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