Jewellery Quarter – Slum of Tomorrow?

Some of the Jewellery Quarter apartmentsI’m very disappointed at Conservative City Cabinet member for Housing John Lines’ comments that Jewellery Quarter apartments are the “slums of tomorrow”.

I think it’s clear to all that some developers are struggling to sell all their units, while some are struggling to even finish building them. Some have apparently approached the Council hoping to do a deal to make them available to Council tenants – but Councillor Lines has said no.

I strongly disagree with his view that these apartments are “not good enough for our people”. Whilst I agree they are not necessarily suitable for families, that doesn’t mean that individuals or young couples wouldn't be perfectly happy living in them.

I live in the Jewellery Quarter and I am not alone in being insulted by Cllr Lines’ comments. The Jewellery Quarter has a fantastic community spirit thanks to the incredible work of the Jewellery Quarter Neighbourhood Forum and its partnership working with others including the Regeneration Partnership, JQ Association and others. Branding its potential future in this way will not help future investment or the bid for World Heritage Status at all.

Of course, high quality family homes should be built across the city and I am pleased with the progress being made in that regard. But we should not ignore housing stock that is available now – and that includes apartments. In the middle of a recession we need to find sensible, good value solutions to all our problems.

What we must do though, is ensure any future developments are put through a thorough planning process that scrutinises the quality alongside current demand and potential future demand - before planning permission is given for any more apartments.


More Violence in Brum – Ban EDL Protests Now

For the third time in three months violence erupted in Birmingham City Centre as a result of the English Defence League protests. The demonstrations, supposedly against "islamic fundamentalism" have instigated counter-demonstrations from Unite Against Fascism. On each occasion the "protests" have attracted both Islamophobes and young Asian lads, with both groups seemingly intent on causing trouble under the banner of free speech.

Yesterday members of the EDL were bussed in from around the country. As I blogged about here and here, leading Liberal Democrats and other leading city figures had called for the protest to be banned. It's now time for Mike Whitby to take a look at what went on in our city and ban these thugs.

West Midlands Police seem to be proclaiming yesterday as a success as violence was "limited" to certain pockets across the city centre away from the main shopping area.

That is outrageous.

The fact violence erupted at several locations in the city including Digbeth and New Street is not a good sign. It shows this went beyond any organised protest. Look at some of the photographs in the media such as the Daily Mail, which shows EDL supporters waving Israeli flags and a sign proclaiming "NO MORE MOSQUES". Rather makes a mockery of EDL's claim that they are a non-racist organisation.

The media coverage has brought shame to the city again and if we are not careful, we will get a reputation for tolerating racism. Momentum is a very dangerous thing - and right now Birmingham has it.

We need a ban on any further EDL protests - and we need it NOW.

UPDATE: You can now sign a petition calling on West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council to ban future extremist "protests" in the city centre. Enough is enough.


EDL March To Go Ahead

Birmingham protests August 2009The "anti Islamic extremism" protest from the English Defence League will go ahead as planned on Saturday on our city's streets, despite calls from Deputy Leader, Lib Dem Councillor Paul Tilsley to ban it. But plans for a "Birmingham United" concert backed by John Hemming MP amongst others have been cancelled after a lack of support from the Police and City Council.

Exact plans for the EDL march are unclear, although Police have been successful in restricting gatherings in the Bullring shopping area. Suggestions of a protest march around the Broad Street area have been discussed, as has a march to Lancaster Circus. What we do know is the EDL are bussing in people from all across the country.

Let's remind ourselves of the events of 8th August again. It concerns me that although families and children shopping in the Bullring will be protected from a potential repeat performance, the significant number of residents of the Broad Street area will not be.

Throw into the mix the England match means the Broad Street bars are likely to be packed - and all I can see is potential trouble.

See my previous post for why I think this protest should be banned.


Car Clamping in Birmingham

The battle against rogue car clampers in Birmingham took a step forward last week.

Four men were arrested following a fraud investigation into Car Clamping Securities (CCS) by the city's Trading Standards and West Midlands Police.

Trading standards had received over 56 complaints from residents, mainly that their cars had been towed away despite them paying to park. A tow truck owned by the firm was also seized in the operation, from Eyre Street in Ladywood.

Earlier this year the Liberal Democrats called for an end to clamping on private land and launched the website Ban Rogue Clampers.


Ladywood Walks – Edgbaston Reservoir

Edgbaston Reservoir lodgeLast month I said I would start posting up some interesting walks around Ladywood.

This weekend I went for a morning stroll around the nearby Edgbaston Reservoir. Built in 1827, the 70 acre site is a popular spot for birds, animals, sailing, rowing, jogging and dog-walking. It's a 1.75 mile walk around the water and some of the sights include:

- Perrott's Folly (perfect for Tolkien fans!)
- The Tower Ballroom
- Midland Sailing Club
- Birmingham Rowing Club
- Sea Cadets
- Birmingham Buddhist Vihara

You can start the walk from the Tower Ballroom car park by Reservoir Road (near Osler Street for the Buddhist Vihara), or on Gillott Road (near Selwyn Road) where there is a walkway down to the Reservoir.


Edgbaston Reservoir lodge

Edgbaston Reservoir lodge

Edgbaston Reservoir lodge

Edgbaston Reservoir lodge


Ban The Protests. Keep Our City Safe.

Birmingham riots of August 2009The City Centre Neighbourhood Forum has received a response from West Midlands Police regarding the planned protests from EDL and UAF (English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism) in Birmingham on 5th September.

In the response, the Chief Superintendent says, “The ability to protest is a fundamental democratic right and one we are in no position to make any political or moral judgement about.”

As a Liberal and believer in free speech, I appreciate this statement. But hold on, are we asking the Police to take a political or moral judgement? No! We are asking them to ensure violence does not erupt on our streets for the second time in a month. We are asking them to keep residents of the city centre, shoppers and visitors safe on what will be a busy Saturday afternoon.

What concerns me is these further comments from the Chief Superintendent: “At this stage we believe two groups intend to protest peacefully, and would urge those seeking to use the situation to commit criminal acts to think carefully about their involvement.”

Intend to protest peacefully?

Let's remind ourselves of the events of 8th August. These two so-called peaceful protests in different locations quickly turned sour and led to over 30 arrests in ugly scenes that I never want to see repeated on our city's streets.

A repeat set of protests, held so soon after the last and very deliberately on the day of an England football match, WILL cause further trouble, of that I have no doubt. It is a deliberate call-to-action for all those who are “up for a ruck” and I am disappointed the Police are not taking this viewpoint.

Ban the EDL and UAF protests. Keep our streets safe.

Join the Birmingham United Facebook Group


Post People: Blair Kesseler

St Basils
Today's Birmingham Post carries a feature on Blair Kesseler, the former chair of the Birmingham Liberal Party, now chief executive of the city's youth homelessness charity St Basils. Definitely worth a read.

"Meanwhile, his interest in politics started while he was still at school and led him to a life-long association with liberalism."

"Asked if he misses the buzz of the political arena, Blair said: “I miss hearing all the gossip first and knowing what was going on before anyone else.”

“One of the best elements of St Basils is being given the opportunity to witness the young people building themselves a platform for the rest of their lives. They have been a constant source of inspiration for me,” Blair said. “It does sound corny but it is like a family. Everyone is so passionate that you can’t help but get caught up in the emotion. In fact, some of the stories you hear from the young people are incredible. If I had hair it would have been permanently stood on end for the last fifteen years.”


City Centre Neighbourhood Forum

Birmingham City Centre Neighbourhood Forum

On Monday evening I was invited along to a committee meeting of the City Centre Neighbourhood Forum. The group have trouble communicating on a regular basis with residents of the city centre, because the vast majority live in private developments with door entry codes. I joined them for the first portion of the meeting, where I presented a few tips and tricks on getting the local community engaged via the internet and specifically blogging.

Before I left we discussed a number of other issues including the Broad Street BID.

If you live within the city centre boundary (as defined by the map below), I'd encourage you to bookmark the Neighbourhood Forum Blog.

Birmingham City Centre Neighbourhood Forum area

Ed Miliband Interviewed by Ladywood Kids

Climate Change minister Ed Miliband was in Ladywood recently to visit the Summerfield Eco-Village project. Local news project TNT News were on hand to interview him. Click here to view the video.

What's interesting for me is how uncomfortable he seems when being questioned by the children (should he look at the camera or the kids!?) but also the following comments on the TNT website:

It was interesting for us to see the minister’s public relations team. I think there were at least four of them and they all seemed scared stiff at the thought of us interviewing him, perhaps incase we asked awkward questions! They wanted us to go into a separate room and wait for him to finish his tour before allowing us to interview him.


Birmingham Job Centres Need Investment

The Government has been accused of failing to invest in Birmingham's Job Centres despite unemployment heading for a 15-year high.

From the Birmingham Post:

"Nearly 50 job centres across the West Midlands need expanding as they struggle to cope with soaring unemployment and a rapid increase in the number of people seeking work, managers have admitted. But the comments came in the wake of a series of job centre closures. In the West Midlands, 53 job centres have closed their doors since 2002."

In recent times unemployment in Ladywood constituency has consistently been the highest in the entire UK. According to the latest June 2009 figures published by the BBC, Ladywood still leads the way with 11.1%. Take a closer look though, and you'll see the next three constituencies with the highest unemployment are ALL in Birmingham.

Over the past few years, this supposed Labour government slashed job centres in Aston, Sparkbrook, Northfield, Selly Oak, Small Heath, Erdington and Handsworth - right across the city - and most in the areas that now have the highest unemployment. The two job centres in Ladywood ward operating at full capacity are on Broad Street and Summer Row.

If we are to effectively get people into relevant training or back to employment, we cannot skimp on the facilities - especially not in the city with the worst unemployment problem.