Update We lost. 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
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:
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.
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.