NEWS: Councillor Penny Holbrook found dead at Abbey Road home

Words by Ed King

Stockland Green Councillor Penny Holbrook was found dead at her Abbey Road home on Sunday 21 November, aged 43.

A statement released by Councillor Holbrook’s family said: “We are devastated to announce the death of our beloved Penny. As you will appreciate, this has come as a huge shock to Penny’s family, friends and loved ones.

“Penny was a much-loved daughter, aunt, sister, and friend who always found time to help others and will be missed by so many people. We are heartbroken by this news. As her family, we ask that our privacy is respected at this very difficult time.”

Joining the council in May 2003, Penny Holbrook was only 25 when began representing the Stockland Green ward.

Cllr Holbrook was re-elected in 2004 but lost out to Matt Bennett (Con) in 2008 by only 72 votes.

Then in 2010 she took back Stockland Green with 1760 more votes than her closest rival, retaining the ward ever since. She also sat as Chair of Housing and Neighbourhoods Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

Set to stand for Stockland Green again in the 2022 local elections, Penny Holbrook had been invited back after members of the local Labour party voted overwhelming to present her again, receiving 28 votes for ‘yes’ and only four votes for ‘no’.

Penny Holbrook was raised in Falcon Lodge, Sutton Coldfield, and attended John Wilmott School.

Having also worked in Erdington MP Jack Dromey’s constituency office, Penny had strong ties with the area and was well known by many local residents.

MP for Erdington Jack Dromey said: “Penny was one of Birmingham’s finest, a fierce champion of her beloved Erdington which she served so well.

“She worked for me in my constituency office and served with distinction as a councillor for Stockland Green.

“Local people loved her and there was no problem too big that she could not tackle to help them.

“The loss of Penny is absolutely tragic but her memory lives on. RIP dear Penny.”

Standing for Stockland Green, Penny Holbrook represented the ward alongside Cllr Josh Jones.

Cllr Jones added: “The loss of a friend and comrade is always hard to take, but the loss Penny is a devastating blow to me as we were not just Ward colleagues but close friends who were there to support each other and have helped each other in our political and personal lives ever since.

“She was a great Councillor who achieved great things in Stockland Green, but more importantly was a wonderful person.

“She will be missed tremendously by the people of Stockland Green, her comrades in the Labour Party, but most of all by her friends and family.”

Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward, who ran against Penny Holbrook to become Birmingham Leader by only one vote in 2015, added:

“I am shocked and saddened at the death of my friend and colleague Penny Holbrook. My thoughts and condolences go to her family and friends at this tragic time.”

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