Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why is Highbury Hall in a Trust and some recent history?

Why is Highbury Hall in a Trust and some recent history?

Can I thank the tweets, e-mails and comments in support of my blog about why Uffculme Special School should be allowed to occupy Chamberlain House on the Highbury Hall estate. See my blog at
I hope readers don’t mind if I use this blog posting to answer a comment that Marcus Belben added to my previous blog posting. His comment/question was as follows: 

“Agree with you totally, Martin, on issue of using Chamberlain House, and hope we can work to a better solution soon. The building has been empty for two years and is beginning to show signs of falling apart.
The elephant in the room is why did we go to Trust status? Who is Trust status benefitting? I guess it's too late to argue this one, but maybe Lab and LibDem cooperation demonstrates that elected MPs are in a better position to make strategic decisions like the location and facilities of schools? Decision could have been made over 2 yrs ago and prevent huge costs of maintenance and now repair of Chamberlain House. 

Please see blog:” 

To answer Marcus’s question as to why Chamberlain House and the whole Highbury Hall estate in a Trust? The answer is simple: it was the Chamberlain family who gifted the estate in the form of a Trust to Birmingham City Council in 1932.

Birmingham City Council has lots of buildings and parks that are in Trust. All the Louisa Ryland parks were gifted to the Council as Trust lands.....this includes Cannon Hill Park and Small Heath Park.

In 2004, when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took control of Birmingham, we discovered that the Charity Commission had been complaining to the previous Labour administration that it had not been treating its Trust assets as Charitable Trusts independent of the Council.......and this included Highbury Trust. As a Trust, the Charity Commission wanted to see financial accounts for each individual trust, plus how the Council was running the Trust as an entity independent of the Council.

When I became Councillor in 2004, the plan by the Council was to flatten Chamberlain House and flog off that land for upmarket houses. The receipt from the sale would be used to repair and restore Highbury Hall. That plan was totally unacceptable, since it meant selling off part of the original estate. It was thus rejected.

From 2005 onwards, the issue became one of ‘what is the future of the entire estate of Highbury, that restores it heritage, is financially viable AND satisfies the Charity Commission?’ What I wanted to see was far wider vision than just the Highbury Hall.....what I wanted was to see was Queensbridge Road and Yew Tree Road as an educational corridor. Along these two roads we already had the following educational facilities: Queensbridge Road, Fox Hollies School for physically disabled children, Uffculme Special School for children in the autism spectrum and Four Season Horticultural Project for adults with learning difficulties. Wouldn’t it be great to maybe use all these educational facilities together, plus Chamberlain House, Uffculme hospital site, Highbury Hall and the restored Highbury Hall gardens for educational purposes......maybe use Highbury Hall to train young adults (including those with disabilities) in catering and hospitality and Highbury Park for horticultural training.

This was all ‘blue sky’ thinking, which involved me doing alot of running around talking to potential partners, plus finding the money to do historical research so that we could understand the heritage of the park. People I met to talk about Highbury Hall and grounds included the National Trust and the Heritage Lottery.

It is by good chance that Uffculme Special School saw the boarding up of Chamberlain House as an opportunity for new premises. I understand that Councillor Barry Henley (Labour Councillor for Brandwood Ward and Deputy Chairs of Uffculme School) had a part to play in this decision......and well done for doing that.

When Uffculme Special School informed me of their interest in Chamberlain House, about two years ago, I made it clear that I fully supported them and if there was anything I could do both from a political support viewpoint or simply to argue their case locally, I was there for them.

In the two years since, Uffculme School has raised the money for the move , done the necessary structural surveys, plus gained planning permission in April 2012.

The Planning Application for the move into Chamberlain House was objected to by the Moseley Society, the Friends of Highbury Park and Moseley Community Development Trust. I supported the planning application. Also, I attended a management committee meeting of Kings Heath Forum who voiced concerns about Uffculme Special School moving into Chamberlain House, I stood up at the meeting and made it clear that I would support the move.

It would have been easy as a politician (especially when my party is massively unpopular) to have gone along with the Moseley Society, the Friends of Highbury Park and Moseley Community Development Trust and objected to Uffculme Special School moving to Chamberlain House. I didn’t and I can sleep soundly that I stood my ground. I did however lose the local election later that month and I am no longer a Councillor.

May I add that it is these same groups who objected to Uffculme Special School moving into Chamberlain House, that now want to take over the management of Highbury Hall and estate, away from the Council and run it themselves.


At 9:42 PM, Blogger Marcus Belben said...

Thanks Martin, and enjoyed the slideshow. I need to do some research into trusts myself - I was under the impression the Chamberlains left Highbury Estate 'in trust to the City' which doesn't seem quite the same as Trust status of more recent times. Also unclear from your response how much influence the city council can (or should) have in protecting and utilising city assets, in the case of Highbury Estate. HLF bid sounds exciting, and keen to support Uffculme School moving to Chamberlain House. Please keep us all posted.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Jonathan Jaffa said...

Dear Martin,
I think you'll find that the groups opposing the Uffculme move to Chamberlain House don't object to the idea itself. They want the issues about the Highbury Trust and the Trusts & Charities Committee's mishandling of it to be resolved first. After that any decisions on disposals will be made openly and fairly and without conflict of interest.
This point was made by a number of speakers at the Consultation meeting last week.
Jonathan Jaffa
commenting solely as a Kings Heath resident


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