Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King
An almighty row has erupted over the future of Short Heath Playing Fields, with more furious Erdington families joining campaigners to help dispel Birmingham City Council‘s claim the parkland is ‘unused’.
On Saturday 15th August, a 50 strong crowd of concerned residents gathered to listen to Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaigner Stephen Hughes – following a 12hr dash to drum up local support and spread the message.
Several huge banners were unveiled and leaflets distributed, declaring ‘SAVE OUR PARK’ and informing people about the proposed development on the public green space.
Teams of residents were allocated streets to canvas, looking to raise more awareness about the threat to the playing fields – amongst a community that has, for the large part, been left in the dark about the council’s plans.
Stephen, age 52, told the crowd: “We have to save these playing fields, we cannot let them disappear forever. Just seeing how many people are here today shows the council’s claim that it is unused is total rubbish, people care about this place.
“I keep on getting told it is ‘a done deal’ but it is not – the Department of Education have not agreed to the sale yet. We all need to fight to keep our fields.”
He added: “The council have not told enough people about their plans to build, people do not even know about what they are planning, that is the biggest travesty.”
The day of action saw residents rallying together, sharing memories, and declaring they are up for the fight to keep the fields – which used to be used by Court Farm Primary School and Stockland Green Academy.
Stephen added: “To know there is this much community spirit here is an amazing feeling, to have so many people turn up to support us really makes me think we can win this campaign.”
Fellow campaigner Estelle Murphy is also determined to stop the council’s plan to build 84 houses behind her Short Heath Road home, she said: “We are going to fight this all the way. This campaign is not political, it is about keeping our green fields.
Another Short Heath Road resident Jamie Stanley, aged 31, added: “This can’t be allowed to happen. Finsbury Grove is for the elderly and vulnerable and there is no way a lot of my friends there will be able to get to another park like Witton Lakes.”
Sheila Applebly, aged 78, has lived in the area since 1966 and remembers when fields were full of school children playing with regular sports days and other events.
She said: “We have got so many other places where houses can be built, there is land across the road. It is shocking this is going ahead, is this green space being sold off because of the debt of this council?
“This has been left and neglected but it is a bonus that we have still have some green space and clean air to breathe, we live near to Spaghetti Junction so we need it.”
Another Short Heath Road resident Derek Loughead at the rally wants the campaign to hire a solicitor and start fundraising for the fight ahead.
He said: “We have to play the council at their own game, we need to get a license to get it back being a playing field, but it is all in the wording. So, we need a solicitor who understands the wording of documents, we need to raise money, hold a march and agree as a group how to fight the council. We need to tie-them-up in knots.”
However, Birmingham City Council have doubled down on their claim the fields are not used and should be sold off for housing.
In an exclusive statement to Erdington Local the council said: ‘The playing fields at Short Heath are under the ownership of education services but haven’t been used for over ten years by any of the local schools.
‘Following cabinet approval in 2019, Department for Education set processes have been followed, including consultation with local ward members and local schools, and the land will be transferred through appropriation to our housing development team.’
The confirmation statement added: ‘They will look to create a proposal whereby the land can be better used and will bring this to public consultation in around 12 months time. Residents will be notified and given the opportunity to respond, comment and ask any questions at this time.
‘The playing fields are adjacent to Bleak Hill Recreation Park which is a large open space and this will not be affected by any of these changes.’
To sign the petition to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, visit: www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-birmingham-education-department-bob-beauchamp-jack-dormey-save-short-heath-playing-fields