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

NEWS: Stockland Green to get £432,000 anti-crime investment from Government’s Safer Streets Fund

Words by Adam Smith

CCTV and other anti-crime measures will be installed in Stockland Green after a £432,000 grant from the Government’s Safer Streets Fund.

The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and Birmingham City Council applied for the money after a rise in crime in Stockland Green attributed to increased exempt housing in the area.

As well as CCTV, improved lighting, and security gates, the money will be used to clamp down on burglary, robbery, and vehicle theft.

The Government promised more funding will be available to target changing the behaviour of some men, so women and girls feel safer.

The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster said:

“After years of essential preventative public services being starved of funding it is good to see we’ve been able to secure some additional money to make small, but not insignificant, improvements to our streets.

“We know there are simple things that can be done to prevent crime and, working with the council, we intend to use this money to do them.

“We’ll tighten security where we think it can be tighter and make sure CCTV is fitted in crime hotspots.”

Councillor John Cotton, Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “This is very welcome news and will be a real boost to our efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour and support the community.

“The Council will be working closely with residents, the PCC, and the police to make sure this extra money helps to deliver a safer neighbourhood for everyone who lives or works in Stockland Green.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey welcomed the cash injection after constituents complained about the changing nature of Stockland Green, blaming a mushrooming number of HMOs on the increase in anti-social behaviour and crime.

He said: “I have been contacted by numerous constituents who are worried, many say they do not feel safe in their local area.

“Securing almost half a million pounds from the Safer Streets Fund will help protect local communities from crime by funding the installation of additional street lighting to deter criminals and the fitting of CCTV in problem areas so we are able to catch those committing crimes to ensure they are brought to justice.”

He added: “I’d like to pay tribute to West Midlands Police, Birmingham City Council and local campaigners who have worked hard to secure this funding that will improve the lives of residents in Stockland Green.”

For the latest news from West Midlands Police visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/news

FEATURE: A home or a prison? How domestic abuse has spiralled during life under lockdown

Words by Adam Smith

(First published in the Erdington Local newspaper – March ’21 edition)

The increase in domestic abuse has been one the most disturbing consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdown restrictions are eased, and the country prepares to go back to the ‘normal’ we knew before, Erdington Local looks at how violence and aggression in the home are damaging the lives of hundreds of local people.

Domestic abuse rose by 45% in Erdington last year and now accounts for around 25% of all crime committed in the constituency.

Officers are now trained to spot tell-tale signs of abuse and if possible, help the victim. As well as prosecute the abuser which is a big difference from the 1970s when the law was unable intervene between a married couple.

However, lockdown meant victims had the double blow of being forced to spend even more time with their partner, whilst routes to safety and support were blocked by being unable to leave the house and even have private phone calls.

Experts who have been helping Erdington women escape violence since 1980 are keen to stress the lockdowns have not created domestic abuse but exacerbated an existing problem.

For more than 40 years Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWA) has provided practical escape routes for abused women and children, last year its 220 staff and volunteers helped 7,800 victims.

The charity’s fundraising manager Anna Fawcett told Erdington Local: “Prior to COVID-19 we would rely on face-to-face meetings with victims to unpick what they had been through, from eye contact to body language we were physically there for women.

“But like everybody else we had to change how we help people, whether it be through intercoms or WhatsApp messages, but we are still making a huge difference. Demand for our services has gone up in 12 months, but during the first lockdown we were quieter than expected.

“We soon realised people could not phone us if their partner was in the house so we introduced a chat facility to the helpline which made a big difference.”

Women’s Aid provide advice, counselling and crucially a housing service so women and children will not be homeless if they do successfully leave an abusive domestic situation. BSWA run seven refuges across the city, the locations are secret to prevent violent partners tracking women down, and demand is always high.

Anna said: “For every one room we have, seven or eight women need it. When one becomes available they are free for a matter of hours before being taken.

“COVID-19 is not causing domestic violence but it has heightened it due to the restrictions. But the police are doing a great job trying to prosecute offenders.”

The causes of domestic abuse are entrenched in society and Anna believes although attitudes have improved there is still a long way to go.

She said: “One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime so it will not be fixed overnight; the fact rape prosecutions are at an all time low shows how much work needs to be done.

“In the early 1970s police could not even intervene between a married couple, but perhaps with the Domestic Abuse Bill now in the House of Lords women will finally get equality. We need to keep talking about domestic abuse because our sisters, wives, and daughters are the victims.”

One Erdington mother of two, who now lives in an East Midlands town after her relationship ended violently last year, wanted women suffering in silence to know help is available.

She said: “Lockdown turned my volatile relationship into a living hell because my fella lost his job and could not go to the pub, so we spent more time with each other than we ever had.

“I suddenly realised I was trapped; I couldn’t phone my friends, sisters, or anyone without him knowing. I forgot to clear the search history on the computer and when he found out I’d been searching for hotels and hostels he snapped.

“He fractured my collar bone and broke my pelvis. But waking up in hospital meant I finally could get help, I never went back. The advice and support I got from my hospital bed with just my phone was incredible, it meant I could leave him and take my children too.”

She added: “I shudder to think what would have happened if I had stayed, but Women’s Aid and the police made me realise I was not alone. Loads of women have gone through the same trauma and come out the other side safe and well.”

Tragically, many victims do not escape their tormentor. In the last ten years at least two women every week have been killed by current or former partners in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics, and 30 men die each year in similar circumstances.

Domestic abuse is also one of the main causes of homelessness. Birmingham City Council and Women’s Aid worked together to create Home Options which matched the expertise of BSWA staff and housing officers to ensure domestic abuse victims would not end up on the streets.

Birmingham City Council cabinet member for housing Councillor Sharon Thompson branded the new approach a success.

She said: “The Home Options is the first of its kind in the country and has demonstrated a valuable and much needed initiative, providing a specialist approach and ‘pathway’ for women and children at risk of, or experiencing homelessness due to domestic abuse.

“Domestic abuse is a complex and serious issue, both nationally and locally here in Birmingham, and remains one of the leading causes of statutory homelessness. It has a profound and long-lasting impact upon the safety, health, and wider life chances of women, children, and families; which can often lead to further crisis such as homelessness and financial exclusion.”

Inspector Haroon Chughtai, who decides the police’s priorities for Erdington, promised abusers who used the pandemic’s unique circumstances to their own advantage would feel the full force of the law.

He said: “Like all major events it (COVID-19) has brought both the best and worst out in people.

“For me, the worst is the perpetrators of domestic abuse who have taken advantage of the restrictions and made life unbearable for their victims. We will continue to everything to bring them to justice.

“Domestic abuse is a 45% increase which equates to around 800 extra victims. It is an abhorrent crime which we are determined to continue tackling and it is one of our top priorities.”

He added: “We have also started a pilot scheme in Kingstanding which takes a more enhanced approach at repeat offenders.”

The stereotype of domestic abuse is a husband emotionally and physically attacking his wife but there are many other scenarios which create victims.

Men have traditionally found it hard to admit or report their female partner abused them. Parents attacking their children, teenagers attacking parents or siblings, are also domestic abuse – as are altercations between same sex partners in the LGBTQ community.

The only way to eradicate the problem entirely is if everyone in society tries to stop it, from neighbours reporting violent incidents to employers offering employees help if they turn up to work with a black eye or bruises.

Kingstanding PCSO Meg Skelding wrote to residents about spotting domestic abuse and how to help.

She said: “Support a friend if they’re being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. If someone confides in you, there is more information on how to support them.

“If you are worried someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.”

She added: “But if you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to someone, or it is an emergency, always call 999.”

If you have been affected by domestic abuse of violence, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

For more on Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid visit www.bswaid.org

For more from Refuge visit www.refuge.org.uk

NEWS: Plans to Save Short Heath Playing Fields “misinterpreted” during high-level meeting with Birmingham City Council

Words & pics by Ed King (pics taken before current Covid/social distancing restrictions)

Local campaigners were left feeling “misinterpreted” this week, following a high-level meeting with Birmingham City Council to discuss proposed developments on Short Heath Playing Fields.

On Monday 22nd March, members of Short Heath Fields Trust met for the second time with Council Leader Ian Ward – joined by Jack Dromey MP for Erdington, Cllr Penny Holbrook (Stockland Green), and senior officials from Birmingham City Council’s housing and regeneration teams.

The meeting was a chance for proposals from both sides to be heard and discussed, with the local community fighting to save the beloved green space which Birmingham City Council have earmarked for a new housing estate.

But despite being promised “a meaningful discussion” members of Short Heath Fields Trust felt their proposal was all but ignored, with Birmingham City Council pricing their plans for a “basic community hub” and simple sports facilities at a “ridiculous” £6.1million plus running costs – including £2.8m for the land and £1.6m for development contingencies.

Talking to Erdington Local after the meeting, campaigners said: “To be honest it started very well, however that didn`t last – the tone of the conversation became very negative towards us.

“We feel the atmosphere in our first meeting was really positive but felt that some members in this latest meeting were very unengaging. It has been a very hard fight to get our community heard and while the conservation was there with some, we felt others were not listening.

“Some commitments were made for us to meet with the planners and a chance to hash things out. But our community`s proposal was very much misinterpreted – to the extent we could question that it had been read.

“We always knew this was a hard fight, as with any battles there are ups and downs. And whilst we didn`t feel this meeting had the momentum or content we were expecting we still have our ‘seat at the table’.

“However, we do feel that more support could have been offered by those that claim to see the value in our community’s needs and ideas for the green space.”

When asked about the multi-million pound project fee Birmingham City Council gave their proposal, representatives of Short Heath Fields Trust told Erdington Local: “We believe the council’s costings are poles apart from what our community proposal put forward.

“How can Birmingham City Council expect us to find £6.1million – and this when our proposal only talked about painting white lines and erecting goal posts. Even the basic community hub we talked about was costed at £500,000; it’s ridiculous.”

During the meeting, held via Microsoft Teams due to continuing Covid restrictions, assurances did come from Birmingham City Council Leader Ian Ward that no developments would take place on the site until a compromise had been reached.

In a statement made direct to Erdington Local, Cllr Ward said: “I want to thank the community representatives, who are clearly passionate about the future of the Short Heath Playing Fields site.

“We had a productive meeting, with plenty of common ground and we’ve agreed that nothing will happen on the site until we’ve worked more closely with the wider community.”

Reaffirming the commitment for compromise from the Council Leader,  Councillor Penny Holbrook (Stockland Green) told Erdington Local: “If the residents want to come up with an alternative plan for the housing developments, that’s fine.

“Cllr Ward (at the meeting) spoke very clearly about how this won’t go forward until there’s an agreement between the community and the council.”

However, campaigners also questioned a seeming U-turn by Cllr Holbrook – who having previously stated her support appeared fully committed to the council’s proposal during Tuesday’s meeting.

When challenged about her stance, Cllr Holbrook told Erdington Local: “I absolutely believe there needs to be housing on the site (Short Heath Playing Fields) because we need to change the housing offering in Stockland Green.

“What I am 100% committed to is making sure all the reinvestment is given back to the community – to the Short Heath Fields Trust, they should be in charge of what funding comes out of this and it should be entirely available to community to decide what happens next.”

Short Heath Fields Trust will now be meeting with Terry Webb, Principal Housing Development Officer for Birmingham City Council, to discuss the development and to challenge the £6.1million+ costing for their proposal.

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington also remains committed to the conversation over plans for Short Heath Playing Fields, having spent months bringing the concerns of his constituents to the highest level of local government.

For more information about the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, visit the group’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/1007069176404521

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

To further support the Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign, you can donate through the official GoFundMe fundraising platform: www.gofundme.com/f/save-short-heath-playing-fields

LOCAL OPINION: How a community came together and made themselves heard

Words by Estelle Murphy – Short Heath Fields Trust / Pics by Ed King & Estelle Murphy

12 months ago, Estelle Murphy joined a growing campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, a beloved green space in Erdington that Birmingham City Council had earmarked for a housing estate.

A year later, as Short Heath Fields Trust prepare for a meeting with Councillor Ian Ward and the heads of planning, Estelle tells Erdington Local how “picking a fight” with the council can change your world, forge friendships, give you grey hair, frustrate you beyond reason, and fill you with pride.

This time last year I would never have dreamed of picking a fight with Birmingham City Council, but these are strange times we are living in.

When the council decided to build on Short Heath Playing Fields, ignoring alternative brown field sites, our community were outraged. Many generations have spent their childhoods on those playing fields and wanted them kept safe for those yet to come.

Modern day life has seen my community drift apart. Rarely looking up from their own worries to say hello, overcrowded HMO’s, unemployment, and families unable to make the choice between heating or food. My community has been tired and fractured.

But a small group of people decided to stand up for right, against wrong. The fight to stop the council building on Short Heath Playing Fields began with a chance encounter of myself and Stephen Hughes, which within an hour grew – adding a few of our neighbours and galvanising into Short Heath Fields Trust.

Fellow campaigners and I got front row seats as we watched our community break and mend itself all in the same breath. Tempers had snapped, and the playing fields became the final nail in the coffin. Our community had watched their way of lives, and neighbourhood, slowly erode – and frustrated people, sick of being ignored, stood side by side, straightened their backs, found their voices and roared. Together as one.

We are nowhere near the end of the fight to save Short Heath Playing Fields, but we do now have a “seat at the table”, a phrase used by Jack Dromey MP. We have had to learn new skills, write proposals, meet councillors, spend hours researching documents, deeds, and legislation.

Staring at laptop screens into the small hours, day after day. It really is like being in a maze; dead ends, wrong turns, blocked pathways, feeling hopelessness, frustration, and despair. I have got lost only to find myself coming back round another corner. I have cried. I have screamed. All because I have stepped into a world where I do not understand the rules of the game.

But then I open my door, step outside, and realise this is not just my fight. It has shown me that the kind of people who step up and stand shoulder to shoulder with you, who fight as hard as you, each in their own unique way, still exist. This is a community fight.

And this fight bought a community together. From the HMO tenants to their neighbours and pensioners, people have picked up litter, cleared overgrown pathways, and cut back brambles. They now laugh, joke, and work together again.

I have seen a young family living in an HMO grateful enough to ask those clearing the entrances to sign small wooden hearts for their new-born son, then proudly bring him to meet the community who organised a Halloween pumpkin hunt on the playing fields.

I have seen OAP’s picking up extra toilet rolls (when we all went mad and emptied the shelves_ leaving them on a young family’s doorstep. There are now families cooking an extra meal every Sunday, to make sure someone alone has something warm inside them.

I have seen my community stand together in the middle of Storm Eric, protesting the council’s refusal to cut the grass on the playing fields, when we asked for the space to be cleared so we could be outside safely in the middle of a pandemic. They were armed with handheld gardening tools determined to do it themselves if they had to.

Now I can’t walk down the street without being asked: “how are we doing” or “any news?” Despite how hard it has been, we have got through it together, and will continue forward together because we are a community. It is inspiring to see and humbling to be a part of.

And I have learned that when you ignore people for long enough, they come together to stand up, to be counted, and to make themselves heard.

For more on the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com – or click here to visit the ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ page on Facebook.