Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Moseley Road baths on target to re-open mid-April

I attended a contractors meeting today to get an update on work to get Moseley Road baths re-opened. We are on target to re-open the pool to the public in mid-April.

The repainting of the interior of Pool 2 will be finished tomorrow. Mesh will be installed in front of the ceiling windows; this is being done as a safety precaution, in case any panes of glass come loose between now and the restoration in 2014.

The scaffolding inside Pool 2 will be completely removed by Wednesday 4th April. On the Thursday and Friday the contractors will then give Pool 2 a clean down.

From Tuesday 10th April, the staff in the baths will start the process of fine cleaning the pool and refilling it. This normally takes about five days.

I attach photos showing the repainting of the ceiling of Pool 2



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Birmingham Labour Party creates a ‘John Carter’ manifesto

The Birmingham Labour Party has launched its manifesto for the local election. If you haven’t seen it, count yourself lucky. The only way I can describe it is like Walt Disney’s latest financially disastrous film ‘John Carter’ –
complete fantasy, large plot holes, incomprehensible in places, dull and will end up costing us millions of pounds.

The Labour manifesto reads like a wish list, with nothing substantial behind it. At times the use of jargon and buzzwords results in incredibly long and pointless sentences. Try saying the following in one breath – and at the end of it, does it really mean anything?

"Ensure that there is proper integration between housing management services and other services that are essential to the maintenance of local neighbourhoods, and with allocations and homelessness procedures that treat people with respect"

What is definitely interesting is the almost silence on Council Tax – do they think it should stay low or be raised through the roof?

All the manifesto says is:

"We will not increase council tax in 2012. Our priority must be to deal with the financial ‘black hole’ created by the Tory Lib-Dem coalition in the City."

A quick reminder about Albert Bore’s Labour administration from 1999 to 2004. Simply, it was a financial mess. It repeatedly failed to stay within budget, with sudden freezes of department budgets mid-way through the year. In 2001, for six months, the Transportation Department did not
fill any potholes, as it was running over budget. The only way Albert’s administration knew how to govern was to increase Council tax above the rate of inflation.

Below is the annual Council tax rises under Albert and the rate of inflation:

Year Council tax increase Inflation rate
1999/00 5.42% 1.8%
2000/01 4.99% 2.9%
2001/02 4.40% .07%
2002/03 4.40% 2.9%
2003/04 4.40% 2.8%
2004/05 1.50% 3.5%

Yet despite those repeatedly above inflation Council tax increases, the quality of Council services declined. The Government’s inspectors rated the Council as ‘POOR’ and threatened to take Social Services and the Planning department out of the Council’s hands since they were being so badly run.

In other words, Labour took more and more of our hard-earned money and did less and less with it.

Contrast those Council tax increases with the present administration, which has kept increases as low as possible whilst continually improving council services.

Year Council tax Increase Inflation rate
2005/06 2.80% 2.2%
2006/07 1.90% 4.4%
2007/08 1.90% 4%
2008/09 1.90% 0.09%
2009/10 1.90% 2.4%
2010/11 1.90% 4.8%
2011/12 0% 5.2%
20012/13 0% 3.6%

As a result Birmingham now has the lowest Council tax in the West Midlands and one of the lowest in the UK for a metropolitan area.

So what would an Albert Bore Labour administration do to Council Tax?

Well as the manifesto says “We will not increase council tax in 2012.” – which is correct, since it has already been set by the present administration and can’t be changed. But what about the Council tax for 2013/14? Not a peep. But the following sentence says it all: "Our priority must be to deal with the financial ‘black hole’ created by the Tory Lib-Dem coalition in the City." This might be interpreted as follows: "we can find no issues with the present budget, but once we fund our promises to ‘special interest’ groups, there will be a ‘black hole’ – so get ready for an above inflation Council Tax rise in 2013/14"

Indeed Albert hinted at this in the budget speech in February, when he described the Council tax as “artificially low” – see

So just like the new Disney movie John Carter has wasted million of dollars, Albert Bore’s Labour administration is going to waste your money, all over again.

Cricket facilities in Balsall Heath and Sparkhill restored

Both Sparkhill Park and Larches Green Park all weather pitches have been completely re-laid at a cost of £40,000 – or £20,000 each. Indeed, when the Sparkhill Park cricket pitch was being re-laid last night, local teenagers were queuing up to use it.

Both cricket pitches were in a terrible condition, with the Sparkhill Park pitch ripped in several places.

As well as the cricket pitches, the cricket nets in Sparkhill Park have been completely refurbished.

The money has been funded by the Council’s Local Improvement Budget, which the Leisure, Sport and Culture portfolio bid into last summer.




Monday, March 26, 2012

The head of John F Kennedy is back, on his Birmingham memorial

For those, like me, who have been keeping an eye of Oliver Budd’s blogsite, will know that the head of John F Kennedy is back on the mosaic he is recreating in his workshop.

Oliver started earlier this month putting the thousands of small tiles together to form the mosaic that will re-create the 1968 John F Kennedy memorial in Digbeth.

I attach a photo showing how progress on the mosaic has seen the John F Kennedy head put back on the mosaic.

Oliver Budd who is recreating the memorial has started a daily blog, showing photos as his work progresses – see his blog at

Readers who follow my own blog will know I have taken a lead role in getting the John F Kennedy memorial re-created in Digbeth, Birmingham.

Previous blog entries can be seen at:


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kings Heath bids to be one of the 12 ‘Portas Pilots’ around the UK

The Kings Heath Town Centre manager has me a link to a YouTube video that the Kings Heath Town Centre Partnership has created in its bid to become one of the 12 ‘Portas Pilots’ in the UK.


They are applying for over £90,000 to fund initiatives which will improve customer service, customer loyalty and sustainability. They are urging us to view the video and leave a comment (positive please).

Also send the link to others who live or work in the area and would be in support of getting funds in to Kings Heath. The more views and comments they get, the more they can demonstrate community and business buy in to Kings Heath.

The full application was sent to Birmingham City Council during the week so that they can issue them with a letter of support. It will then be submit it to the Portas people by the 30th.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Restoration of the Victorian bandstand in Cannon Hill Park

Work began in early March on a £40,000 restoration of the statutory listed grade II, Victorian bandstand in Cannon Hill Park. Visitors to the park will presently see the bandstand covered in scaffolding.

I attach photos showing details of the work.

The main bulk of the work was to replace the asbestos containing tiles on the roof. The tiles were well passed their design life and there was concern that they had become porous and were letting water in the structure beneath.

The tiles have all been removed and it has been discovered, as expected, that water has penetrated the wooden structure underneath. As a result there is alot of rotten wood that needs replacing.

The level of rotten wood is thankfully not structurally. If we hadn’t done this work now, then 5 years down the line, we could have ended up with a restoration exercise costing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

New asbestos free felt tiles are now been cut to size and shaped to match the original Victorian design.







Restoration of the Highbury Park Viewing Platform is now complete

A part from the cutting of the ribbon, the historic Viewing Platform in Highbury Park is now fully restored. I attach photos of the Viewing Platform from Thursday and this afternoon.

This Viewing Platform was totally destroyed by vandals last August. For photos and background see my blog entry for more details on this at:

Some further tidying up of the soil around the Viewing Platform will be done next week.





Endangered Birmingham chapel is awarded £375k from English Heritage

English Heritage has this week announced the awarding of £375,000 toward the restoration and making safe of the historically important Handsworth Cemetery Chapel. Together with £325,000 from the Local Improvement Schemes Phase 1, from Birmingham City Council, this means work will begin in June/July.

Handsworth Cemetery Chapel is one of the few buildings in Britain that is statutory listed grade I – putting it on a par for architecturally importance as Buckingham Palace or Birmingham’s Town Hall. Only 2.5% of Britain’s statutory listed buildings are given the grade I status.

At the moment, one of its two bell towers is in danger of completely collapsing and over the last two years, large pieces of stonework have fallen off it. As a result it is presently covered in scaffolding and the Council were coming to the point of having to make the difficult decision of completely removing the bell tower or restoring it. Cost of restoration being £700k.

Handsworth Cemetery Chapel is presently on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register and these works will allow it to be removed from that register.

I attach photos showing the bell tower covered in scaffolding.

The building is grade I listed mainly because of the international importance of its architect: William Henry Bidlake (1861 – 1938); better known as WH Bidlake.

WH Bidlake lived most of his life in Sutton Coldfield and during his time was known as the “Man who Rebuilt Birmingham”. He is regarded as the city’s leading Arts and Crafts architect, his work securing national and international recognition. Indeed, nearly all his buildings have some form of statutory listing protecting.

His best known works are

St Oswald's Church, Small Heath, Birmingham (1892-9) Grade II*

Moseley School of Art, Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham (1899) Grade II*

Woodgate, 37 Hartopp Road, Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield (1900) - built for himself Grade II

Garth House, 47 Edgbaston Park Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham (1901) Grade II*

St Agatha's Church, Stratford Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham (1901) Grade I

Bishop Latimer Church, Winson Green, Birmingham

100 Sampson Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham (St Agatha's Vicarage) (1901) Grade II*

The Hurst, 6 Amesbury Road, Moseley, Birmingham, Grade II

St Andrew's Church, Oxhill Road, Handsworth, Birmingham (1907-9) Grade I

Emmanuel Church, Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield (1909) Grade C

Sparkhill United Church, Stratford Road, Birmingham (1932-3) Grade II

Many of the features used for Handsworth Cemetery Chapel were taken from a design that WH Bidlake unsuccessfully submitted for Winnipeg Cathedral, USA




Friday, March 23, 2012

Councillor Quinn apologises – time to move on

The behaviour of Councillor Quinn at Tuesday’s Hall Green Constituency meeting reaches the pages of todays Birmingham Mail – see

Councillor Quinn has since apologised for her behaviour and deserves to be applauded for that.

As humans we all make mistakes and as politicians those mistakes are amplified a thousand times in the local. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit I’ve made mistakes and felt the heat of the local media on me.

Hopefully, this was just a one off and we can all move on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Balsall Heath Councillors in Turmoil

I received my monthly edition of the ever excellent Balsall Heathan today. A really good local magazine, that I always enjoy reading.

I flicked to the letters page and saw the following letter:

Dear Editor,

I got a nasty shock the other day. Two of our Councillors had a very public row in my residents meeting. I spend half my time getting my neighbours to be nice and not back-bite. So, this came across as setting a really bad example. Can our Councillors please get on and support us?

Yours ever,
Kinver Croft

I would normally ignore such letters, since all local Councillors will have a bad day. However, in light of the embarrassing scene by two of the Sparkbrook Ward Councillors (Balsall Heath is in Sparkbrook Ward) see

I do wander if things are falling apart politically between the Sparkbrook Ward Labour Councillors.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Update on the restoration of the Viewing Platform in Highbury Park

The historic Viewing Platform in Highbury Park is being reassembled after its restoration work. I attach photos of the Viewing Platform this afternoon.

This Viewing Platform was totally destroyed by vandals last August. For photos and background see my blog entry for more details on this at:

For photos of the stonemasons work see

The Viewing Platform will be completed tomorrow, with some ground tidying works in the following few days.




Birmingham City Councillor appears to be "drunk" at public meeting

I attended the Hall Green constituency meeting last night where I witnessed the most appalling behaviour by a Councillor at a council meeting that I have attended in my eight years as a Birmingham City Councillor.

Councillor Victoria Quinn, Labour Councillor for Sparkbrook, turned up in what appeared a drunk state and throughout the meeting shouted and used foul language. At one stage, members of the audience were asking the Chair, Councillor Tony Kennedy, to remove her from the meeting since she clearly wasn’t in a fit state to attend the meeting.

Rachel Gillies from the Friends of Moseley Road baths tweetered “At Hall Green Constituency Ctte. Cllr Quinn is pissed as a newt. Appalling.”

During the debate on Moseley Road baths, Cllr Quinn shouted across the room “Councillor Mullaney, you are full of sh*t”. Now I accept that readers may agree with this statement, but you don’t use such foul language when there are school children in the audience. The school children had come to present a petition on the opening hours of Balsall Heath Library.

I had to leave after the first hour, since the meeting clashed with my monthly comedy club. Talking to my fellow Councillors at the meeting, they inform me that Councillor Quinn’s behaviour became worse, picking on Council officers and humiliating them in front of the audience.


Subsequent to the publication of the above story, Councillor Quinn has published an apology in she explains her behaviour. Her apology is as follows:

Dear Colleagues,

My behaviour at the last meeting of the Hall Green Constituency Committee
was entirely inappropriate.

For this I owe you all my sincerest apology and explanation as well as my
assurance that I have now sought support. I remain committed to conducting
myself with the fullest professionalism and respect that is required and
deserved by my role, by the Council and most importantly, by the people I

Recently I have been facing some extremely traumatic and pressurising
circumstances. Becoming a Councillor brings its own considerably demanding
burdens. I have been struggling to balance these new responsibilities, but
a week before the meeting I became obliged to take some time off following
the very sudden and tragic loss of my best friend at 38 who has left her 2
year old son, orphaned. I have been taking medication through this trauma
and the night before the meeting, exceeded the recommended dose.

Had I been aware of the particular effect this would have, or how I came
across at the meeting, you have my fullest assurance that I would not have
been present at that meeting or removed myself appropriately at the
earliest opportunity.

Beyond this, I will also make every endeavour to restore the confidence
that I may have undermined as a result of my behaviour in the eyes of my
constituents, and fellow Councillors.

I hope you feel able to accept this apology and explanation.

Kindest regards,

Victoria Quinn

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sarehole Mill to start milling flour and baking bread – update 18th March 2012

Readers of my posts on Sarehole Mill, will know that I’ve managed to identify £390,000 (£340k from the Council; £50k from the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery development Trust) to desilt the Sarehole Mill millpond, install all the mechanical works so that the mill can mill flour on a commercial basis, plus get the disused 1850 bakery making bread again.

You can read my previous blog reports at

We are hoping to have all this work complete by Autumn 2012, ready for the release of the Hobbit film.

I popped down to Sarehole Mill on Friday to see progress. The Millwrights were on site doing work. Also it was fascinating chatting to them, picking their knowledge on watermills, hydroelectric power and the milling of bread which I will reveal further on.

I also took loads of photos from that visit, which I attach, which added to the following.

As mentioned in my previous blogs, the millwrights are replacing three sluice gates:
• The sluice gate for the overflow stream – this allows the millpond to be emptied, without the need for the water to go through the two water wheels
• The sluice gate for the north water wheel – this is the water wheel that visitors see
• The sluice gate for the south water wheel – this the water wheel that is hidden under the floor boards and hasn’t turned since 1969.

The millwrights has cut back all the vegetation around the overflow sluice gate and completely repaired the walls around it. A willow tree was pushing a section of the wall into mill pond

Examination of the south wheel has shown that half of it has completely rotted away. We suspect that is was rotten at the end of the major 1969 restoration and that they turned the non-rotten side to face the viewing door.

The south wheel can be repaired in situ. The millwright estimated that it would cost £50k to restore the south wheel, plus desilt the millrace that goes from the south wheel, under the courtyard, plus do various odds-and-ends to get the wheel working again.

I asked the millwright about the idea of getting hydraulic power from the south power. Based on his previous experience, he thinks it would cost £50k to install all the necessary hydraulic equipment. He that after doing this the wheel would only produce enough electricity to power a handful of light bulbs. Indeed, he suggested that if hydraulic power was obtained from the River Cole, through a dam, it would only produce enough electricity for two houses.

On that basis, our present thinking is that if at a future date we get the south wheel operating we will use it to mill more flour.

With regards the milling of flour, we now have the money to install new flour milling equipment. Before I explain further on this, could I urge readers to watch an excellent 30 minute video on the Traditional Corner Millers Guild website at

This is a superb video and shows the type of activities we hope to have happening at Sarehole Mill by the end of this calendar year – namely producing large quantities of stoneground floor and having a baker on site.

For the milling we will require a new set of French milling stones – the video explains these very well.

The video shows a miller who looks after the Charlecote watermill near Stratford upon Avon. He produces £50k of stoneground flour a year and sends it in 20kg bags to the south Asian community in Coventry – he uses English grain, whose low gluten level means it is perfect for chapati’s, but not bread.

Sarehole Mill already has the machinery for separating the flour from the husk and bran – it just needs connecting to the north waterwheel.

In the meantime, we are already looking at what work needs doing to the brick oven dating from 1850 to get it up and running again. Our advice so far is that little needs doing, apart from increasing the height of chimney.

We are already talking to an artisan baker who is interested in moving onto the site and baking bread here.












Friday, March 16, 2012

Update on Moseley Road baths – 16th March 2012

I attended a contractors meeting on Wednesday to get an update on work to get Moseley Road baths re-opened.

The contractors are still assuring me that they will be finished and out of the building by 4th April. However, our engineers have identified another problem, which I’m hoping will be resolved within the next week.

I attach a whole series of photos showing the work that is taking place.

The problem that our engineers have identified is that the timber frames of the roof-level windows in Pool 2, are rotten in places. This has raised concerns that within between now and the big restoration starting mid-2014, some the glass panes may come loose and fall into the pool below.

There are three possible solutions to this:

  • Cover the windows in plywood
  • Cover the windows with 6mm thick transparent Perspex
  • Cover the windows with netting.

We are expecting a report from our structural engineers on Monday, which will say which windows need additional safety features.

As you will see from the attached photos, work is on-going on removing the lead paint from the ceiling in Pool 2. On the roof of pool 2, we are also replacing all lead roof flashing with a lead alternative.

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











Monday, March 12, 2012

Work starts on the tiling of the John F Kennedy memorial for Digbeth, Birmingham

Work has at long last started on putting the thousands of small tiles together to form the mosaic that will re-create the 1968 John F Kennedy memorial in Digbeth.

Oliver Budd who is recreating the memorial has started a daily blog, showing photos as his work progresses – see his blog at

Readers who follow my own blog will know I have taken a lead role in getting the John F Kennedy memorial re-created in Digbeth, Birmingham.

Previous blog entries can be seen at:

Oliver Budd is re-creating this memorial, which will be located on the corner of Floodgate Street and High Street Deritend; across the road from the Irish Centre.

Oliver is the son of Kenneth Budd who created the original 1968 memorial. He still runs the same studios that his father ran and has all the original scale drawings that his father used for the numerous mosaics he did across Birmingham in the 1960s.

The longest part of this job was always going to be getting the small tiles, or smalti tiles, from Italy....and it has proved to the case. Four months after ordering the tiles, they arrived in late February.

As a result of this delay, we don’t think we will have the memorial ready for 29th May 2012 – the 95th birthday of JFK. Instead it will most likely be finished in late June, in time for the arrival of the USA Athletics team.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Highbury Park restoration works update - 11th March

Work has begun on cutting back the huge swathe of laurel bushes between Chamberlain House and the Viewing Platform. This is part of a £170,000 investment in the park. For more details on this programme of works, see my previous two blog entries at:

The cutting back of these laurels is revealing long lost gardens paths from the former ornate gardens of Highbury Hall – this section of garden would have been filled with rhoderdendrums, annuals and ornamental trees. Sadly the invasive nature of the laurel bushes has smothered out of existence much of this planting.

As well as revealing long lost paths, the reduction in laurels is revealing many attractive trees from the Joseph Chamberlains time....but have over the last few years have been struggling for light under these laurels.

I attach a photo showing some of the cut back laurels by Chamberlain House.


We hope to have cleared all the laurels by the end of next week, which will reveal for first time a lost view of Chamberlain House; namely you’ll be able to see the attractive frontage of Chamberlain House from the Viewing Platform and other parts of the park. To most people, Chamberlain House is the industrial looking building that you see from Yew Tree Road. At the moment it is boarded up. It was never meant to be viewed from this angle, and the boundary wall along Yew Tree Road was, until the 1960s, 12foot high. Where Chamberlain House was meant to be viewed from was Highbury Park. However a huge 30 foot solid green wall of evergreen laurel bushes has prevented this since the early 1980s. Hopefully, at the end of next week, we’ll be able to see it again, as it was meant to be.

In the meantime, the stonemasons has been busy making replica stone blocks of the Viewing Platform that were totally destroyed by vandals last August. See my blog entry for more details on this at:

I attach photos showing the stonemasons work.

The stonemasons are hoping to have the restored Viewing Platform back in place within two weeks.

In the meantime, we have cut a vista through the bushes and trees, so at last the Viewing Platform can be once again be seen from the main pond.




Saturday, March 10, 2012

The relevant minutes about libraries at the 1st December meeting

The minutes from section the 1st December 2011 Chairs of Constituency committee meeting which dealt with the future of the Constituency libraries is below. I have removed the name of officers and Councillors other than Cllr Kennedy – plus I have edited out a paragraph about Alexander Stadium.

1 December 2011

The notes of the last meeting held on 20 October 2011 were agreed.

Item 7: Library Services – Councillor Tony Kennedy advised that he would
wish to see a more nuance assessment of library usage across the City
balanced against the needs of different communities.

Constituencies Service Reviews

a) Briefing on consultation requirements, EIA and governance processes

b) Update on future Operating Models and progress to date

Ms [name removed] stated that 5a and 5b should be considered together.

She stated that the model had been adopted as the scale of the financial
target had been for £21 million of savings, whilst maintaining services,
albeit with a changed configuration. She stated that the key processes were
detailed within the report but that this led to the average lead in time to
achieve the changes to be 6 months. She stated that the Reviews had been
started in mid-May and that certain areas were now nearing completion, to
include Community Libraries; Community Development; and Community play

She detailed the processes followed and the advise received from Legal
Services, contained within the report and advised that the Constituency
Chairmen were asked to

- Note the consultation requirements and decision making
processes that need to be followed before the service reviews
can be implemented;

- Endorse the refined CSR Future Operating Models as a means of
achieving the target budget reductions 2011-2014; and

- Support the implementation of the Future Operating Models in
individual Constituencies as and when formal decisions are

Councillor Tony Kennedy stated that it was difficult to endorse the Future
Operating Models when they had not been established. Ms Branch advised that
there were detailed proposals within the packs.

Councillor [name removed] stated that the ten Constituencies had adopted a
collective approach, otherwise the burden of the savings would have fallen
on each individual Constituency. Councillor Tony Kennedy accepted these

The Chairman asked for an indication of the timescales.

Mr Jones stated that if Members stated that there was a need for a firm
decision this side of Christmas and stated that the Chairmen could advise
the Interim Constituency Lead Managers of their views.

Councillor [name removed] stated that if there was any more then the situation
would become worse.

[paragraph about Alexander Stadium removed]

The Chairman expressed concern that the views of the Chairman that had
given their apologies were not in attendance could not be gauged.

Ms Elkington advised that her Directorate was being asked to deliver an
additional £6.8 million savings, which she had agreed Constituencies not be
asked to deliver. However she stated that not to approve the approach in
front of Constituency Chairmen would create difficulties with Cabinet
Member for her Directorate.

The Chairman asked that the Chairmen who were not in attendance be advised
of the approach to be taken.

Following these comments, the Constituency Chairmen who are agreed to:-

- Note the consultation requirements and decision making
processes that need to be followed before the service reviews
can be implemented;

- Endorse the refined CSR Future Operating Models as a means of
achieving the target budget reductions 2011-2014; and

- Support the implementation of the Future Operating Models in
individual Constituencies as and when formal decisions are

Cllr Kennedy and the opening hours of Balsall Heath library

Readers of my blog will have seen my previous posting about the new opening hours of Kings Heath Library being increased from 39hours to 40hours per week. This decision is part of the Forward Operating Model (FOM) for community libraries which seeks to maintain our libraries whilst dealing with the financial squeeze on Council funds.

My previous blog entry can be seen at

As explained in that blog entry, Kings Heath, Sparkhill and Hall Green will be maintained at 40hours opening per week, whilst Balsall Heath Library will be reduced to 26hours.

In total 23 libraries will have their opening hours reduced to 26hours per week. Already, I know of two Wards in the city who are setting aside £10k of their community chest to increase their local library opening hours by an additional 8 hours per week.

In Balsall Heath a political row has now opened up, as, quite rightly, the users of Balsall Heath Library are not happy with the reduction in their opening hours.

Councillor Tony Kennedy (Labour Party) who is one of the three Ward Councillors for Sparkbrook Ward in which Balsall Heath Library resides and the Constituency Chair, decided the new opening hours for Balsall Heath Library. However, it appears that he now taken the stance of “I didn’t agree to these hours”.

Just to go back a few steps and explain the process for the selection for which libraries opened with which hours. The selection of the hours was decided at bi-monthly Chairs of Constituency meetings. In Birmingham, the day-to-day operation of community libraries is managed by the 10 constituencies. So in the case of Kings Heath, Balsall Heath, Sparkhill and Hall Green Libraries, these are all managed by Hall Green constituency. Hall Green constituency has a majority of Labour Councillors so it is run by the Labour Party.

The bi-monthly Chairs of Constituency meetings are not public meetings. All ten constituency Chairs attend the meeting with Councillor Anne Underwood of Sutton Coldfield constituency being the Chairman of the Constituency Chairs. At these meetings, the constituencies discuss issues that affect all the constituencies.

The future of Birmingham community libraries was discussed over a number of Chairs of Constituency meetings: 15th September; 20th October; 1st December.

It was at the 1st December meeting that all the Constituency Chairs agreed to the new opening hours for the libraries. The minutes show that Councillor Kennedy was present for the discussion on libraries at both the 20th October and 1st December meetings.

So far, so good – the minutes show that Councillor Tony Kennedy, Chair of Hall Green constituency was at the 1st December meeting to finally agree the new opening hours for Balsall Heath Library.

So what is Councillor Tony Kennedy saying about all this? Well the only public statement we have from him, is a response through Barnard Hobbit on the Facebook group “Moseley Road preservation group” – see where Barnard says the following:

I have been contacted directly from Tony Kennedy Sparkbrook Councillor and chair of Sparkbrook Constituency.

Below is what he told me in that conversation

He states that as the "Chairs of Constituency Meeting" is not a decision making body no voting takes place and that items are only Noted, he also says he was only at the start of that meeting as he had to leave to go to the Sparkbrook Ward Committee Meeting that was on the same evening.

He left before the item on Libraries had been discussed but he had made it clear before leaving that he opposed the proposed cuts as outlined in the documents from the Executive and a better way should be found to make savings other than the method used in this formula.

He deputes that he ever agreed to any of these proposals.

To be fair to Councillor Kennedy, we have to take the word of Barnard Hobbit that the above statement is a correct recollection.

If this is a correct recollection, then an examination of the minutes and a check on the dates of Sparkbrook Ward Committee completely disputes the above version of events.

The Sparkbrook Ward Committee did not occur on 15th September, 20th October or 1st December. The minutes clearly show Councillor Kennedy contributing to the discussion on libraries at the 20th October and 1st December meeting. The minutes do not show him at any point disagreeing with the proposed new opening times and finally the minutes for 1st December meeting show all Constituency Chairs agreeing to the proposed new opening hours.

It would be good if Councillor Kennedy made a public announcement accepting that he made the decision to reduce the hours of Balsall Heath Library and that he, along with the two other Labour Councillors for Sparkbrook Ward, was now going to set aside £10k of Community Chest to increase their library opening hours.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Rumours about the future of Holders Lane playing fields

E-mails are presently flying about, urging residents to sign an electronic petition by an organisation called Kingsbridge about the future of Holders Lane playing fields in Moseley. The e-mails and the petition are using scaremongering language and information that is factually incorrect. I hope you will give me the opportunity to correct these e-mails and petition and clarify what exactly is happening with these playing fields.

Where are Holders Lane playing fields?

Holders Lane playing fields is located just south of Cannon Hill Park, on the east side of the River Rea. I attach a map that shows the location of Holders Lane playing fields, Pebble Mill playing fields, Holders Wood and what was the Brockley Grove 1950s pre-fab estate.


Holders Lane playing fields can at best be described as “requiring investment”. What you see today was laid out in the late 1970s. I attach another map that shows the separate elements of Holders Lane playing fields and Pebble Mill playing fields.


Holders Lane playing fields come under the Leisure, sport and Culture portfolio and consists of the following:

  • Field 1 – this presently contains 3 football pitches
  • Field 2 – this is presently contains a cricket pitch
  • Field 3 – this is presently not used, but has in the recent past been used for rugby
  • Red Gravel all weather pitch – this has not been used for sporting activities for at least 15 years and is today used as an occasional car park for events.
  • The Pavilion – this is a two storey 1970 building, that consists of two levels of changing room. The interior is very bare, with no heating and no working showers. The exterior is in a dreadful condition, with rotting wood everywhere.
  • The road from Holders Lane to the Pavilion – this also double as a car park and is in a dreadful condition. There are 6 inch potholes along its entire length

Pebble Mill playing fields are owned by the Education Department. Due to the lack of any changing rooms, few schools use it.

What is the future for Holders Lane playing fields

Holders Lane playing fields and Pebble Mill playing fields need investment, both in upgrading their playing pitches and in improving their changing room facilities. To bring both playing fields up to an acceptable standard will require considerable investment running into several millions.

Over the last three years, the Council has been exploring ways of encouraging community and sports groups to take on the management of underused playing fields, such as Holders Lane and Belchers Lane playing fields. Community and sports groups can access funding that Councils can’t and we know that volunteers of sports clubs will put in considerable hours looking after the facilities.

The City Council is currently in the process of considering whether a number of playing fields are suitable for being leased to community and sports clubs. The lease always contains conditions ensuring affordable community access to the playing fields. These playing fields include:

  • Holdford Drive in Perry Barr
  • The former Midlands Electricity Board playing fields in Small Heath
  • Belchers Lane playing fields – these have not been used since 1980. They now have a cricket pitch and football pitch laid out.

Others in the pipe line include Spring Lane in Erdington and Holders Lane/Pebble Mill playing fields in Moseley

Kingsbridge and University College Birmingham (UCB)

Just over two years ago, Birmingham City Council was approached by Kingsbridge who indicated that they were interested taking on a long term lease of Holders Lane playing fields – Kingsbridge at the time consisted of Riverside Church, Jericho Foundation and Local Leagues. Kingsbridge and UCB were working in partnership to invest in the playing fields and retain them community use.

At the present Kingsbridge and UCB are no longer working together and both have declared their individual interest in the following playing fields: Kingsbridge in Holders Lane and UCB in both Holders Lane and Pebble Mill

Following the initial collaboration between Kingsbridge and UCB, the Council has spent a considerable amount of time trying to get the two parties to work together. This has included my own involvement in trying to facilitate an acceptable and appropriate solution since last November.

The way forward?

The City Council is keen to encourage community groups and sport clubs to become more heavily involved in managing our unattached playing fields. In this case, we have two organisations that want to improve Holders Lane playing fields and allow significant community access, there may be others. We will need to determine which is best placed to do this, against criteria which will include access and availability of capital funding, business plans which demonstrate sustainable operation (inc maintenance) and fundamentally guarantee community access.

Any lease on the playing fields will include conditions protecting community access, public right of way or access (this is important for dog walkers) and even limits on cost of hire – for example we normally specify that the cost of the hire of the pitches is no higher than the Council price. There will be break clauses, if the organisations breach these conditions.

In this case we also want to include Pebble Mill playing fields into the lease, so that they are upgraded for school use – few schools use these playing fields due to the lack of changing rooms. If we don’t include Pebble Mill playing fields, then there is the danger that they will remain underused with limited opportunity for capital investment for many years, while Holders Lane playing fields receive all the investment.

Because two organisations are interested in the lease, we are legally bound to go down the procurement route. This will require the Council to set out criteria on how any bid will be judged. The judging process will need to be fair, open and transparent.

In this case, it is likely that the criteria will include:

  • How the bidder will upgrade and manage both Holder Lane playing fields and Pebble Mill playing fields.
  • How the bidder will ensure affordable community access and school use.
  • How the bidder will maintain public access across the playing fields.
  • That the bidders proposal is acceptable from a Planning viewpoint.
  • a sound business plan of investment and continuing maintenance of both playing fields.

The procurement will be advertised in the local newspapers, to see who else is interested. If we do not do this, then the Council is vulnerable to judicial review.

It is envisaged that the procurement process will encompass normal leases where the successful organisation or organisations pays an annual charge for leasing the playing fields, and a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) where the charge for the lease is offset by works that have a value to the community.

In their petition, Kingsbridge are implying that the Council could ignore the procurement route and simply choose them. Legally we can’t, as set out above.

I know that Kingsbridge are sending out e-mails everywhere using language that is designed to scare people into signing their petition. I hope this e-mail has clarified what is actually happening.

Monday, March 05, 2012

£3million now set aside by the Council for Moseley Road baths

At todays Cabinet meeting it was agreed to set aside £3million in the future capital fund, to be used as match funding in a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid for phase 1 of the restoration of Moseley Road baths.

This is a significant development, since the success or failure of a HLF bid will turn on the level of match funding provided by the Council.....and this level of match funding will be looked on favourably by the HLF.

This decision, now gives us the go ahead to start preparing our HLF bid, which will most likely be submitted in June.

The total cost of phase 1 of the restoration works is £8million. With the £3million agreed by Cabinet today, 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..

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

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Cllr Sir Albert Bore believes Bham Council tax is "artificially low"

At a recent council meeting Cllr Sir Albert Bore stunned everyone by revealing the true cost of a Labour vote. If Labour ran Birmingham, hard-pressed families would currently find themselves an incredible £256 worse off.

Every year at the end of February, the ruling administration of Birmingham City Council presents its proposed budget, and Council Tax rate, for the financial year starting in April. If the majority of Councillors support it then it is passed. The opposition have an opportunity to propose an alternative budget, which the Councillors also vote on.

For the coming financial year, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in charge of Birmingham proposed a zero percent increase. The Labour Party proposed an alternative budget, which accepted the zero percent increase but tinkered around with £6million of the £3billion budget.

But in his speech*, the leader of the Birmingham Labour Party, Cllr Sir Albert Bore, said the following:

“Now Paul Tilsley does say that he is very proud of the fact that the Council tax rise in this city has been the lowest of all metropolitan authorities, the lowest of the core cities, the lowest of the English regions across the years that this coalition has been in control of this city council."

“While he is right to acknowledge that it's been the lowest. But I just pose a question back to him. The fact is, and look at the graph in the budget book, the position in terms of Council tax here in this city council in terms of the rise of Council tax as against, shall we say, the metropolitan average, this city last year took in £70million less in council tax than would have occurred, would have been taken in on the average Metropolitan authority. Now that figure is a product of us keeping, I would say, at times an artificially low Council tax rise.“

You can clearly see that he is not happy with the level of Council tax, complaining that it is “artificially low”. He also makes it clear that if the Council tax was raised to an appropriate level, it would raise £70million.

A 1% rise in Council Tax raises £3million. Therefore to raise £70million in Council tax, you need to increase the Council tax level by 23%. The Council Tax (not including the Police and Fire) for a Band D property this year in Birmingham is £1,113.67

So a 23% increase in Council Tax would mean a massive £256 burden on local families.

Cllr Sir Albert Bore was clearly using ‘dog whistle’ politics in his speech to reassure the left wing of the Birmingham Labour Party who will be demanding huge Council tax increases if Labour take control of Birmingham in May.

The current partnership running Birmingham Council has ensured that, in these difficult times, Council Tax rises have only happened when absolutely necessary. Thanks to this, Birmingham residents pay the lowest Council Tax in the West Midlands. It would be good for the Birmingham Labour Party to come clean on whether they would keep it as it presently is or whether we face a return to the inflation-busting increases that we all remember from their last term of office. Otherwise, at the coming May elections, Birmingham residents will quite rightly ask themselves, at a time of rising fuel bills, pay freezes and worries over job security, if they can really afford a Labour run administration and the threat of massive Council Tax increases.

*You can see this speech at . The relevant part can be seen at 1hour 9minutes.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Sarehole Mill, Moseley, to start milling flour and baking bread

Readers of my blog will know that the sluice gates at Sarehole Mill, Moseley, are presently being replaced, in preparation for the de-silting of the millpond that powers this watermill. To see my blogpost on this, please go to

Since that date, I’ve been working with the Sarehole Mill museums staff to put in a bid for further works to the mill......and I’ve been successful in getting this money from the Council’s Finance department.

I’ve managed to get £310,000 which will do the following:
• Completely de-silt the mill pond and bring it back to its original size in 1900. At the moment, the millpond is one third silted up and what remains is only 3 inches deep in the Summer.
• Completely re-roof the mill. The mill was last re-roofed in the major restoration of 1969. Since that time, large sections of the clay tiles have split due to frost damage and many are held in place only by the weight of the other tiles.
• New flour milling equipment will be installed, that satisfy modern health and safety standards. The present milling equipment has been damaged by wood worm and as a result is not suitable for commercial flour milling. With the de-silted millpond, we hope to be able to sell stone ground floor from Sarehole Mill
• Restoration of the bakery that dates from 1850, so as to bake bread again. One of the ancillary buildings was a bakery from 1830 to 1850.....and it is still intact. The huge brick built oven has a few cracks in it due to land movement, but we are aiming to fix this and get it operational again. There is a room next to the bakery, which can easily be converted into a preparation area for an artisan bakery to use. I attach a photo showing the bread oven.

We are aiming to get all this work completed by December 2012, when The Hobbit film is released. JRR Tolkien said that Sarehole Mill and the surrounding area, including Moseley Bog, were the inspiration for The Shire in the Hobbit. Sarehole Mill itself was the inspiration for ‘the great mill’ in The Shire.

As JRR Tolkien said of Sarehole

“ It was a kind of lost paradise ... There was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond with swans on it, a sandpit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream with another mill. I always knew it would go — and it did”. - interview with Guardian journalist, John Ezard in 1966, before the mill's restoration.