Dear Editor, I read the excellent Birmingham Post property supplement with a sense of growing excitement when examining some of the detail surrounding, the proposed 10 year, £17 billion development of Birmingham city centre. The iconic V Building, the development of Park Central, the Calthorpe Estates’ proposed £40 million office development and the redevelopment of Five Ways and the A38 corridor. These proposed and planned developments will certainly place Birmingham at the forefront of international focus and generate interest from the business and commercial sectors.
Unfortunately my enthusiasm slowly waned as I realised that yet again the one key area of focus that is always missing from these grandiose plans is the development of appropriate and suitable transport infrastructure to support the increasing urbanisation of our city.
Our city planners are guilty of being romanced by the idea of creating a legacy, of building bigger, taller and shinier than their counterparts in other cities; and guilty of demonstrating their impressive plans at international expos and conventions while knowing that our city is lacking quality transport amenities.
The sad fact is that our transport infrastructure is outdated and badly implemented. Our gateway railway station is a national joke, our national coach and bus depot is an appalling blot on the landscape and in the wrong part of the city to be of any practical use. Our grossly overpriced and overhyped bus service fails on several counts, including cleanliness, availability, frequency and accessibility. Transportation within the city centre is non-existent and car drivers have been branded persona non-grata by redevelopments which have destroyed or severely limited vehicle access.
Someone should pitch up next to our high flying city promotions team and tell the eager international community that it can take up to 45 minute to travel four miles along the Hagley Road to the city on any given weekday, that public transport is shabby and erratic, that despite massive investment plans for New Street station’s redevelopment there will still be only two tracks in and two tracks out, that light-rail and tramway plans are being proposed, investigated and discarded in lightning fashion, and there is no appreciable long-term integrated transport proposal let alone a solution.
The incumbent city fathers, with their burning desire to create a lasting legacy, need to face reality and get our priorities right. We need fast, frequent transport within the city and surrounding districts. The West Midlands tramway is good as far as it goes (one track), but as we all now realise, it doesn’t go far enough and recent reports have suggested that it isn’t going to go any further.
The answer? Don’t waste any more time trying to shoehorn the tram into a city where it just won’t fit. Look at alternatives. We had a fantastic network of tramways and trolley-buses in and around this city. Trams and trolley buses are environmentally friendly, pollution free and are only limited by the availability of an overhead power supply or track. The cost of installing pylons and cable must be infinitesimal compared to the projected costs of a light rail extension, which would be a single line “all the way” to Five Ways if we are lucky. We should be creating a superb 21st century city centre transport system capable of providing the interconnects between Digbeth bus and coach station, Snow Hill, Moor Street and New Street stations, in conjunction with large park and ride facilities built on the city perimeter approaches. Such a system would also provide the means for city centre residents to be able to dwell in the city without the need for the ubiquitous motor car.
If second-rate towns like Sheffield can develop city-wide tram services that move local people and encourage cars to be left at home, then why can’t Birmingham? We must get the basics right before we reach for the stars. A 21st century city needs 21st century transportation.
Plans in place to end Britain’s social divide
Dear Editor, The contrasts in British city life have seldom been so stark – but don’t just take my word for it.
A study in the British Medical Journal reveals that life expectancy inequalities across the UK are at their widest since Victorian times.
The Government’s own statistics show that under Labour, the gap in infant mortality between the richest and poorest families has widened. Income inequality, measured by the internationally-recognised Gini coefficient, is at its highest since comparable records began in 1961.
A paper published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last week reported that the clustering of poverty in our cities has increased and in parts of some cities, more than half of all households are now breadline poor.
This does not make happy reading, but one of the problems of the current Government is that it refuses to acknowledge the divisions and disadvantage that so many of these communities face, because to do so would be to acknowledge their failure to take action to change the situation over the last 11 years.
What are the Conservative solutions to the division and deprivation in Britain’s cities?
To tackle the pockets of worklessness that you find in every British city today, Conservatives have published radical plans for welfare reform, and to target help in our cities we will pay a premium to providers who get people to work from Britain’s most deprived areas.
We will ensure everyone has the skills they need to get into work by creating up to 100,000 additional apprenticeships for people of all ages, with a £2,000 bonus for small businesses who agree to take them on.
To give all children the best start in life, we will introduce more than 4,000 more health visitors across the country so that families in deprived wards have the support and advice they need.
There will also be a Child Health Inequalities Fund of £10 million per year to boost support for families in the most deprived areas.
In schooling we will introduce a “pupil premium” for pupils from deprived families, to reverse the current trend where children from disadvantaged backgrounds fall further and further behind other pupils.
We want to tackle crime and restore community safety in our most deprived areas by scrapping unnecessary police bureaucracy, such as the form-filling that goes with stop and search powers and taking a strong, zero tolerance approach to the gun and knife crime that blights so many of our poorer neighborhoods.
Finally it is essential that we rebuild a sense of pride and ownership in our communities.
We will support the charities and social groups that often are the driving force behind community cohesion and regeneration. Projects such as our National Citizens Service, which will be open to all 16-year-olds, and community work for the long-term unemployed, will work to help people achieve a sense of purpose, so that they help to regenerate deprived areas and give participants a sense of ownership of the communities they live in.
These are just some of the policies we have outlined this week to help tackle the social divide in Britain’s cities.
I am under no illusions, there is more work to be done. No solution will be found overnight, but it’s an important challenge and one we all have to meet.
Chris Grayling MP,
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Conservative.
Parents an essential part of a child's life
Dear Editor, Until such time as Gordon Brown and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith realise that lack of parity in family law is removing wholesome fathers and grandparents from children's lives in their formative years, then the greater anti-social behaviour will become.
Well over 600,000 children have been denied contact to more than one million grandparents since Labour came to power in 1997.
They were then all in favour of a nanny state via the NSPCC, Social Services & CAFCASS which undermines parental responsibility rights at an alarming rate.
We, for our part, must and will continue to highlight the ramifications upon society should family life be undermined to the point of no return and our nation's children become the ultimate victims.
National Society for Children and Family Contact (NSCFC) is a registered charity which believes that continuing contact with a child's parents, or extended family, after separation or divorce, is vital for the child's balanced development and it works tirelessly to foster those all-important family contacts.
As such we offer free support and advice to all those in need.
Telephone the helpline at national rate on 0870 794 0075 or at www.nscfc.com.