Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Below is the text of the speech that I delivered at today's Leisure, Sport and culture Scrutiny Committee. Every twelve months, Cabinet members have to present themselves to the relevant Scrutiny Committee for questioning on the performance of this portfolio.

Leisure, Sport and Culture Scrutiny Committee

13 July 2011

Can I thank you for this opportunity to talk here at the Leisure, Sport and Culture Scrutiny Committee. It is 12 months since I last presented my report here and 7months since I presented my annual report to full Council.

As you well know, this portfolio is very broad in its responsibilities and if I were to go through every particular project we have or are working on we would be here for the next 2 hours.

So what I intend to do is just remind you of the many successes this portfolio has achieved since December 2010 and then I will open it out to questions.

First of all you will have seen last weekend, Alexander Stadium hosting the British leg of the Diamond League athletics event. The world’s fastest and best track and field athletes came here to Birmingham, for an event that was shown live on BBC2 and on TV screens across Europe and in the USA. An event which has won our city great praise from the athletes themselves and from the IAAF and again reinforced our position as a world leading event destination.

Yet it is less than 12 months ago that the Leader, myself and the Chief Executive of UK Athletics discussed the possibility of the Diamond League coming to Birmingham and Alexander Stadium being the head quarters of UK Athletics.

To satisfy the seating capacity requirement of Diamond League we have built a new stand, increasing the capacity of the stadium to 12,500 and in October this year UK Athletics and English Athletics will move their head quarter operations into the offices in the under croft of this new stand.

The event on Sunday was a complete sell out – selling more tickets than both the New York and Shanghai legs. Indeed, we had one of the most well attended Diamond League fixtures in the last twelve months.

The new stand looks fantastic and has been designed so that in the future we can increase the capacity of the stadium to 25,000 seats. Such a capacity would allow the stadium to host the European Athletics Championships – now held every two years and an event that Britain has never held. Also we could host the European Team Championships.

Continuing on the theme of running, in June we announced that we had reached a deal with Nova International – organisers of the Great North Run, the largest half marathon in the world – that the Birmingham Half Marathon would join the Great Run Series and become the Bupa Great Birmingham Run. This partnership should not be underestimated – Nova International has a fantastic reputation for organising and staging mass participation events and in order to encourage more of Birmingham’s residents to become more active we have set them a target to raise the number of runners in the Birmingham Half Marathon from 14,000 last year to 25,000 in 2013.

In June also, we opened the new BMX track at Perry Park – this track is now recognised as the best BMX track in Britain. Indeed, we already have both the Australian and US BMX Olympic teams enquiring as whether they can use this track as their training base in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics.

Last year, the rebuilding of Harborne pool began. The first swimming pool to be built in Birmingham since 1990. This pool is still on target to open on 2nd January next year and the procurement process has already begun to find a private operator to run this pool on the Council’s behalf. A procurement framework is also being prepared to find a private partner to design, build, operate and maintain a new Sparkhill pool, a report seeking approval will be presented to Cabinet at the end of this month. Together these show my commitment, supported by my Cabinet colleagues to the retention of community swimming pools in Birmingham.

I know that the issue of asset transfer is something that the Committee has asked me to talk about. As Cabinet Member for this portfolio, I have been very supportive of the idea of involving community groups, especially sports organisations, in the running of our various facilities. Indeed, I have taken a close look at how Sweden has managed to successfully work with voluntary groups to run facilities.

Our first such test of this Swedish model for community managed assets is taking place at an unattached playing field at Holford Drive in Perry Barr. Working closely with my Cabinet colleague, Cllr Les Lawrence, we advertised in the local press for sports and community groups who would be interested in working together to form a ‘Community Sports Hub’ to coordinate activity and eventually manage these playing fields under a Community Asset Transfer, the protocol for which was approved by Cabinet earlier this year.

Using Holford Drive as a pilot we are also working towards forming Community Sports Hubs at a number of unattached playing fields and a report to Cabinet later this summer seeking approval for a Community Asset Transfer at Holford Drive will lead the way for similar transfer at:

  • Spring Lane in Erdington
  • Holders Lane playing fields and pavilion in Moseley. This would most likely include the former Pebble Mill playing fields.
  • Belchers Lane playing fields.

The development of a Community Sports Hub/Community Asset Transfer at Belchers Lane playing fields is quite advanced. These playing fields have not being used since the 1970s. In 2003, the previous administration announced plans to build on these playing fields for a medical research facility, plus car parking for the hospital. Through discussions with the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust (Heartlands) it is quite clear that this medical research facility is not going happen and that planning restrictions would prevent the playing fields being merely used for car parking.

On that basis, both Cllr Lawrence and I have taken the initiative and worked closely with Waverley School and the English Cricket Board to put these playing fields back into use. Indeed, Waverley School proposed to create a cricket academy on part of the site, which will tap into the high level of enthusiasm for cricket in the Small Heath community and act as a feeder school for Warwickshire Cricket club.

Later this month, work will begin on laying out a new cricket pitch on these playing fields, ready for Summer 2013, when the cricket academy will open.

We know that the school will be inviting local sports group to join with them in running these new playing fields.

Finally, can I explain about the recent decision to sell off a thin sliver of open space to Asda at Barnes Hill. I do not take these decisions lightly, our open space is very important to me, local councillors and residents alike. However, I do believe that this was a unique opportunity to raise capital funding to reinvest in the local area, plus other key parks around the city such as Cannon Hill Park, Sutton Park, Kings Heath Park, Lickey Hills, Sheldon Country Park and Cofton Park.

I have worked closely with the local Councillors, who in turn have consulted with their residents as to whether they would find a financial investment in Woodgate Valley country park sufficient to compensate for the loss of this land.

As a result, we have, I believe reached an agreement which the residents of Barltey Green will find acceptable. In exchange for the sale of this land, the residents will see a considerable financial investment in the infrastructure of Woodgate Valley Country Park. These include:

  • The building of a sports changing room to the rear of the visitors centre. At the moment, football teams have to change in a class room used by schools and store room – this is not acceptable and in turn impacts on the users of the class room, especially when they find it covered in mud.
  • The enlargement and refurbishment of the toilets, plus the creation of a disabled toilet.
  • Repair of numerous paths, which during the winter become waterlogged and impassable.
  • Repair and improvement in the boundary fencing to stop travellers setting up camp on the site.
  • Improvements to the nearby pony trekking centre, including a disabled toilet and the construction of an indoor horse riding centre. This indoor centre will allow the trekking centre to operate throughout the winter, plus whenever it rains in the Summer.

As I said earlier this is a huge portfolio and this is just a taste of many of the achievement of this portfolio in the last seven months. I’m happy to take questions.


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