Anyone who believes that ordinary people can have little influence over the decisions of local councils might have changed their mind had they been at a Birmingham planning committee meeting yesterday.
It is clear that a well organised protest by community groups in Edgbaston and Moseley has succeeded in halting what seemed like a safe bet – the granting of planning permission for a £32 million refurbishment of the Warwickshire County Cricket Club ground.
Committee members were not swayed by a cabinet decision on Monday to lend WCCC £20 million toward the cost of the scheme – a move which, in retrospect, appears hasty and tantamount to holding a pistol to the planners’ heads.
Nor were they overly impressed with claims by council leaders and the cricket club that the ground improvements are vital if Birmingham is to retain Test match status and continue to attract international cricket matches. What they were concerned about, with some reason, was the scale of what is being proposed.
One complainant has likened the flats, houses, hotels, restaurants and bars proposed by WCCC to the Chelsea Village complex in south-west London.
While that may be an exaggeration, it is clear that the ancillary development demanded by the club, in order to raise revenue to pay for ground modernisation, is bound to increase traffic problems on two of the city’s key arterial roads.
There are also questions over the appropriateness of permanent floodlighting at the ground, something rejected by a government planning inspector eight years ago.
It seems clear from evidence put to the committee that relations between the club and local people have not, over many years, been as constructive as they ought to be.
Club officials would do well to heed the committee’s advice to talk to residents about ways in which the impact of what is after all a huge development can be ameliorated.
It would indeed be a tragedy for Birmingham if Test match cricket were to disappear from Edgbaston as the result of failure to agree on expanding and modernising the ground.
But that does not make it right to approve an over-intensive scheme in an unsuitable location.
The council leadership has sought openly to suggest that a decision in favour of WCCC is vital if Birmingham is to retain its position as a venue for first class international sport, not to mention the many millions of pounds in economic benefit that Edgbaston generates.
That is true, but will not make it any easier for the planning committee to take a balanced decision. Hopefully, a compromise can be worked out over the next few weeks in the interest of Edgbaston and cricket.