It was almost four years ago that the Localism Act was introduced with the claim that it would set communities and local authorities free.
But there was a long way to go as Britain remains one of the most centralised countries in the western world. Despite the efforts and positive noises from the likes of Eric Pickles, Lord Heseltine and Chancellor George Osborne on devolution, particularly for the English regions, this remains the case.
In Birmingham, by far the largest local authority in Britain, there has also been similar positive noises about devolution from the Labour administration in recent years. The reality here too is that there has been little genuine movement of power, central contracts and strict funding conditions gave the devolved districts no room for manoeuvre on most issues.
Indeed, the Localism Act did not go as far as many hoped – those hoping to defend their rural idylls from new housing found little comfort from planning policies which started with the view that development is good and should be actively encouraged.
Within these limitations two grass roots movements in Birmingham, encouraged by the act, are beginning to bear fruit and could be the start of something wider. In Sutton Coldfield the people voted overwhelmingly to set up their own town council, the largest of its kind in the country, with the ability to raise its own funding via a council tax precept and outside funds.
While critics can say that this town council (an urban version of a parish council) will basically look after hanging baskets, litter picking and park benches, its supporters say that it will have considerable influence with its views on development, transport and other weightier issues.
A similar grass roots movement in Balsall Heath will, after an admittedly long lead up, see residents go to the polls later this year to vote on their new neighbourhood plan. It is one of the first urban areas in Britain to have its own plan.
The Balsall Heath Forum and their architect Joe Holyoak went door to door to seek views from as many of the district’s 15,000 residents as possible before drawing up the plan. The result is clear guidance for policy makers and potential investors on how their parks, shopping centres, historic buildings and streets should evolve over the next few years.
This is a project very much led by the Forum and local residents rather than the council and will be looked at in detail in next week’s Birmingham Post.
In both cases the residents have received considerable support and advice from national organisations – the Sutton Coldfield Town Council campaign was even given a grant by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), while Planning Aid provided a volunteer planning policy expert to help write the Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Plan.
These grass roots movements will be watched closely by other organised neighbourhood groups in the city who should start to explore whether they too can generate a groundswell of enthusiasm for local initiatives, planning policies and even their own parish councils.
As long as they are realistic about what can be achieved and truly engage with their communities they might make a vital difference.
After all they could be waiting a very long time for the city council, or indeed the Government, to get their act together and do it for them.
It's just not cricket
Two weeks on and there remains a level of simmering resentment over the Labour versus Conservative/Lib Dems cricket match - with most of the sniping being directed at the umpires.
Former Lord Mayor and widely respected (ie beyond his own party) Tory Randal Brew and community activist Desmond Jaddoo took responsibility for policing the bitter rivals at Perry Barr’s Holford Drive sports hub.
It’s a shame council leader Sir Albert Bore didn’t make it as I am told he shares similar approach to former England captain Michael Atherton - ‘he does little that is spectacular or eye catching, but hangs around a long time and is a b****r to get out’ according to one observer (although I’m not sure they were talking cricket at that point).
Councillor Waseem Zaffar despite being the Labour captain, wicketkeeper and top scoring star batsman is still struggling to get over his, admittedly shocking, dismissal for 55.
He was so far down the wicket when the ball struck his front pad that it should never have been out - but umpire Brew sent him packing leg before wicket. It was one of several baffling decisions.
So angry was Zaffer, that not only did he nominate the umpires the man of the match - days later he still couldn’t let it lie on facebook where he posted a link to an article called ‘lbw for dummies’.
But being a politicians Coun Zaffar should know that being right does not guarantee victory. Something the seasoned councillor Brew definitely does as he pointed out in reply: “Thank you for the guidance, it would have been useful before the match. You’re still out!”.