acocks Green)

Update We lost. Sad Face image (for lost Planning Committee debate)We came so close: five councillors voted against the plan and five for, with three abstentions. The Chair went (as he probably had to) with the planning officer’s recommendation to approve. This was not to say that any of the planning committee councillors appeared to like the plan. They talked about it for nearly half-an-hour and it is obvious that they did not.

The sticking point appeared to be the lack of clear Council policy documents in a case like this, and fear of the Council being sued. Further comment later.

***

Acocks Green people and conservationists have been stunned to discover that a planning application to convert the well-known Acocks Green building: The Avalon Hotel into a House in Multiple Occupation is recommended for approval by Birmingham City Council Planning Department.

We are opposing this application and in doing so have the backing of Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum, nearby Arden Residents Association and all three local councillors, who are from two different political parties. The plan goes to the Planning Committee (Fifteen councillors) on Thursday 9 July, for a final decision. We will be there delivering a speech explaining why we oppose, and the Committee will then vote. We are now calling on as many people as possible to join us now by writing to oppose this application. This can be done on-line simply and easily by putting your objections on the comments link here to oppose the p.a. for The Avalon Hotel Remember, even a brief comment will be counted. To help you understand why Acocks Green people are so upset about this application, and to help you in formulating your comments, there are some notes below.

Why is the Avalon Hotel Important?

The Avalon (48 Sherbourne Road) is one of the oldest buildings in Acocks Green, and it is part of Acocks Green’s history: that history which we are working on now for our Conservation Area. The Avalon as a commercial building does not itself qualify for the ‘Article 4’ strict planning regulations of the Conservation Area, but it would be highly relevant to the area nonetheless. We know that the property was built in the 1850s

Trade Card, Balleny We know that the first occupant was probably John Augustus Balleny, a jeweller ofSt Paul’s Square Hockley (i.e. ‘The Jewellery Quarter) and London. (He is listed as living at 48 Sherbourne Road in a trade directory for 1860, and in other documents.)

This clearly meant that Mr Balleny was using the Great Western Railway, with its station virtually opposite his house, to get to work. This in itself reflects a key part of Acocks Green history. Thetwo earliest local stations on that line seem to have been Acocks Green (1852) and Hockley (1854). We know, because they are recorded in trade directories and other places, that many, many Hockley industrialist moved out to green and rural Acocks Green, brought their wealth and established their great residences and helped set-up other local facilities like churches and meeting halls.

However, there is more: John Balleny was no ordinary jeweller. His father and grandfather had been jewellers inSt Paul’s Square before him, and Ballenys owned land there. There was a marriage between a Balleny (John Augustus’s aunt Mary) and George Richards Elkington of the great Elkington Silver Electroplating Works In this marriage the luck was not all on the Balleny side though: Ballenys gave Elkingtons some of their land, and (perhaps in return) George Elkington initially took on young John Augustus as an employee at his works. This did not last for long though, before John Augustus Balleny cast out by himself, building up the Balleny jewellery business. (Our thanks to Mike Byrne of Acocks Green History Society for a lot of help with researching and documenting all of this.)

By 1862, and living at The Avalon (then known as Clifton Villa) John Augustus was exhibiting some of the pieces made at his works at animportant international exhibition in Paris where they got an accolade in the catalogue which notes:

Mr John Balleny of Birmingham exhibited several satisfactory examples of the Art progress of that town. Some are pure gold. Others imitations. We engrave three brooches, one being a substitute for, and perhaps superior to, jet.

Here again, and enlarged are those three admired Balleny brooches:

Balleny Brooch-cropped

Balleny Pendant Enlarged-cropped

Jewellery Design, John Balleny-1

Does The Avalon have Surviving Features?

Yes it does have some features, including a good plaster work ceiling and a fireplace and … so we were told at Acocks Green Carnival … a rather lovely Victorian loo!

What is the problem with the Application?

Some aspects of the property are potentially fragile. Even without this factor though the application is worrying to Acocks Green people because it entails eleven people using the original hotel ensuite facilities to rooms, but sharing one living room and one kitchen. We do not think this constitutes a desirable living arrangement for anyone and after wide local discussion, including with local landlords a former student accommodation officer and HMO tenants, the conclusion is that this property is unlikely to remain a happy one for long. There are likely to be arguments. Aspects of this property, which is valuable to Acocks Green history, could become damaged.

Bizarrely, the report recommending that the Committee councillors accept this proposal claims that any problems within the accommodation are a ‘management issue’ which can easily be managed between a landlord and tenants. This ignores the point which we have already urged which that there will beno-one on premises to supervise most of the time. This is not normally the case with a hotel, and it is not appropriate to compare the two types of accommodation in this way.

In Summary

Please support Acocks Green people in objecting to this planning application: see link at the top of this post. Note: this is not an all-out attack on HMO landlords or their tenants. This is a property which is presenting specific and unusual concerns and we do not really believe that many people would be happy living in this property for long, or that any landlord would find it easy to manage. The potential for poor effect upon the immediate neighbourhood does not take much imagination to work out. We accept that other nearby properties are already divided into flats or operate as HMOs. We doubt that any other property around has as many as eleven tenants with such poor provision of facilities.

 

Your Acocks Green Candidates BCC Elections 15

April 29th, 2015

Council House - Image for BCC Elections 15.-1
It’s that time of the year again. Don’t forget that there is a local election just around the corner, as well as the hotly debated national one, and happening on the same day with polling in the same places. Which Birmingham City Council candidate has the best policies in order to care for the fabric and structure of Acocks Green? Who do you want to send in to the Council House to represent Acocks Green Ward? This year we have a line up of seven candidates. They have all been doing their homework, putting care and time into answering some Acocks Green orientated questions. Now it is up to you to decide. Click on the names underneath the, alphabetically ordered, pictures in order to read each candidates answers. We will announce the winner here in due course.

Results: (from Birmingham Evening Mail)

Election Results Brum 2015, Acocks Green Ward-croppedComments on Results

First we would like to thank all seven candidates who took part in our on-line survey. All spent time composing thoughtful answers about Acocks Green issues, and contributing to local debate on these. All these 2015 pages will remain on display (with an explanatory note) until shortly before the next local election.

As anyone who takes a serious interest in Acocks Green large ‘P’ politics will know, and as all the candidates in this famously Lib-Lab Ward would have known, the outcome could only ever have been Stacey or Wagg. In recent weeks there has been quite vigorous campaigning in the Ward, and the turn-out was good. There had been speculation and rumours that given the Lib-Dem win of Roger Harmer in Acocks Green last year, similar Lib-Dem wins in all three other Yardley Constituency wards, in 2014 and the apparent durability of Lib-Dem John Hemming’s tenure as MP, that a Lib-Dem win was on the cards in Acocks Green Ward today. Given the astonishing General Election results of last night, and the particularly bad showings for Lib-Dems, despite the Lib-Dems own counter hard campaigning, this was obviously a tougher mountain to climb than anyone had imagined. Moreover Labour put in sustained activity in Yardley in order to achieve the election of their MP candidate Jess Phillips, but Labour campaigners and campaign literature in the area were also both stressing the local choice of the incumbent’ candidate, long time Birmingham political ‘big beast’ Cabinet Member Stewart Stacey, Cabinet Member for Commissioning, Contracting and Improvement, and they were obviously keen to retain this lynch pin in Albert Bore’s Labour cabinet. Given both all this background, a prominent Labour candidate and the strong red colour of Birmingham now, Penny Wagg’s polling score of 2,846 is very respectable, even slightly up on Roger Harmer’s winning score of 2,679 last year against an unknown Labour candidate. Indeed she did better than many of her colleagues facing defeat in the General Election who often managed only a few hundred. As the Birmingham Mail full list of results shows the same is true for Lib-Dem candidates in many other Birmingham wards, although the votes of a handful of other well known and popular Lib-Dems held up fairly well.

To turn to other candidates: last year there was no UKIP candidate. This year there was a UKIP candidate, Gerry Moynihan, who polled 1,390 and the Conservative Richard Sparkes managed 1,174 against the previous Tory’s score of 372. At a guess for Richard this was a result of a combination of active campaigning and the overall current popularity of this party! The relatively strong showing of UKIP probably also owes something to a combination of national trends and local work. Some of the votes for these two candidates may possibly also have been ‘deducted’ from the potential score for Penny. The three other candidates, Amanda Baker (Green), Eamonn Flynn (TUSC) and Peter Johnson (SDP) all also stood last year, but polled slightly worse than last year. Probably this was no particular reflection on them and was more to do with the furious way in which this Ward was contested by other parties. Finally, it has been noted that a high proportion of our candidates live in the Ward.

Yes – we do do Politics in Acocks Green! Congratulations to the winner, Stewart Stacey, and better luck another time to the (main) looser, Penny Wagg.

All candidates’ statements still here, if you want to mull them over.

Amanda Baker - Green Party

Amanda Baker – Green Party

Amanda Baker

Eamonn Flynn: TUSC

Eamonn Flynn: TUSC

Eamonn Flynn

Peter Johnson, SDP

Peter Johnson, SDP

Peter Johnson

Gery Moynihan, UKIP

Gery Moynihan, UKIP

Gerry Moynihan

Richard Sparkes

Richard Sparkes, Conservative Party

Richard Sparkes

Stewart for election post 15

Stewart Stacey, Labour Party

Stewart Stacey

Penny Wagg

Penny Wagg, Lib-Dem Party

Penny Wagg

NB polling stations in Brum open 7 am and close 10 pm, Thursday 7 May 2015. Brummies will have two votes. One is the your vote in the General Election where you will be helping to choose your MP. One is for Birmimgham City Council, to help choose a local councillor. This page is about candidates standing in the local Council election. Note two of the candidates above (Flynn and Johnson) are standing for both the Birmingham City Council and for Parliament. If you are looking for information about the General Election and parliamentary candidates for Yardley you will find our Yardley Hustings report here

 

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: All Yardley results here

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 herselffirmly 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 areindications 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 fromThe Cumberland Newsin 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 datawe 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 orcomplete 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 documentHighways 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