Highbury Hall, once the home of Joseph Chamberlain, is not simply a very fine example of a late Victorian manor with adjoining parkland.
It is symbolic of Birmingham’s rise as a great manufacturing city at the end of the 19th century and as such is a piece of history that must be preserved at all costs.
Arguably, since being handed in trust to the city council by the Chamberlain family in 1932, not as much public use has been made of Highbury as might have been expected. Today, unless a person is prepared to pay handsomely to attend one of the banquets or wedding fayres held at the house, he or she is unlikely ever to be able to enjoy the splendours of Highbury House.
A familiar story of incompetence begins to unfold as far as the stewardship of this civic treasure is concerned. The council has not properly maintained Highbury Hall, with the result that the cost of refurbishment is now some £700,000, and a further £2 million has to be found as compensation since the council has clearly not been using the building for the charitable purposes set out when the trust was established.
The only option, we are told, is to raise cash by selling several prominent estate buildings including Chamberlain House and Park Lodge.
Community groups are understandably furious at what they see as a betrayal of the Chamberlain legacy but by far the most important challenge is to make better public use of Highbury Hall and its grounds.
Getting rid of the more minor buildings might just be an acceptable way forward but only if the council relinquishes outright control in favour of a new trust board consisting of representatives elected by local communities.
Chamberlain, an early proponent of active citizenship, would surely have approved.