Start devolving powers out to the districts
Dear Editor, Support for Ken Rushton’s wish for a more democratically devolved way of running Birmingham (Post April 25) comes courtesy of an unlikely sugar plum fairy called Michael Heseltine.
He has been robust in challenging his own government to devolve power to the regions, starting with the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.
Few have yet appreciated the concomitant requirement, that these stronger strategic sub-regional bodies will need to shed themselves of the encumbrance of day-to-day local public services.
For Birmingham to make swift use of these new opportunities offered by the LEP it will need to move very much faster and further in devolving the majority of its local services to districts and neighbourhoods.
The creation of a new Sutton Coldfield Town Council would be but one example of the totally new kind of local authority structure that the civic leaders of our city now need to start creating.
Councillor Rob Pocock
A Grand plan
Dear Editor, Every best wish to the restorers of Birmingham’s Grand Hotel.
Our city needs this great building to be available as soon as possible and so become a place of quality once again to stay, dine, meet and enjoy.
For a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere few hotels will ever compare with that of the old period Grand. Before too long I hope that we can take our partners for a romantic waltz around the most beautiful ballroom, which, I believe, is still intact.
Developers be assured that many people keenly await conclusion of your prolonged efforts and determined labour in such difficult times.
Albert Cox, Bournville
Monument would need to reflect our past and future
Dear Editor, I read with interest the article calling for a Birmingham inspired artwork to rival Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North (Post, May 2).
In October 2002 you published a letter from me which was captioned ‘Hallmark of quality and real innovation’. The letter read: “It seems that public opinion is against having a Birmingham Ferris wheel, at least in part because it is felt we should be innovative or distinctive rather than imitative.
“Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Birmingham is its hallmark – an anchor... The main shaft of the vertical anchor could be a tower of any height – at least as high as the proposed Birmingham Eye. . . The whole clad in gleaming material, and situated perhaps near Spaghetti Junction, would indicate to people... that they were close to a city of distinction.”
We have the Iron Man – why not a silvery structure that just might have a passing resemblance to The Angel of the North but bigger and better – and functional?
My letter was accompanied by a Birmingham Post artist’s impression of a giant anchor near Spaghetti Junction.
I fully realise that the size of any proposed structure would be dictated by the funding available, but this does not affect any argument about the general design of a possible structure which it can be argued is nationally and internationally uniquely representative of our second city.
Barrie Smith, Erdington
Dear Editor, Congratulations to Glyn Pitchford who is heading up both the Birmingham Civic Society’s initiative in calling for an artwork to rival the Angel of the North, and organising a forum at the Council House on May 15.
Let’s use this important occasion to ask the question, what does the Angel of the North actually tells us about the north? Surely we can do better than this. We need an iconic art work which speaks both of Birmingham’s heritage, and also tells of what Birmingham is and does today. It especially needs to be a statement of welcome to those visiting the city.
Why not build a great arch over the expressway at Spaghetti Junction – the gate way of Birmingham. This would be iconic in form and be a symbol of welcome to Birmingham and speak to those who travel on the M6.
Most of our present art works, good as they are, high light Birmingham’s worthies of the past.
The only attempt to go beyond this, was Raymond Mason’s controversial Forward statue in Centenary Square which was vandalised. I happen to have liked this, as it spoke of who we were and where we were going . The tragedy was that it was not made of metal in the first place.
With an iconic arch over Spaghetti Junction at the gateway of Birmingham, we have the opportunity of showing the world how proud we are of our city.
City needs a housing revolution
Dear Editor, Already the average size of a home in Britain is smaller than the rest of Europe and proper gardens are deemed not required in new developments. So the news that the Labour-run Council are calling on developers to build smaller, higher density housing is one that should send shudders down the spine of anyone who likes Birmingham’s heritage of mature garden suburbs. (True scale of housing shortage revealed, Birmingham Post April 25)
Over the last 60 years, despite having examples of world-leading development practice in Moor Pool Village and Bournville Village, or indeed many of the council estates built in the 1930s that were semi detached and provided a garden for families, Birmingham City Council has focused on demolition of beautiful buildings and infilling the space with high density flats or allowing conversion of Victorian homes into bedsits etc.
This may meet the short-term housing needs of the city but does it meet the future economic and cultural needs of the city?
The answer is a clear no. Since the decline of Birmingham’s industry in the 70s, the city has done well in building a large financial and legal sector. Many of the people who work in this sector, receive large salaries well above the regional average.
However, increasingly the people who work in these sectors live outside Birmingham, which is incredibly bad for the local economy. People who have large disposable incomes are vital for Birmingham’s future economic growth. When their income is spent, often in shops close to where people live it trickles down creating demand and supporting local businesses and corner shops.
If the people live in Birmingham this wealth supports employment in Birmingham helping to tackle the high levels of unemployment in many parts of the city. However, if the people don’t live in Birmingham that money is lost and those jobs are created elsewhere. This causes the current situation, a city which creates much wealth, yet has a significantly higher level of unemployment than you would expect.
So housing development must include the type of housing which will keep wealth in Birmingham rather than driving it out of our city. This means the end of infill housing, it means the Planning department stopping houses being converted into flats, it means protecting our mature suburbs. It will also sometimes mean being prepared to make a new garden suburb, not an estate, in Birmingham to attract people back into Birmingham. Of course if more of the people who work in Birmingham lived in Birmingham this will also help the city’s congestion significantly, shortening the travel to work distance.
Without doubt the difficulties facing young people in Birmingham of getting into the housing market are huge. Indeed it is the need to create increased supply, and thereby lower prices, as the demand would spread more widely, that is what will help young people looking for a home the most. As well as building houses, not flats, for first time buyers, we also need to focus on building those homes next up the ladder, the 3, 4 and 5 bedroom family home with a nice garden, so that if people can afford to move up the housing ladder they don’t have to move out of Birmingham to do it.
Housing policy in this city must not be viewed as a stand-alone thing. The creation of smaller higher density housing, may in the short term help meet housing demands, but in the long term it could spell the end of suburban life in Birmingham.
Housing policy, local economic policy, planning policy and enforcement, education policy and parks are all interlinked. They can, when thought through, work together to improve Birmingham’s position or if dealt with separately all be pulled in different directions ripping apart our great city and putting us at risk of ever increasing unemployment.
Councillor Robert Alden (Erdington)
Deputy Leader of the
Birmingham Conservative Group
Dear Editor, I can assure you that there must be at least 4,000 empty homes in Birmingham at the moment.
There are about 100 in each and every High Street above the commercial premises in the 40 or so wards of the city.
If someone could find a way to make the landlords of these properties responsible for their use and upkeep they could go some way to reducing the housing shortage.
Also, if the Government could be persuaded to reduce VAT from 20 per cent to 10 per cent for extensions and alterations there would be an immediate increase in construction activity.
It is heartbreaking to have a client say that they have, say, £25,000 for building an extension and to have to inform them that they have in fact only about £20,000 and the Government has the other £5,000.