Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Update on the Highbury Trust

I’ve just come back from the meeting of Birmingham City Council’s Charties and Trust Sub-Committee meeting where the future of the Highbury Trust was discussed.

It was a very positive meeting and I would like to thank Cllr John Alden, Chair of the Committee for his sterling work.

The following was agreed:

  1. 1CCllr John Alden and Cllr Mike Wilkes to arrange a meeting with the Charity Commission within the next 4 weeks to discuss removing the secton on the new scheme for the Trust which mentions disposal of parts of the estate.
  2.  To urgently arrange a meeting between the Council Officers involved with managing the Trust and the Moseley and Kings Heath Ward Councillors. The meeting would discuss the future of the Trust.

 I was then given an opportunity to speak to the Committee – and again I would like to thank Cllr Alden for allowing me to do this.

I raised a number of points, which included the following:

a)    We need to do a Conservation Survey on the buildings on the Trust land – in particular Highbury Hall and Chamberlain House.

My concern is that  we need to understand whether Chamberlain House should be retained. For example who was the architect and does it add or detract from Highbury Hall. Points to remember about Chamberlain House was that it was built on the footprint of the glasshouses of Highbury Hall. When it was built in 1940, the 10foot high wall that runs the length of Queensbridge Road, also extended into Yew Tree Road up to the present entrance of Highbury Hall.

What this indicates to me is that Chamberlain House was built with the historic layout of Highbury estate in mind.  It was also built at a time when it would not have been viewed from Queensbridge Road, due to the 10foot high boundary wall. What we see of Chamberlain House from Queensbridge Road is really the functional back of the building. It's comparable to judging some of the fine buildings along New Street, by looking only at their rear elevations. Chamberlain House was built with it frontage facing onto the park. The complete wooded mass that hides it from Highbury Park did not exist when it was built. It wouldn't surprise me that it was designed to be seen from a distance from within Highbury Park and maybe looks very elegant along the top of the ridge on which it sits. Finally judging by the stonework (maybe William Bloye?), it wouldn't surprise me if a quality inter-war architect designed it - maybe Philip Boughton Chatwin?


b)    We need to do a proper structural survey of Highbury Hall to understand what work needs to doing to the building. I recently had a tour of the building and I there appeared to be little or no structural problems. I accept that it needs re-wiring, the floor boards need sorting out in places and there are a few wet patches on various walls. However, this is  nothing unususal in any empty building, including many post-war domestic houses.


c)    We need to have a clear Conservation philosophy on how we treat Highbury Hall. An over intensive use could destroy it. For example if we made the entire building into a museum of national importance, would we be required to erect external lifts, all internal doors changed for fire standard doors, and so on.....  We need to identify where the balance is between pickling Highbury Hall in vinegar where nothing is changed anywhere and actually using the building.


d)    We need to keep the Four Seasons Horticultural project on site. This project fits in perfectly with the heritage of the site and its charital objectives. It helps children and adults with learning difficulties by involving them in small horticulture projects. In turn this project is located on the site of the original kitchen gardens of the Highbury Hall estate. One of the physical boundaries of the project is a fruit tree pergola which dates from 1890 and is one of the few original features from the kitchen gardens that remain.


e)    We need to look at maybe moving other Council departments into Chamberlain House, if Social Services move out either partially or completely. Possible Council departments include:

a.    Hall Green District Office – presently located at Greencoat House, Stratford Road, where they rent out space from the owner. It’s not a pleasant work environment and Chamberlain House would be far more attractive.

b.    The Councils Trees section, presently based at Kings Heath House, Kings Heath Park. The Horticultural College, also based at Kings Heath House, is unable to expand its courses, despite demand,  due to a lack of physical space. Moving the Trees section into Chamberlain House would allow the college to expand its range of courses at Kings Heath House.

c.    The park services contained in the Queensbridge Road  depot. There is a long term aspiration to demolish the depot – located across the road from Yew Road junction – so that two playing fields can be joined. One of the playing fields is managed by Queensbridge School, while the other is managed by Bishop Challoner School.


f)     We need to involve groups like the Friends of Highbury Park, the Moseley Society, the Moseley Community Developement Trust and local residents in deciding the future of this Trust.


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