Monday, February 27, 2012

Opening hours of Kings Heath Library to be increased

Subject to approval of a report I am presenting to Cabinet next Monday, the opening hours of Kings Heath Library will be increasing from 39hours per week, to 40hours per week, in April.

The report I am presenting is the new operating model for all community libraries across Birmingham. The headlines from the report are as follows:

  • No libraries in Birmingham will close
  • The 16 busiest libraries (which includes Kings Heath, Sparkhill and Hall Green Library) will each open a minimum of 40 hours per week, spread over 5 days. These libraries presently open 5 days a week, with the hours varying widely.
  • The remaining 23 community libraries (which includes Balsall Heath) will each open a minimum of 26 hours per week spread over 4 days. These libraries are presently open 5 days a week with their hours varying widely

The Constituencies that look after the day-to-day operation of these community libraries will set the opening and closing times, but they will be expected to be open on Saturdays and at least one late night per week.

In addition to this, I have managed to get the money to completely repair the roof of Kings Heath Library. This will be in two phases:

Phase 1: due to start late March – cost £156,000 – replacement of the asphalt covering on the flat roof with new asphalt; replacement of the slate tiles on the pitch roofs; provision of a new aluminium rainwater guttering system. This roof covering reached the end of its design life more than 20 years ago and it is cracking in places, allowing water to penetrate the concrete flat roof. This in turn is causing large chunks of ceiling plaster to fall off the ceiling inside onto libray users below. Also, whenever it rains, buckets have to be place around the library to catch any dripping water.

Phase 2: due to start Summer 2012 – cost £144,000 – replacement of all the skylights. These wooden frame skylights are in danger of collapsing onto the library users below. Permanent scaffolding was installed in January 2011 to give protection to the users below. The new skylights will be exact replicas of the Edwardian skylights. Once these are installed, the permanent scaffolding will be removed.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Restoration of the historic Viewing Platform in Highbury Park

Work is well underway to restore the historic Viewing Platform in Highbury Park.

The Viewing Platform was created in 1890 and was part of the ornate gardens of Highbury Hall. It was from this vantage point that Joseph Chamberlain was able to view his ornate gardens, looking down to the main pond that still exists today.

Last August, the platform was completely destroyed by vandals. However, a friend and I, using two wheelbarrows, were able to rescue most of the damaged stonework and hide it elsewhere in the park. This stopped the ornate stonework being damaged any further.

My blog entry, with photos of the damage, can be read at

Last week, the entire Viewing Platform was lifted out and along with all the rescued stonework transported to a stone masons in Shropshire. The Viewing Platform will be reconstructed there, with damaged stone work repaired and new stone blocks constructed when none exist.

In the meantime, the foundations of the Viewing Platform are being made good. Laurel bush trunks that were undermining the platform and the rocky outcrop that it rests on, have now been carefully cut out. A concrete base has been laid down for the return of the Viewing Platform.

I attach photos of the Viewing Platform over the last few weeks.

Later this week, I hope to have photos showing the restoration process at the stone masons.

We are aiming to get the View Platform by the end of March.






Update on Moseley Road baths – 26th February 2012

Work on the final phase to get Moseley Road baths re-opened in April is well under way.

Followers of the present saga to get these historic baths re-opened will be aware of how much hair I’ve been pulling out over this issue. What started out as a six week closure in December 2010 for a simple lintel replacement, escalated as health and safety found more and more issues to prevent its re-opening.

Each issue has been resolved and we are now on the final piece of work to remove all the flaky paint from the ceiling of Pool 2 and to replace all the stolen roof lead.

For more on the flaky paint issue, please read my blog report at

For more information on the stolen roof lead, please see my other blog report at

As you will see from the attached photos of the interior of Pool 2, the erection of the scaffolding is nearly complete. The scaffolding will be complete on Wednesday 29th February – one and a half weeks ahead of schedule.

Removal of the flaky paint using a special epoxy resin will begin straight away. A specially developed Dulux paint for use in a high humidity atmosphere will be applied. Flaky paint removal and repainting will take three weeks.

Removal of the scaffolding will then take 10 days.

Replacement of all stolen lead with a lead substitute will take place in parallel. Also, using the knowledge of the pools staff, efforts will be made to get rid of other roof leaks.

We estimate that all work will be complete by 4th April. The pools re-opening will then be based on how long it takes to refill the pool.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to have the report signed off to release the money to fund a heritage specialist to pull together the Heritage Lottery Bid for phase one of the works to restore the baths.

The total cost of phase 1 of the restoration works is £8million. Finance have agreed to set aside £3million in future capital budgets as the Council’s contribution to this restoration. This means we would apply for £4.99million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. With the bid under £5million, it will be considered by the Regional HLF Board. We have a far greater chance of a successful bid at regional level. If the bid was for £5million or more, than it would be considered at the national HLF board, where you are up against the Buckingham Palaces and Stonehenges of the World..

The submission of the HLF bid will now most likely go to Cabinet for approval in June. Any successful HLF has to go through two stages in the HLF process. If our bid was successful, then the earliest the HLF monies would be available is 2014.

The phase 1 restoration of Moseley Road baths will require the building to be closed to the public for two years and would do the following:

  • Permanent repairs to the exterior fabric of the building with a life of 25 years – so basically a complete re-roofing to stop any water ingress
  • Complete re-wiring and new machinery (eg new boilers) for the pool. We would be particular keen to install a combined heat and power system in the boiler house. This would heat all the buildings along Moseley Road and help to regenerate this corridor.
  • Pool 2 maintained as a community swimming pool
  • Pool 1 boarded over and used for community use.

Phase 2 of the restoration would involve getting pool 1 back in use as a swimming pool. Estimated cost of doing this is £9million.

The timing of 2014 as the earliest date for the start of phase 1 of the restoration fits in perfectly with the re-opening of Sparkhill pool in 2014. Once this re-opens, this will allow us to close Moseley Road baths for 2 years for this phase 1 restoration



Friday, February 17, 2012

My meeting with Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC

I just come back from the meeting with Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC. The meeting lasted one and a half hours. At the meeting was Gisela Stuart MP, Richard Budden MP, Steve McCabe MP, John Hemming MP and two members of Birmingham City University.

Obviously each person at that meeting will have their view on how it went. From my perspective I was very direct and forceful in explaining my unhappiness with the way the BBC appear to be vacating Birmingham, especially the move of the Factual Unit.

Mark Thompson made the following points:

a) the decision to move the Factual Unit to Bristol has been made and will not be reversed.

b) He made a personal promise that the Archers will never leave Birmingham –this was in response to me saying that the move of the Factual Unit to Bristol would lead to the Archers moving to Bristol as well.

c) He explained that he had met Councillor Mike Whitby this afternoon and it was agreed that a Memorandum of Understanding will be signed between the BBC and the Council as a way of increasing the presence of the BBC in Birmingham. See

d) he was happy for the private sector to hire at a market rate the studios and equipment at the Mailbox – this was in response to me saying that the radio studio in the Mailbox was only used 6 days a week, so why couldn’t the private sector use them.

e) he would be happy for any future city-based tv station to work side-by-side using the same facilities and equipment in the Mailbox.

f) He will give serious consideration to parts of the BBC Academy moving to Birmingham from London.

g) He wants to work with the Council in sharing apprenticeships, using the new Library of Birmingham archives and work with the city to deliver its creative city agenda.

h) He wants to work with the local independent sector to deliver more drama from the region.

i) He will ask Caroline Thomson, Chief Operating Officer to come to Birmingham and meet us in early March. The objective of this meeting will be to put some solid proposals to the new Memorandum of Understanding.

St Marys Row pavement, Moseley, to be slabbed in mid-March

A large section of St Marys Row and tiny section of Alcester Road in Moseley shopping centre will be reconstructed and slabbed starting in the middle of March. The section is presently made of bitumen and will be slabbed using similar pale yellow slabs that are used in the rest of the shopping centre.

The sections that will be slabbed are on the southside of St Marys Row, immediately in front of the shops. Starting at the Oxford Road junction, the slabbing will go all the way down to the Junction pub, round the corner, in front of Domestica electrical shop and end at the number 50 bus stop in front of Kingsfisher fish and chip shop.

This section of paving is the number one pavement in the Ward that I get most residents complaints about. This section is full of potholes or indentations that form large puddles whenever it rains.

If you look at the pavement in front of the entrance to the Junction pub, you can see the old kerbline in the middle of the pavement that show the original width of pavement before it was widened in the early 1990s.

I attach photos showing the section to be slabbed.





Friday, February 10, 2012

Historic pond rediscovered in Highbury Park, Moseley

A long hidden pond at Highbury Park has been re-discovered as part of a £170,000 investment in the park. For more details on this programme of works, see my blog entry at

The pond that has been re-discovered is the Oak Tree Pond, immediately to the north of the Italian Gardens. I attach a map of the park, showing the location of the pond, plus photos of the pond itself.

The pond has been completely hidden from view by vegetation for at least 30 years. The existence of this pond only came to light in a recent historic survey of the park. The survey can be seen at The pond was originally part of the ornate gardens of Joseph Chamberlain’s Highbury Hall. It is called the Oak Tree Pond after the prominent 200 year oak that existed next to it and is now just a large dead tree trunk.

As part of the £170,000 investment, all the laurel bushes around this pond have been cut back to reveal the original size of the pond, which in area is equal to half a tennis court. Edging features and an overflow drain can now be seen, which show the original level of the pond. At the moment the pond is three feet below it s original level and we hope this is due to the excessively dry weather over the last twelve months.

I attach photos of the revealed pond, that I took this afternoon. More trimming back will take place next week to further reveal parts of the pond, including an island. We are also interested in any groups of volunteers – especially companies looking for projects – who would like to de-silt this pond.

Also we’ve cut back laurel bushes around the edge of the main pond in Highbury Park. This has opened up the pond, revealing the southern edge of the pond.

The laurels have killed all life in the main pond, since the rotting leaves of these laurels create hydrogen cyanide, which in water becomes prussic acid. The resulting high acid level means no fish or anything can live in this pond. This lack of life also explains why the pond is so crystal clear, since there are no creatures to disturb the pond silt. With the complete lack of pond life, the only ducks that habit the pond are mallards, which are dabbling ducks (ie they live off floating vegetation or invertebrates that fall into the pond).

By cutting back the laurels, we are hoping to significantly reduce the acidity of the pond and re-introduce fish into the pond. This in turn will attract a greater variety of birds, including great crested grebes.







Thursday, February 09, 2012

Council about to start safety review of Kings Heath High Street

The Council’s Transportation Strategy department have informed me today that they are about to start a piece of work to look at road safety along Kings Heath High Street. Hopefully, the report will be complete by April.

The report has been requested following public concerns over the high level of road traffic accidents along the High Street in the last five years. The department intends to look at each accident and understand if there are any common patterns to the cause of these accidents and therefore if there are any changes that can be made to the High Street to improve safety.

Speaking with the highway engineers, I know that that they do not want to raise any expectations or fears that anything too highly radical will proposed. What they are keen to look at are tweaks to the High Street, where they can design out accidents. They also want to ensure that the High Street remains a vibrant and lively shopping centre.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Update on possible restoration of former Golden Lion pub in Cannon Hill Park

Visitors to Cannon Hill Park will not have missed the timber framed building, known as the Golden Lion pub, that has been permanently covered in scaffolding since 1996. The building is located near the Victorian bandstand, which in turn is close to the Russell Road entrance of the park.



I recently managed to successfully bid for £5000 from the corporate centre of the Council, to fund a structural and historic survey of this building. This is part of a determined effort to restore the building and get it back into use, mostly likely as a cafe/restaurant. The intention of this survey was to understand what needs repairing to the building to get it back into use, plus what is actually original on the building – I am informed by the council’s Conservation officers that only the frontage of the building is original and that the body dates from 1911.

Once we could under what needs repairing on the building, we could potentially offer it to the private market on a 15 to 25 year lease, where they repair the building, in exchange for a pepper corn annual rent.

Unfortunately, this survey has run into problems with the present structural safety of the building which is preventing anyone entering the building. I am now trying to identify further pots of money to make the building safe enough to do enter and complete this survey

Background to the Golden Lion pub
The former Golden Lion pub building dates from about 1500. It was originally located on Digbeth (or to be geographically correct, Deritend) along High Street Deritend. Its original location is very close to the junction of High Street Deritend and Alcester Street, where the Peugeot showroom is now and somewhere in the middle of the ‘into city’ lane of the High Street; the road was made into a dual carriageway in the 1960s.

The early history of the Golden Lion pub is hazy – very much like the other pre-Tudor building on Deritend High Street, the Old Crown pub. Like the Old Crown, the Golden Lion was not originally a public house. It is speculated that the Golden Lion was originally both the Clergy House and the school for the nearby Church of St John the Baptist. The Church of St John the Baptist dated from 1300 and was until the 1960s located at the corner of High Street Deritend and Chapel House Street (next to where the Irish Centre is today). This church was the parish church of Deritend, which at the time of 1500 was not part of Birmingham, but instead part of Aston.


It is believed that the first complete English Bible was printed inside the building of the Golden Lion pub by John Rogers – John Rogers would go on to be the first Martyr burnt at the stake by Queen Mary. For more details on the life of John Rogers go to

At some point in its history, the Golden Lion building became a pub. In 1911 the building was dismantled and re-erected at Cannon Hill Park. Its move was funded by the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society.

In Cannon Hill Park it was used as both a Cricket Pavilion and a Tea Room. The cricket pitch was in the area between the Golden Lion and the main pond. It stopped been used as a cricket pavilion in the early 1980s.

In 1996, the building was completely closed due to structurally problems and held up using the scaffolding you now see in place.

Progress to get the building restored and put back into use was held up until early this year. This was because the thought within the Council was to move the Golden Lion building back to Digbeth – site and use unknown. It couldn’t go back to original location, since it would be in the middle of a dual carriageway. Using my position of Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture and with advice from English Heritage, it was decided to keep the building in Cannon Hill Park and move towards re-opening it as a cafe/restaurant. This was based on the advice that moving the building again, could damage the timber joints and the fact that it could not be put back in its original location – also it location in Cannon Hill Park is very picturesque for a building of this type.

On that basis we bid for £5000 to do a structural and historic survey.

The surveyor did an initial assessment on whether the building is safe to enter. Unfortunately, the building is not safe to enter for the following reasons:
1) The structural scaffold around the building has not been maintained since 1996. As a result the building itself is most likely to be holding up the scaffolding.
2) New structural scaffolding will need to be designed and erected around the building, before anyone can enter the building.
3) The interior of the building is covered in pigeon and rat droppings and will require a thorough environmental clean before any survey work is done.

The cost of the new scaffolding and environmental clean is estimated to be approximately £50k.

I am now trying to identify funds to go ahead with this.

In the meantime, the £5k has been transferred to additionally fund works to re-roof the Grade II listed Cannon Hill Park bandstand. The roof is at the end of its design life and without a new covering water will start to ingress into the timber roof structure. This work is due to start in the next few weeks.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Moseley Road baths re-opening delayed by flaking paint

I’ve bad news on the re-opening of Moseley Road baths. The Council’s Health and Safety officers are now insisting that the ceiling of Pool 2 is painted to prevent flaking paint falling into the pool before it re-opens. This means that the re-opening has now been pushed back to the start of April.

I cannot express how furious (and upset) I am with this news and I have made my feelings clear to the Council’s Property Team who are ultimately responsible for the building.

As users of this historic swimming pool will know, the building closed in December 2010 to replace a completely rotten steel lintel above the fire exit door to Pool 2. What was supposed to be a six week closure, has been continually added to as Health and Safety find another issue that needs fixing. These have included removing asbestos from the basement and replacing temporary scaffolding with permanent scaffolding also in the basement.

All work in the basement will be finished on Friday 10th February and it was anticipated the building could open soon afterwards.

However, in the last few weeks, Property Services and Hall Green constituency office have raised concerns about the high level of flaking paint on the ceiling. To repaint the ceiling will involve emptying the pool of water; completely filling the room with scaffolding and taking a minimum of 8 weeks to do.

I have challenged the need to repaint this ceiling, since from my perspective the baths have been closed long enough and this constant discovery by Health and Safety of yet another issue, just as we are about to re-open has to stop.

I attach photos of the interior of Pool 2 showing the flaking ceiling.

Health and Safety have today insisted that the ceiling needs repainting before the public are allowed back. They have tested the paint and shown that the flaking paint is pulling off bits of the lead based paint underneath. Based on their analysis, the level of lead in the samples tested are so high that a volume equivalent to 24 grains of sugar falling into the pool would make the pool unsafe to swim. Please don’t shot me at this point, I am just the messager.

It is for that reason and with great reluctance, I have given the go ahead this afternoon to start the process of re-painting the ceiling. The Properties Team are assuring me that the contractors will be able to start erecting the scaffolding on Monday 13th February.



Update on 582 Moseley Road, former tram depot offices

At yesterdays Planning Committee the state of the former tram depot offices at 582 Moseley Road at the corner of Trafalgar Road was discussed.

This followed a site visit to the building last week, which in turn was considering a planning application on the building.

I have more details and photos on the background to the site visit on my blog at

The Committee approved the planning application to alter the hipped roof, but added the condition that the work needed to be done within a 12 month period, otherwise legal action would be taken against the owner for outstanding works done without planning permission. In addition, the planning permission included a condition about remedial work to the boundary wall – this is the boundary wall that was not built to the correct materials and is so badly built it is not even level.

The site will be closely monitored by planning officers, with visits on a regular basis.

Building Consultancy have already been asked to take action about the danger posed by the stacked tiles on the roof, the broken drains etc. If you have a look at the roofline of the building, you will see roof tiles stacked up on the roof ledge, ready to be blown off with a strong gust of wind.

In their discussion several Councillors asked for regular reports back to them about progress and the Chief Planning Officer said that he wouldn’t normally be able to do this but this was such an ‘exceptional case’ that he agreed that there would be reports to committee every 3 months. He said that the new agent is much more cooperative than the previous one and had already agreed to a schedule of works to be carried out over 12 months.