EXCLUSIVE: Lyndhurst residents pay hundreds for decommissioned sheltered housing

Words & pics by Ed King

Residents in Standleys Tower on the Lyndhurst Estate are being charged hundreds of pounds a year for sheltered housing that was decommissioned around seven years ago – Erdington Local can reveal.

Once only accessible to people over 50, as part of a Birmingham City Council run sheltered housing scheme, the old block was once a well loved home to many of Erdington’s older residents – who paid a standard weekly service charge for onsite care and support.

But since the flats were ‘open aged’ nearly a decade ago, all the Standleys Tower residents – regardless of age or when they started living there – are still being billed for a weekly ‘Sheltered Housing Charge’ by Birmingham City Council, amounting to over £460 extra on their annual rent for 2021/2.

“We used to have a warden who would come out every day and look after the elderly people who were in the block, to sort their problems out and everything,” told Derek Walton, 62, who has lived in Standleys Tower for over a decade.

“They decommissioned him seven years ago and they’re still charging us for it. The service charges used to pay their wages.

“I’ve been here 11 years now, and I’ve always had to pay the service charge. I first raised this about four or five years ago, but it was just like water under the bridge.

“But every year we’ve asked the same question because we’re being told ‘no you’re not being charged for it’. We don’t know what we’re being charged for until they send the breakdown in a letter that comes out once a year, just before April.”

According to a series of letters given to Erdington Local, the Lyndhurst residents are also charged a further yearly cost of over £590 for ‘Night Security’ – despite no safety personnel being stationed on the estate and all the internal cameras at Standleys Tower having been removed around four years ago.

Standing nine stories high with a total of 36 flats, residents of Standleys Tower are paying Birmingham City Council a potential total of over £37800 each year for services and security that do not exist or they get no benefit from. And despite repeated attempts to have the Local Authority drop the levies, which are added automatically onto resident’s yearly rental, those living in the old Lyndhurst tower block have been repeatedly ignored.

“To my knowledge there’s about five or six other residents who have rung up (Birmingham City Council) and asked about it,” added Derek, “but they’re just getting run round in circles.

“It’s been impossible, you get to the front desk then they put you on to somebody else, who then puts you on to somebody else… you just give up trying.

Born and bred in Kingstanding, Derek moved to the Lyndhurst Estate after having to care for an aunt with Alzheimer’s.

Following a massive heart attack, he was forced to quit his job as a heavy goods driver and now has a defibrillator installed in his chest, constantly linked to a monitor. Derek’s heart can miss several beats a day and it is imperative he avoid stress and unnecessary physical exertion.

The rising cost of living is also a concern for Derek and many across the UK, with the money being paid for defunct services by residents in Standleys Tower better spent on household bills and everyday essentials.

“It would pay half of my bedroom tax for a start off,” told Derek. “The cost of living has gone sky high, it’s ridiculous. The money would help go towards my gas and electric, to cut down my bills and the rest of it.

“It does stress you out because you can’t get anywhere… you get nowhere at all. It never used to be like this. When we started a (residents) forum the Council used to back you up left, right, and centre – now it’s like the don’t want to do anything.

“I’m off work because of my heart and I get help with my rent; it’s the people who are out there working and still have to pay this that I’m really worried for.”

Whilst the Standleys Tower residents are drawing blanks with Birmingham City Council’s housing department, Erdington ward Councillors Gareth Moore and Robert Alden have been trying to get the Local Authority to address their concerns and issue a refund.

Cllr Gareth Moore said: “Despite raising on several occasions, the Council have continued to charge tenants wrongly and have failed to act to address this unfairness.

“It’s made worse as it was the Council who decided to decommission Standleys Tower as a sheltered housing scheme, against the objections of tenants, and then have the cheek to keep charging them.”

Cllr Robert Alden added: “the Council need to refund residents every penny they have falsely charged them – with interest. They should stop trying to get out of refunding it and just give residents their money back. Any further delay is totally unacceptable.”

In a full Council Cabinet meeting on 15 March, Cllr Alden further challenged Birmingham City Council leader, Ian Ward, to stop the charges for a scheme that no longer existed and reimburse the Standley Tower residents in full.

When offered a copy of the resident’s yearly bill, which states ‘Sheltered Housing Charge £8.86’ in the weekly breakdown, Cllr Ian Ward responded if the “asserted” complaints were true then the Council “would indeed look into it.”

Erdington Local has approached Birmingham City Council for comment.

If you are a resident of Standleys Tower, or a Council tenant being charged for costs and services you are not receiving, please email: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Erdington Task Force sets a new manifesto of constituency wide support as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted

Words & pics by Ed King

Established in response to coronavirus, the Erdington Covid-19 Task Force was set up to support people during the pandemic – reaching thousands of vulnerable and isolated residents with food, essential supplies, financial advice, health and wellbeing activities, and further support services.

Now as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and communities across the world are looking at life beyond the pandemic, so is the Taskforce – dropping the coronavirus moniker and exploring how it can continue to support people across Erdington.

Renamed the Erdington Task Force, the collective of local stakeholders has issued a new manifesto, with housing, education, employment, and regeneration at its core.

Continuing their duty of care for the vulnerable, isolated, and elderly, the Erdington Task Force want to carry on providing what many have found to be essential support services – finding whilst Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted, people across Erdington are still suffering from the impact of the virus.

To help deliver this programme of support, Erdington Task Force mobilises a squad of almost 250 volunteers to carry out tasks and activities across the constituency.

Chair of the Erdington Task Force is Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA). Mr Hussain told Erdington Local:

“The Erdington (Covid-19) Task Force provided a crucial and rapid response to the pandemic.

“Members repurposed existing and developed new services to support our communities by mobilising hundreds of volunteers and co-ordinating vital food distribution and support activities to thousands of vulnerable residents across the constituency.

“The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated deep-seated inequalities, especially poverty and economic hardship, health inequalities and digital exclusion.

“So now is the right time to refresh our partnerships and create a new settlement, which recognises and celebrates the central role of the refreshed Erdington Task Force in the life, prosperity and future of the constituency.”

Comprised of local charities, support organisations, community champions, and politicians, the Erdington Task Force is a collective of local stakeholders who have deep rooted relationships within the constituency.

Facilitated by WLCA, the Erdington Task Force also has organisations including Active Arts, Spitfire Service, The Pioneer Groups, Bethany Foodbank, Erdington Community Volunteers, Urban Devotion, West Midlands Police, and The Active Wellbeing Society as members – establishing a network of support from Castle Vale to Kingstanding.

The Erdington (Covid-19) Task Force was established in April 2020, to support the constituency during the coronavirus pandemic.

To read the new Erdington Task Force manifesto in full visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Erdington-Task-Force-Community-Manifesto-2022

NEWS: West Midlands Mayor urges campaigners to ‘keep lobbying’ to save Short Heath Playing Fields

Words & pics Ed King

During a visit to Short Heath Playing Fields on Saturday 11 December, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street urged campaigners to “keep lobbying, to keep making their voice heard” – as the battle to save the beloved parkland continues.

Short Heath Playing Fields had been earmarked for a new housing estate of potentially over 84 three to five bedroom homes, to help support the city’s social housing agenda.

But in a recent surprise U-turn, Birmingham City Council deemed the site unviable and gave the green space back to the Education Department.

Andy Street had previously visited local residents fighting to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ in April this year, returning on Saturday to congratulate the campaigners – but also to warn against a possible private sale.

Despite a welcome win for Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT), the formalised group fighting save the playing fields, the Council’s shift could mean the parkland is now sold on the commercial market.

A previous statement from Birmingham City Council explained if the land was not developed by the city: “the options are limited and stark…

“With the current demand for land by house developers, it is anticipated that the land would be sold relatively soon to a private developer.”

An advocate of building on brownfield over greenfield sites, Mr Street explained:

“The first thing to say is that it’s really good news that their (Council) own plans for development are not going ahead, and the campaigners deserve huge credit for getting a change of heart there. But then I would say there is still another campaign to be run to make sure it doesn’t get sold off for development.

“So, what I hope will happen is that it moves into the Parks Department and can then be developed, as the team on the ground here have said, as a facility for the community. I hope that the Council will still see that is the right thing to do.

“(Now campaigners should) keep lobbying, to keep making their voice heard – particularly as this is the year of elections in Birmingham so it’s really important. I think we’ve already seen the power; the power of a community voice is really symbolic.

“Very clearly, we’ve got a huge housing challenge in the West Midlands. We all know that. But the good news is that we’re steadily choosing individual brownfield sites to be developed one after another and the policy remains absolutely to win Government funding we can use to close the viability gaps on individual brownfield sites.”

Erdington Ward councillor Robert Alden opposed the development on Short Heath Playing Fields when it was first identified in the Birmingham Development Plan.

Joining Andy Street on the playing fields, he told Erdington Local:

“This is a great first victory, but it is very much only the beginning, not the end.

“There’s a long battle ahead – residents have been brilliant at coming together and now it’s really clear the Council need to move this into the Parks Department rather than the Education Department, guarantee it won’t be sold, and allow the residents here to take ownership of this site and put it into use just like the local community wants.

“It’s been absolutely brilliant to see the way people have come together; you look at some of the events, like the Halloween Trail they had, the Sports Day in the summer, the clean ups being organised by the local community.

“This is exactly what Erdington and North Birmingham are about – a community coming together to stand up for what they believe in.”

Having grown from a Facebook campaign to an official lobbying body, the local residents that make up Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) are celebratory of the Council’s recent decision – but mirror the concern of the West Midlands Mayor and Erdington Ward Councillor.

Stephen Hughes from SHFT told: “(I am) extremely proud of my community, to see them today… it’s emotional, it’s always emotional. But it’s important that they’re still behind us, they’re still 100% backing everything we do.

“And moving forward that’s going to be crucial, because we want to make sure this (the playing fields) remain a green space and doesn’t become anything other than that.”

Also from SHFT, Estelle Murphy added: “I’m nervously hopeful; nervous that the Council won’t listen to us and give us the time to explore the opportunity for sport here, hopeful that they will.

“(The community are) very pleased we’ve got though the first part of the battle. They’re hoping that we’re going to keep on, which we will. We won’t back down. We’ll be there until the bitter end.

“There are no houses on here yet.”

Short Heath Fields Trust are continuing to explore uses for the playing fields, following on from previous community events organised there – alongside a focus on sport, health and wellbeing.

For more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com

Andy Street, Robert Alden, Short Heath Fields Trust, Stephen Hughes, Estelle Murphy, Birmingham City Council, Short Heath Playing Fields, Active Arts Castle Vale, Review Publishing, Erdington, Erdington High Street, Ed King, Ed King 2210, Erdington, Birmingham, Erdington Local, newspaper, feature, Sutton Coldfield Local, Local Newspapers, showcase, news

EXCLUSIVE: Local campaigners ‘ready to take on any private developer’ after Council halt housing plans for Short Heath Playing Fields

Words & pics by Ed King

In a surprise U-turn, Birmingham City Council have halted their housing plans for Short Heath Playing Fields – returning the site back to the Education Department.

In an email to Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) from the Birmingham Leader’s office, sent on Thursday 25 November, Cllr Ward informed them Birmingham City Council no longer saw the site as viable for their proposed development of 84 houses.

The news was met with relief and hope, from a community that have been locking horns with Birmingham City Council for over a year to keep the green space for public use – from regular dog walking and sporting activities, to organised events such as the recent ‘pumpkin hunt’ which saw families from Kingstanding to Castle Vale come together on the parkland.

But local campaigners are “ready to take on any private developer”, as moving the land back into the Education Department portfolio could end up with a quick sale in the commercial market and planning applications to build even more houses on their “beloved fields”.

In previous statements made by Birmingham City Council, if the fiercely fought over green space was no longer earmarked for development by Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT): ‘it is anticipated that the land would be sold relatively soon to a private developer.’

In the same message, Birmingham City Council went on to state:

“It is known that private developers would look to maximise the density of any site as far as possible, it is also a known and demonstrable fact that homes delivered by private developers are almost all of a smaller size than any BMHT designed homes, therefore the likelihood is that there would be in excess of 84 homes on the site, and should that developer seek to build apartments on a low rise form, would again most likely exceed 100 plus homes and apartments.”

After receiving the email from the Birmingham Leader, Short Heath Fields Trust told Erdington Local:

“This is a huge win for us all. We at Short Heath Fields Trust are delighted by the news that the Council will not be building on our green space.

“We know this is a battle won, but not the war. We would like to know the results of the environmental surveys and the more detailed look into the grounds actual viability for development which we know we’re undertaken.

“We have taken on Birmingham City Council with its huge legal department and we are more than ready to take on any private developers if needed.

“We will continue to make sure the community gets a say in what happens at our beloved fields. To try to bring the community’s vision of the return of sports for all and to see it given back to the community.

“Considering the Council haven’t paid a penny for this parkland it should be put into the parks department not education, as that is where it belongs, so this community can keep using and enjoying it instead of generations past, present, and future having to keep fighting for it.”

The campaign to save ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ began in August 2020, after a contentious period of initial public consultation which many claim they were unaware of.

Starting with a Facebook page and online petition, local residents eventually formalised into Short Heath Fields Trust – following a community protest that grabbed the attention of politicians from both sides of the aisle.

Leader of the Birmingham Conservative Party and Erdington Ward councillor, Robert Alden, joined local residents in their protest against the Council’s plans – having been already fighting the proposed development from Birmingham’s corridors of power.

Cllr Alden told Erdington Local: “The decision of the Council to finally listen to the thousands of residents locally who have been calling for the site to be saved is a welcome one. Short Heath Playing Fields is a green lung in our area that needs to be preserved.

“However, residents will not forget that the Leader of the Council and the Labour MP stood in front of residents telling them the site had to be built on.

“Therefore, residents will rightly be concerned that the City Council will simply decide to change their minds again next summer, after the all-out council elections.

“That is exactly what they did with Burford Road Playing Fields, Kingstanding, in 2018. They claimed they were saved going into the 2018 elections and then agreed to build on them in 2019.

“Residents can rest assured we will continue to fight and keep the pressure on the Council to preserve Short Heath Road Playing Fields and other green spaces locally.

Erdington MP Jack Dromey has also been heavily involved in the campaign to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, responding to the growing concerns of local residents, meeting regularly with SHFT, and using his position to broker meetings with Birmingham Council Leader Ian Ward.

On hearing the land was being given back to the Education Department, Jack Dromey said:

“The campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields has been a strong, community-led campaign and the news that Birmingham City Council will not be building houses on the site will be welcomed by the campaigners.

“Since I was first approached about the issue two years ago, I have been working with all those concerned to try and find a way forward that the local community can support, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for the constructive way in what has sometimes been difficult discussions.

“I will continue to work closely with campaigners and the community on the future of Short Heath Playing Fields, that are near and dear to the heart of the local community.”

Despite various alternatives being proposed by SHFT, including putting sports facilities on Short Heath Playing Fields and a list of surrounding brownfield sites on which to develop social housing, the fate of the green space seemed sealed.

During a meeting with local residents on Friday 20 August, the Birmingham Council Leader reiterated the likelihood of a private sale if the land could not be developed by BMHT – urging residents to accept the Council’s proposal.

At the same meeting, Cllr Ward also announced the number of proposed houses to be built would be reduced to 66 from the 84, to make way for ‘a green corridor’ connecting Short Heath Road to Bleak Hill Park.

Commitments were also made of reinvesting up to £1millon from the development back into the local community for health, wellbeing, and sports facilities.

However, if the land is sold to a private developer the size and scope of any development remains to be seen – alongside any possible reparations to the local community.

Erdington Local has approached Birmingham City Council for comment.

For more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com

For more on the fight to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ click here to visit the campaign’s Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/groups/1007069176404521

NEWS: Erdington loses out on Levelling Up millions as the only Birmingham bid to fail at the first round

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington High Street lost out on millions of pounds of investment today when its application for the Government’s Levelling Up Fund fell at the first round – as announced in the Chancellor’s Spending Review.

One of four applications made by Birmingham City Council, Erdington High Street’s bid was the only one to be denied at this stage – despite being for the lowest amount of money.

The Levelling Up Fund is a £4.8 billion national pot of money earmarked by Government for regional investment into local infrastructure.

The Levelling Up Fund application for Erdington High Street was at £12,700,000 – with further investment coming from the private sector, including the transformation of Central Square into a destination venue of shops, cafes, bars, and apartments.

Birmingham’s other bids, which have all made it through the first round, include £19,941,000 for the A457 Dudley Road Improvement Scheme, £17,145,000 for the Wheels site remediation, and £15,539,000 for Moseley Road Swimming Baths.

Erdington’s Levelling Up Fund bid was worked on by both Labour and Conservative politicians in the area – alongside key local stakeholders including Godwin Developments, Witton Lodge Community Association, and Erdington Business Improvement District.

Following the news, Erdington MP Jack Dromey (Lab) issued the following statement:

“Once again, the Government has failed to provide the investment Erdington High Street so desperately needs. This decision flies in the face of their ‘levelling up’ rhetoric and badly lets down one of the poorest communities in the country.

“This investment would have provided an invaluable economic, social and cultural boost to our community, as well as providing employment opportunities for Erdington, which has an unemployment rate that stands at twice the national average.

“But this is not the first time Government has let Erdington down. Following the rejection of the Future High Streets Fund bid on Boxing Day, we continued to seek investment in our High Street.

“Working together with Birmingham City Council, key local stakeholders, and the local community, we submitted this comprehensive and ambitious bid to the Levelling Up Fund complete with a solid business case and significant private investment.

“This makes the decision to deny Erdington of investment once again outrageous and inexplicable.”

Erdington ward Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore (Con) made the following statements:

Cllr Robert Alden said: “This is a bitterly disappointing decision.

“When the Council took the four bids for Birmingham through cabinet, we warned that the Council providing £15m of match funding for the other three bids and nothing for Erdington would weaken the application and give the impression to civil servants that the Council clearly considered the bid to be less important than the other four.

“Sadly, that is exactly what seems to have happened”.

Cllr Gareth Moore added “The Council administration refusing to put match funding into the Erdington bid, was always a kick in the teeth for the hard work of local partners like the Erdington BID, Witton Lodge Community Association, regeneration officers who worked on the bid, businesses, developers and community and church groups.

“So, to now see that the three bids the Council did match fund were approved and that the Council refusal to match fund Erdington has potentially cost Erdington is disgraceful.

“However, a massive thank you to all the partners and officers involved who have been helping fight for Erdington”.

Erdington recently missed out the Future High Streets Fund, another cross party and local stakeholder application, which would have seen over £50m pumped into the town centre in a joint investment from Government and the private sector.

 

NEWS: Erdington MP calls on Government ‘to ensure a decision is made’ over £12.7million Levelling Up Fund

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington MP Jack Dromey has called on Government to ‘ensure a decision is made… as soon as possible’ over a £12.7million Levelling Up Fund investment into the High Street, Erdington Local can reveal.

In a letter issued to Michael Gove earlier today, Mr Dromey urged the recently appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to respond to Erdington’s bid – allowing Birmingham City Council and local stakeholders to ‘get on with the job of delivering the improvements to infrastructure Erdington so desperately needs.’

An application for the Levelling Up Fund was submitted by Birmingham City Council in June, which if successful would see a multi-million pound injection into Erdington High Street, but has so far received no response from Government.

One of the criteria for the Levelling Up Fund, a £4.8 billion national pot of money for investment into local infrastructure, is for any successful bid to ‘begin delivery on the ground in the 2021-22 financial year’.

With only 6 months to go until April, concerns are growing if a decision is not reached soon the ambitious plans for the High Street could become impossible to deliver.

In his letter to Michael Gove, Mr Dromey continued: ‘I always say that Erdington may be one of the poorest constituencies in the country, but we are rich in talent.

‘The determination, innovation, and passion of local people, especially in the face of adversity as we have seen recently, never ceases to amaze and inspire me. However, without investment we will never realise this potential to its fullest.’

To read the full letter sent by Jack Dromey MP to Michael Gove click here.

Erdington’s Levelling Up Fund bid was worked on by both Labour and Conservative politicians in the area – alongside key local stakeholders including Godwin Developments, Witton Lodge Community Association, and Erdington Business Improvement District.

Included in the bid were plans for a major redevelopment of Central Square, transformation of St Barnabas’s churchyard, and seeing the listed Erdington Baths turned into a cutting edge business hub.

Erdington recently missed out the Future High Streets Fund, an application made that would have seen over £50m pumped into the town centre in a joint investment from Government and the private sector.

Now the hopes for the High Street are pinned to the Levelling Up Fund, which would again see a £12.7million investment from Government topped up by the private sector.

Godwin Developments, who are looking to develop Central Square into a Brindley Place style destination venue of restaurants, cafes, and stylish accommodation, are keen to help transform Erdington High Street.

Matt Chandler, Development Director at Godwin Developments, told Erdington Local: “Erdington, with its young population, has great potential and the Levelling Up Fund would ensure that it is unlocked with a major boost from well-thought through schemes breathing life into the high street, providing places to live and community assets for years to come.

“The Fund would prove transformational for the area, creating economic, employment and cultural opportunities for residents and encouraging further inward investment.

“With the Commonwealth Games arriving in Birmingham next year, all areas of the city should receive the investment they deserve.”

FEATURE: “This is the beginning of a conversation… not the end.” Council Leader promises to “work with” the local community on Short Heath playing fields housing development

Words & pics by Ed King

Just over a year ago, the campaign to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ began in earnest – as a community galvanised to challenge Council plans for a new housing development on the beloved green space.

After the original blueprint was scrapped, and a community counter proposal deemed unviable, a ‘compromise’ is now back on the table – as Council Leader Ian Ward met face to face with local residents to present the city’s latest plans.

Council Leader Ian Ward promised the city would “work with” the local community over the proposed Short Heath playing fields housing development, stating “this is only the beginning of a conversation with you, the local community; it is not the end of that conversation.”

Addressing local residents at a public meeting on Friday 20 August, held on the green space earmarked for development, the Council Leader also stressed homes built on the site becoming HMOs “just wouldn’t happen.”

Promises for a ‘green corridor’ connecting Short Heath Road to Bleak Hill Park were reiterated, alongside a potential £1million investment for ‘off-site provision for sports and recreation’ including ‘new football pitches and a small changing room.’

Brokered and chaired by Jack Dromey and Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT), the Leader’s public address follows a year of negotiations between local campaigners and the Erdington MP – who brought the concerns of residents direct to the Leader’s office.

Over an emotive three hours, around 50 people took time off on a Friday afternoon to debate with Council officials – voicing worries over infrastructure, traffic, parking, public safety, the strain on local services, and the irreversible loss of parkland used by young and old across the community.

Alongside Short Heath Fields Trust, several community groups attended the meeting including Erdington Litter Busters, Short Heath Wombles, and Short Heath Residents Action Group.

Concern the 3-5 bedroom houses could end up becoming HMOs was a hot topic, as 50% of the proposed estate would be sold on the commercial housing market.

Stockland Green, one of the wards the playing fields sit in, already has one of the highest numbers of HMOs in the city – with residents and action groups alike crying out for Council intervention.

Both Council Leader Ian Ward and Head of Housing Development Colette McCann made assurances no new houses built on Short Heath playing fields would be granted HMO licence.

Cllr Ward told Erdington Local: “We have what’s called an article 4 direction in place in the case of HMOs, so you’d have to apply for planning consent to covert a property into a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO).

“It would be absurd for the planning authority to grant half the homes on this site to become HMOs, that just wouldn’t happen.”

Colette McCann added: “Homeowners buying our new build schemes tend to be first time buyers… we try and support first time buyers as much as we can through that sales process.

“The type of properties we’re building – family, 2,3, and sometimes 4 beds – don’t necessarily lend themselves to that type of provision anyway (HMOs).”

Cllr Ward addressed the crowd and answered questions before making himself available to individuals for a further two hours, then touring the site with SHFT Chair Stephen Hughes and Estelle Murphy from the Short Heath Residents Action Group (SHRAG).

The Council Leader was further “happy to look at” a list of brownfield sites that could potentially offset the number of houses built on the playing fields.

Estelle Murphy had previously submitted a portfolio of brownfield site alternatives to the Council’s Housing Development Team, although this had not yet reached the Leader’s office.

Cllr Ward requested Ms Murphy resubmit this list directly to him, with Erdington MP Jack Dromey also asking to see it.

After opening the meeting by praising the campaign for being “one of the best examples in Birmingham of local people saying, ‘damn it, we’re not going to have our world changed without having a say,’” Jack Dromey also stayed on the playing fields to talk directly to residents.

He told Erdington Local: “The important thing about today was the community was able to have its say. There’s a recognition on behalf of the community that has seen movement from the Council, but there’s also concern that the Council need to go further at the next stages.

“I think it’s absolutely right that people were able to have their say; I think it’s welcome that Ian Ward, as Leader, came personally to hear their concerns.

“I believe it’s not beyond the ability of man or woman to construct an outcome that delivers both badly needed homes and green space and better facilities for the community.”

But the community’s response was led largely by anger and upset, with many hoping for more significant cuts in the number of houses from Birmingham City Council’s original plans.

The Council’s recognition the site could end up in the hands of private property developers, who could look to maximise profits by building even more houses on the green space, was a further concern.

In his address, the Council Leader stated: “One way or another we are going to have to reach a compromise about what we are going to do on this site. If we don’t, I envisage what the Council will end up doing is selling the land to a private developer.

“I’d like to avoid that; I’d like to work with you (the community) to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Josette and Derek Loughead, who live on Short Heath Road, told Erdington Local: “We’re being hung over a barrel – basically, if you moan, we’re going to take the whole park. And we’re going to give you a little ‘corridor’ that people are just going to dump stuff in (fly tipping).

“Plus, the people down there lose their park (Bleak Hill Park) to the playing fields – so really they’re just robbing peter to pay Paul.”

Local resident Shelia Appleby, who’s house overlooks the playing fields, and who engaged in a passionate debate with the Council Leader, had prepared a handwritten letter – asking Cllr Ward to ‘be a man’ and not ‘take away our park and breathing space’, especially as the area is so close to the spaghetti junction.

Shelia is a founding member of the Short Heath Wombles, a group of retired residents who clear litter from the playing fields in their own time.

Her letter went on to say: ‘Even with the pandemic, you would not cut the grass for people to come to the park or give kids a play area for ball games.

‘It is a human right to breath fresh air. People need houses but there are brownfield sites for you to build on.

‘When you have taken this park and Brum’s green lungs, and left us with concrete jungles, they are gone forever.’

Erdington ward Councillor Robert Alden also expressed concerns over the Council’s revised plans, having challenged the proposed developments even before a local campaign was formalised.

He told Erdington Local: “The Council’s latest proposal to still build on Short Heath Playing Fields is a huge betrayal of the Erdington community. They have spent a year claiming they wanted to hear resident’s alternatives yet have rejected everything the community has put forward.

“Now it is clear they were secretly using the consultation time to finalise Labour’s plans to build on the fields. Residents are rightly saying they feel conned by Birmingham City Council now.”

But the battle to ’Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ is set to continue, with all sides recognising more negotiation needs to happen.

In a statement from the Short Heath Fields Trust, Stephen Hughes told Erdington Local: “Short Heath Fields Trust made a promise to the community to get their voices heard and today they made themselves heard.

“There was an obvious disappointment shown to the proposal put forward by Ian Ward at the meeting, showing that only a fifth of the land being a ‘Green Corridor’ is not enough green space being saved.

“What is important is that Ian Ward said any land saved would be safe and made part of Bleakhill Park and would not be built on in the future. Also, that this is a starting point for the Trust to continue to work and negotiate to find a compromise all parties will be able to live with.”

In a statement from Short Heath Residents Action Group, Estelle Murphy added: “The Council’s reduction to 66 houses is welcomed as a step in the right direction, but for our community that step isn’t far enough. That piece of parkland is essential to their health and wellbeing.

“The proposal put forward by the Council has alarmed many residents feeling it would worsen many already existing problems and hot spots in the area and bring more crime with it.

“We are worried that without investing in the people already living in the area and solving existing issues, adding more people to the area will only make things worse.”

PICTURE GALLERY: Council Leader meets local residents on Short Heath playing fields

For more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com

For more on the fight to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ click here to visit the campaign’s Facebook page.

EXCLUSIVE: Council reduce housing plans for Short Heath playing fields – following a year long campaign from local residents

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ed King and Estelle Murphy

Birmingham City Council are pulling back on their plans for a new housing estate on Short Heath playing fields, cutting 18 houses from the originally proposed development of 84 – Erdington Local can exclusively reveal.

Following over 12 months of a fiercely fought campaign to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, Council Leader Ian Ward is meeting with local residents today to explain the new plans face to face – which will see a 21% reduction in new homes being built on the site.

Tensions have run high over the past twelve months, as friends and neighbours became community campaigners to stop the Council building on the beloved green space – used by young and old across the area for social activities.

Birmingham City Council have been identifying sites across the city for new houses as part of their Birmingham Development Plan (BDP) – responding to a housing crisis which could see tens of thousands of families without a home in the next decade.

However, residents of Erdington, Perry Common, and Stockland Green – the three wards that embrace the playing fields – have been fighting to have their voices heard after the original public consultation was heavily criticised.

In the revised proposal, Birmingham City Council are also promising up to £1million investment into remaining the green space and neighbouring Bleak Hill Park – earmarked for health, wellbeing, and sports facilities.

In an update sent to Erdington Local direct from the Council Leader’s office, the new development plans will include ‘off-site provision for sports and recreation to a maximum value of £1milllion.’

The possible seven figure sum now on the table will be used for ‘a green corridor leading from Short Heath Road down to Bleak Hill Park’ and ‘new football pitches and a small changing room.’

In the original development plans, the playing fields were to be used for 84 houses – with money outlined for sports and education but no clear reinvestment into the local community.

In a message directly to local residents, Birmingham City Council Leader Ian Ward said: “I want to thank the residents of Erdington for engaging with us.

“We’re determined to provide more high quality affordable homes for the people of Birmingham, but we understand the need to work with communities, so we’ve listened and our new proposal takes into account the feedback we received to the original plans for this site.

“In Erdington and across the city, there’s a clear and urgent need for new social rented homes. Hopefully the new proposals can deliver some of those homes while also retaining green space and providing leisure facilities.

“This is a growing city and the Birmingham Development Plan, adopted in January 2017, forecasts a population increase of around 156,000 people by 2031.

“That means 89,000 additional homes, with 51,000 of these to be built within the city boundary, so sites like Short Heath are key to helping us meet this need.”

Spearheaded by Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT), local residents who formalised as a trust earlier this year, the campaign has attracted the attention of several high ranking public officials – with Erdington Councillor and Leader of Birmingham Conservatives Robert Alden attending several public meetings on the site and offering continued support.

Recently re-elected Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, Andy Street, also made a personal visit to the playing fields, promising to “do everything I (he) can” to save the green space, adding “it’s not even a debate whether houses should or should not be built – I cannot understand why they would be built here. It cannot happen.”

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington has also been in talks with SHFT for over 12months, acting as a mediator between campaigners and Council – bringing the concerns of local residents directly to the Leader’s office.

He told Erdington Local: “The open spaces of Short Heath are near and dear to the local community and local people have been rightly concerned.

“They recognise that the Council must build badly needed homes but wanted a say in the future of Short Heath.

“I have worked with them and Council Leader Ian Ward to arrive at a way forward that sees new homes and better facilities for the community, preserving the integrity of Short Heath.

“The Council must continue to listen and move further but real progress has been made.”

However, Short Heath Fields Trust and many across the community were hoping for a more significant reduction in the number of new houses to be built – understanding a compromise must be reached but wanting more of the green field site to remain accessible to local residents.

There is also growing concern over the strain any new houses will put on the local infrastructure, such as GP surgeries and schools.

Chair of Short Heath Fields Trust, Stephen Hughes, told Erdington Local: “Obviously we are disappointed with the Council’s proposal, we want far more for our community. But today is a chance for our community to have its say and we hope to be heard at last.

“Going forward we will continue the Trust’s work to establish Bleak Hill Park as part of the community and bring it to the same standard as surrounding parks, as a member of Birmingham Open Spaces Forum.”

Estelle Murphy, from the recently formed Short Heath Residents Action Group, added: “Short Heath Residents Action Group will be there to ask the questions those unable to attend today have sent in.

“Once we have gauged the feeling of all interested parties, we will decide exactly what our next move as an Action Group will be – to save this parkland and over other issues than effect our community.”

Council Leader Ian Ward introduces new plans for housing on Short Heath playing fields

For more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com/

For more on the fight to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ click here to visit the campaign’s Facebook page

NEWS: Council warning as ‘spell casters’ and ‘spiritual healers’ target Erdington residents

Words & pics by Adam Smith

Birmingham City Council has warned local residents against paying for black magic spells which are being offered to people across Erdington, the Local can reveal.

Fliers offering ‘black magic’ and ‘love spells’ to solve relationships woes, mental illness, job seeking, and court cases have been delivered to homes on Slade Road, Marsh Hill, Erdington Hall Road, and Reservoir Road in recent weeks.

The claims on the fliers include getting husbands and wives who have left their partners to be ‘returned immediately’, breaking the resolve of stubborn children, and an ability to bring fame and success.

Erdington Local handed the fliers, from two separate ‘spell caster’s, to Birmingham City Council Trading Standards.

A spokesman said: “We’d advise anyone to be wary of this sort of thing and advise against handing over large sums of money.

“If anyone has concerns, they can contact trading standards via the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.”

Cheick Mahamadou Lamine describes themselves as a ‘Spiritual Healer and Love Spell Caster’.

Their flyer boasts: ‘I can help you with love and relationship matters, exams, business, luck, family problems, career, court cases, job seeking, depression, serious illness, buying and selling property, fame and success in business.

‘Quick and Positive results GUARANTEED – Payment after results.’

Shaikh Drame’s flyer claims he is: ‘The first man to combine the power of spirituality no matter what your problems are I can help you solve them.

‘Even desperate cases e.g relationships, work and business difficulties, for those who feel unlove, unhappy and unlucky, I can remove evil spells and bad luck. I can help a person who is looking for leadership and popularity.’

Drame even claims to be able to get spouses to return to a relationship they have left.

He states: ‘If your loved one, husband or wife has walked out on you I can help bring them back immediately with the most powerful spells.”

Worryingly, Drame also promises to work with children who do not obey their parents – raising safeguarding concerns for any young people involved.

He further promised: ‘I can bring stubborn children to listen and cure people who use alcohol and tobacco. Follow the path of relief and lead the life of happiness.’

Trading Standards in Sandwell successfully prosecuted a bogus love doctor who promised clients his spells could improve fertility and fix relationships in 2010.

Niem Mohammed, who drove around in a Ferrari and a Bentley, charged a Smethwick couple £9,000 for breaking a black magic spell and help them have children – he was jailed for 18 months and ordered to pay the money back.

He also took £1,300 off a woman to help fix a broken relationship, but when nothing happened he told her he needed a further £1,800. He then threatened to send a ghost to destroy her home and family if she did not pay up.

Erdington Local has asked both Lamine and Drame for a comment but at the time of publishing have not received a reply.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article – or want to talk to Erdington Local about your experiences – email adam@erdingtonlocal.com 

For help and guidance from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau visit www.bcabs.org.uk

NEWS: Council ‘in talks’ with developers over potential new plans for Pype Hayes Hall

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

The owners of Erdington’s historic Pype Hayes Hall have met with Birmingham City Council to discuss the future of the Grade II mansion house.

Bromford Mill Properties bought the hall, which dates back to 1630, for £25,000 in 2014 and announced £11,000,000 plans for a 60 bed luxury hotel, spa, and swimming pool – but no application was ever submitted to Birmingham City Council.

However, Erdington Local can reveal council planning officers met with developers about a new application for the hall, which is in Pype Hayes Park.

Simon Delahunty-Forrest, from Birmingham City Council’s planning and regeneration department, refused to reveal details of meeting but confirmed it happened.

He said: “The council are in talks with the applicant regarding the future of the house it would not be appropriate to share any details as the discussions have not yet been formalised and are not in the public realm.

“The council planning team were giving informal feedback before a pre-application is submitted.”

Pype Hayes Hall was built after a marriage between two of the Midlands’ most famous families, the Ardens (Shakespeare’s family) and Bagots, in the 17th Century. Pype Manor was part of the dowery of Dorothy Arden who married Hervey Bagot in 1625.

Bagot built the hall in 1630 and lived there until he died fighting for the Royalists in the Battle of Naseby, 1645. The Bagot family lived in the house for the next 250 years.

Originally known as ‘The House of the 13 Gables’ due to its roof design, which was a sign to persecuted Catholics it was a safe haven, there is also believed to be an escape tunnel from the hall for priests.

After enlarging the house and selling 700 acres of land in 1888 for the creation of Minworth Sewage Works, the family finally sold the hall to Birmingham City Council in 1920 – subsequently used as a convalescence home and children’s home.

Erdington author and park user Patrick Harley lamented the state of the hall.

He said: “It is a crying shame what has happened to the hall and it upsets me every time I walk past it.

“The state of it is getting worse and worse, hopefully Birmingham City Council will step in and compulsory purchase the hall to save it for future generations.”

Pype Hayes Councillor Mike Sharpe had previously told Erdington Local about his growing concerns about the hall’s future.

He said: “I keep on asking questions but cannot get an answer from anyone, Birmingham City Council’s planning department does not know anything.

“We should all be proud of Pype Hayes Hall, it is beautiful, has a lot of history, and could be turned into a real asset for the community.

“I am worried it is just being left to go to wrack and ruin and if that is allowed to happen it will be a tragedy.”

With added fears the owner’s plans for a luxury hotel and spa have been shelved, and developers are now looking to turn the historic landmark into apartments, Cllr Sharpe added: “I do not want the hall turned into homes because a road would need to be built through the park for that to happen.”

For more on Pype Hayes Hall from Historic England click here