Words & pics by Estelle Murphy
(This is an extended article from the one first published in the Erdington Local July newspaper)
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Over 200 people registered for a community meeting on 20 June to address ‘common concerns’ affecting Erdington locals, including crime, HMOs, and exempt housing.
Promoted under the banner ‘strong community breeds safe neighbourhoods’ the meeting further aimed to “show the positive side” of local governance and encourage “a better understanding” between the public and those in power.
Organised by Gravelly Hill resident Roger O’Kelly, the meeting packed out the hall at Six Ways Baptist Church – leaving standing room only as people turned up in droves to hear from senior officials from Birmingham City Council (BCC) and West Midlands Police (WMP).
After introductions from Roger O’Kelly and Naziah Rasheed, who helped arrange speakers for the event alongside Gravelly Hill Councillor Mick Brown, the first question came before anyone got up to speak.
A woman from the eager crowd asked: “how many of the panel live in Erdington please?” Getting no answer, she continued: “…I thought so.”
James Fox, Senior Enforcement Officer (Planning) at BCC, began by walking the crowd through the planning and enforcement process. With many arguing the Council should do more to curb the rise of unruly social housing, Mr Fox surmised the Local Authority have “a duty to investigate reports, but are not duty bound to enforce that report”.
Deborah Moseley (Housing) talked about licensing for HMOs, stating there are 314 currently in Erdington, Gravelly Hill, and Stockland Green.
Then Yvonne Cowley (Supported Exempt Accommodation Team) explained the “minimal support” that Exempt Accommodation provide to receive extra money from housing vulnerable people, and later admitted “we (BCC) do not know what that looks like” when pressed by local campaigner Dawn Edwards.
Crime was the next on the now heated agenda, with Assistant Police & Crime Commissioner Tom McNeil talking about the work being done by WMP and brining new community police officers to Erdington. Mr McNeil also challenged the Exempt Accommodation in Erdington, stating many are run by organised criminals and calling for a vetting scheme for landlords.
Erdington’s Police Inspector Shameem Ahmed then discussed how the local police teams dealt with reports over HMO’s and Exempt Accommodation, and how they were tackling crime on Erdington High Street – admitting until people felt safe it wasn’t enough and asking people to come forward with their intelligence.
Erdington Town Centre Manager, John Hodgkiss, voiced concerns over higher local crime rates than the police realised – despite the Erdington ward being promised extra patrols on the High Street and a pop up police station scheduled for February.
And after one man demanded “what are you doing about the blatant drug dealing on the High Street?”, Sergeant Ahmed responded she would arrange for him to join police on patrol and see for himself.
Rounding off the meeting was Reg Banks from Neighbourhood Watch, speaking about the benefits of the scheme and how to get involved.
Organiser of the well attended community meeting, Roger O’Kelly, told Erdington Local: “We are delighted with the huge turnout, this lively event sends a clear message that Erdington wants to see more success by our local authorities in dealing with low-level crime and exerting greater control over exempt accommodation.”
“We are delighted with the huge turnout… this lively event sends a clear message that Erdington wants to see more success by our local authorities in dealing with low-level crime and exerting greater control over Exempt Accommodation.
“The point of the meeting was to bring understanding of the challenges.
“We achieved that somewhat. After today, we will work with Councillor Mick Brown of Gravelly Hill, Community Support and Development Officer Rachel West of BCC and Rev Chris Seeley of St Chad’s to establish a formal community organisation.
“The flawed financial model around HMOs, which favours enterprise, risks letting Erdington slide further into destitution and casting it as the Skid Row of Great Britain.”
Were you at this community meeting? Did you feel the issues were addressed well, or did you think the speakers left more questions than answers?
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