John O’Shea: Labour Party Candidate for Acocks Green 2016

The Questions 

Q1 There are a lot of larger Victorian and Edwardian properties in Acocks Green which lend themselves to a variety of uses.  in recent years there has been much discussion in regard to the preservation of roads as residential roads.    A recent decision on a planning application (see this link) gives some support to the idea that residential roads should where possible be retained as such in order to help preserve the community atmosphere of the neighbourhood.  This issue becomes even more pressing in regard to applications to turn larger properties into what is technically known as ‘C2’ (Residential Home) accommodation.  What is your view both on the general preservation of residential roads as such, and in particular on the clustering of a number of C2s in a small area, which because usually Victorian/Edwardian, will often be part of the proposed Conservation Area as well.

A I’m always happier seeing larger homes retained for their original use wherever possible and share concerns about the effect on the community of too many properties – not just residential homes, but also HMOs of all sizes. I would welcome a policy that limited concentrations of certain classes within an area. As Q6 notes, though, every application has to be decided on its own merits                                                                                             

Q2 We are currently awaiting a decision from the Boundary Commission upon the final boundaries of Acocks Green ward.  The subject generated considerable heat earlier this year.  However, regardless of what decision is finally taken as to where the boundaries should lie,  we will become smaller as a ward, and we will have fewer councillors handling a larger number of households.  In the light of what is in effect going to be reduced involvement and support from elected representatives, what is your view on Acocks Green setting up its own parish council, and would you be willing, as a councillor, to help support this?  To help you here are two links (1) from Hebden Royal Town Council  and (2) Notes by David Treadwell, chair of Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum

A I’ve already had discussions with David regarding exactly this matter. I’d want to wait to see what the LGBCE makes of Acocks Green before discussing precise boundaries, but I would support a new level of truly local democracy. Working with the Business Improvement District as a director, I’ve seen the effect that this can have on the Village – the BID has brought major improvements to the quality of the shopping area, with the Town Wardens, the additional cleaning and a single point of focus for the local businesses to really affect what happens around them. Even the brilliant Christmas lights – the best we’ve ever had in Acocks Green – are the result of close partnership working between the BID and the city council. I’d hope that a small, affordable precept would allow a parish council to focus on truly local priorities – decided by the people of Acocks Green. A parish council would also be an ideal vehicle to take forward the idea of local planning, but this is a longer term prospect. Of course, all of this would depend on the support of the people and whether a strong case can be made for effective, local government. I would hope that we could see a cross-party approach to this in the future,

Q3 Recently, in  Douglas Road Acocks Green there was much publicity, see link here  following a seven-car pile-up after a speeding incident.  It has so far proved impossible to charge the driver, who cannot be identified by the police.   Fortunately, and amazingly, no-one was hurt.  However, are you confident that a 20 mph sign in the road will prevent this kind of incident occurring in the future, or do you believe that physical traffic-calming measures may need to be installed on some of the longer and more vulnerable residential roads in Acocks Green?

A No road sign will ever stop a driver who is out of control, under the influence of drink or drugs or determined to risk their own and others’ lives – some or all of the reasons behind the collision on Douglas Road. I was there, seconds after the crash, which occurred a few yards from my home. 20 mph limits are gaining in popularity across the country and partly, it is about setting a standard – if you are driving on a residential road in Birmingham, the people of the city expect you to drive at a safer speed. This will not be an overnight transformation in behaviour – plenty of people are still stopped on the Stockfield Road for speeding, despite me having campaigned to have 30 mph limit signs installed. But most people will follow. If we lower speeds, we make our roads more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists; we encourage people to use those methods for short journeys and we become a healthier and a safer city.

On many roads, the speed limit will be self-enforcing, but there will be some roads across the city where traffic calming work may be required, in consultation with local residents.

Q4 Fly tipping and garden waste collection both continue to be issues of concern in this area, especially since some free council services have now become paying services.  It is not disputed that government cuts to local councils present a strong challenge.  What measures would you therefore put in place to prevent unsightly and in some cases insanitary, eyesores accumulating in the area this summer.

A The Council will continue to tackle fly tippers as and when they appear and I’ll continue to press for action on problems, just as I did on Olton Boulevard East, on the Warwick Road, Spring Road, in Fox Hollies Park and at other spots across the ward. The Council now has a unit tasked with tackling this problem and prosecutions are on the rise. In the five years to 2012, just 38 people faced prosecution across the city. In 2015/16, 119 people were charged. Indeed, earlier this year, two people were jailed for persistent illegal dumping of sheep carcasses in Aston. The cuts that this council has faced over five years of coalition government and will face over the coming years are nothing short of devastating. The council started the decade with 20,000 employees and will end it with around 7000. That sort of loss will have a massive impact on the services that the council is able to provide. 

Q5  Do you believe that local ward meetings are important?  What views do you have on the continuation, structure (e.g. top table/formal or informal around a shared table/circle etc)  and advertising of local ward meetings?  (There is a reason for including this link – see where it takes you!)

A I tend to the view that formal ward meetings with councillors at the front aren’t the way to go – attendance hasn’t been outstanding unless there has been a specific issue to raise attention. I think that there is more to be gained by councillors attending community meetings – neighbourhood forums, residents’ associations or the Housing Liaison Board are examples. Where those meetings don’t exist – on the Yarnfield, for example, then I think councillors have a duty to try to kickstart them. I’ve tried to continue the meetings that the police held for the Yarnfield and I’ll commit to reviving those if re-elected. The need for the formalised ward meeting with an agenda and some decision-making powers has largely disappeared and with the advent of single-member wards in 2018, is unlikely to return.

Q6 We are seeing an increasing trend for planning applications in Acocks Green to involve the considerable enlargement of existing properties.  Sometimes these applications can throw the visual appearance of a  Victorian, Edwardian or 1920s or  1930s property ‘off balance’ and can also alter the street scene for the worst.  Obviously, every PA is different, and all PAs need to be considered on their individual merits.  However, do you have an overall view on this?

A Part of the reason people move into an area is because of how it looks, so I’d like to protect as much of the older architecture as possible. Some of the conversions of the council houses into flats haven’t been great, as the sound-proofing between the floors can make the downstairs resident’s life a misery. That said, the planning laws don’t provide a lot of protection for properties, they are tilted very much in favour of the applicant. and we have a government that wants to weaken them further.

Q7 Can we count on you for positive support and vigilance once Acocks Green’s long-awaited Conservation Area is finally in place?  See this AGFG post on the Conservation Area for further info (Note: a small part of Oxford Road leading away from Sherbourne Road is now also included, although not indicated in the boundary lines shown here.)

A Yes.


 

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