NEWS: New Town Centre Manager John Hodgkiss sees “massive potential” in Erdington

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington’s new Town Centre Manager, John Hodgkiss, sees “massive potential” in the once busy North Birmingham High Street and shopping district.

Taking over from Terry Guest this August, Mr Hodgkiss will run the Erdington Business Improvement District for at least the next five year term.

Mr Guest is stepping down after successfully taking the BID to another ballot in November last year – returning nearly 74% in favour for renewing the Erdington business partnership, with 45 of the 61 votes cast by local businesses saying ‘yes’.

Mr Hodgkiss has a longstanding record as a Town Centre Manger, having launched business improvement districts in both the Midlands and London.

Having worked on the Victoria BID in London, his portfolio included many high profile businesses and entrepreneurs – including the Royal Family’s most recognised home, Buckingham Place.

Having launched one on the UK’s first industrial site BIDs in London, and successfully establishing and managing one of the Midlands largest BIDs in West Bromwich, Hodgkiss has a proven track record of building business communities and town centre partnerships.

Now focused on Erdington, with a clear vision to transform the High Street and promote local commerce, the experience Town Centre Manager has high hopes for the once bustling North Birmingham thoroughfare.

John Hodgkiss told Erdington Local: “My job is to make Erdington one of Birmingham’s most enjoyable and exciting satellite centres to be in. I want to make it a safer place, a greener place, and a place that crucially well marketed.

“So, one of my initial aspirations would be to go out and start doing some business visits ASAP – and that will be a good mix between national retailers, independents, as well as other major stakeholders such as the police, emergency services, market traders, and all kinds of people who have a vested interest in making Erdington even better.”

Despite the series of high profile shops and banks leaving Erdington High Street, including Boots – which closed its Erdington store the week he came into post, John Hodgkiss remains optimistic the area’s future.

When asked what attracted him the Erdington, which also has recently missed out two multi million pounds of Government investment to regenerate the High Street, Hodgkiss was keen to focus on the positives.

He added: “The key words for Erdington are ‘massive potential’, and the BID is going to be here for the next five years at least.

“In the past roles I’ve been successful at looking at things like match funding, so although it’s not a never-ending pot of money by any means there is leverage to look at getting money for small projects – but also to keep banging away with money that should still be available through the Conservative government’s Levelling Up agenda. And with a change in leadership might be bigger and more important than ever.

“I feel passionate about making a change in the current economic climate, and I don’t see anywhere with the potential that Erdington has.

“It’s a great place to be, the community is great, there is a retail offer here already – particularly in making day to day living a lot easier.

“And there is scope to bring in new blood to the town, new retailers to the town, new small businesses, and rally drive the local economy forward.”

Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden, who ultimately oversees the Edington BID, was positive about the fresh approach.

He told Erdington Local: “It is great to welcome John as our new town centre manager for Erdington. He comes with previous experience of working in town centres and delivering regeneration in urban areas.

“This is going to be key as we look to work with the Town Centre Manager, BID, and local partners to deliver our plans for transformation of Erdington High Street. We very much look forward to working with John in the years ahead.”

Cllr Gareth Moore was also quick to praise the work of Terry Guest, who has steered the Erdington BID since 2011 – including through the Covid pandemic.

Cllr Moore added: “We would also like to thank Terry Guest, the outgoing town centre manager, who has been a brilliant servant for our area.

“During his time as manager, he has helped support businesses through Covid and been the rock at the heart of Erdington High Street for a decade. We wish him all the best in his retirement.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit https://erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk/

NEWS: The Recovery Foundation showcases over 100 pieces of local artwork at Secret Art Studio Space

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ellycia Gardner – with additional images from Ali Walker and Robert Alden

On Monday, 8 August, The Recovery Foundation launched their art showcase  exhibition at the Secret Arts Studio Space (SASS) in Erdington.

Over the past few months, more than 50 local residents picked up a pencil or paint brush, many without any previous art experience, to create over 100 pieces of original artwork – as part of a programme of workshops to support mental health, wellbeing, and social inclusion.

Still on display at SASS, situated downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre, The Recovery Foundation exhibition can be seen through the gallery windows and on selected open days – and will remain installed over the next few weeks.

Running six separate groups over six weeks, The Recovery Foundation art sessions were free to access workshops – supporting anyone with “lived experience of mental illness”, or those just looking for a social or creative outlet.

Formed in 2020 by Emma Sitole, after her own issues with mental health and subsequent recovery, The Recovery Foundation places ‘hope’ and the centre of its support programmes.

Also embracing creativity and art as helpful tools of recovery, the six week workshops followed a series of oversubscribed Art in Parks sessions, where people would come together in outdoor green spaces, such as Rookery Park,  to learn new art techniques.

As part of a post lockdown programme to help bring people out of isolation and come together again in community groups, the subsequent workshops allowed The Recovery Foundation to continue its work in Erdington – reaching out to more people and building a wider network of budding creatives.

Emma Sitole explained: “We trialled Art in Parks last year, which was really successful, and off the back of that people were saying they’d love something that explored different techniques and looked into different things.

“Angie (Chapman), our Creative Arts Director, put together a programme and we’ve seen about 50 people come through our doors with these workshops.

“It’s a privilege to walk alongside people and see them discover they’re really creative – and they’ve created some incredible artwork.

“Today is the showcase… there’s a real sense of pride around people wanting to show what they’ve created.

“There’s been a lovely buzz about the place, some lovely conversations. But also lovely to see that community come back together again and support each other.”

A local mum, Ali Walker, took part in The Recovery Foundation art workshops after suggesting the programme to a friend.

With a new born baby to look after, who she took to each session, Ali found the workshops a chance to meet other people and further explore her passion for art – already being a keen photographer.

Attending the showcase exhibition at SASS with her now 10 month old daughter, Ali told Erdington Local: “I got a range of things from it (the art workshops), on the art side I learnt a lot of skills and techniques and things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

“On the other side of things, it was connecting with people from different backgrounds and getting involved in all sorts of conversations. And getting to know about Erdington a lot more, which I really enjoyed.

“I was trying to encourage someone I know, who struggles with their wellbeing, to come along but they couldn’t make it.

“I’d already put my name down and thought because I’m a new mother it was a good chance to get out for myself as well.”

After the success of Art in Parks and the subsequent art sessions, The Recovery Foundation are looking to establish a more permanent home in Erdington – and will be running another series of creative workshops in September.

Birmingham based professional mixed media artist, Eddy Aigbe, knows first hand the impact both creating and exhibiting art can have on people’s sense of self-worth.

Eddy told: “It’s something I’ve promoted myself in my previous job, where we had a community centre in Lozells.

“The problem was a lot of people were isolated and had mental health issues… and had a lot of talent. Just like you do here in Erdington – there’s a lot of talent going on.

“But there’s not much space to exhibit and show it off. A key part in being an artist is not just producing the work but showing it off – it validates you as an individual.

“As an artist, it’s a way to evaluate all the processes, styles, and everything you’ve been doing.”

The Recovery Foundation art workshop showcase on Monday, 8 August was open to the public, with the exhibition still on display at SASS.

Local resident and campaigner Basharat Dad attended the showcase’s opening. He told Erdington Local: “I think it’s brilliant, The Recovery Foundation have been great at engaging with the local community.

“Some of the artwork is the first-time people have tried art, and they’ve created some amazing pieces.

“There’s more of a need in Erdington, in terms of art spaces and projects, that could really help not just with mental health but also community building and bringing people together.”

Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden also attended The Recovery Foundation art showcase launch.

Cllr Alden has long championed the constituency’s creative industry and endevours, alongside his running mate Cllr Gareth Moore – from the mural on the hoardings around the old Maplin site, to the ongoing Active Arts and Kaleidoscope events.

Cllr Alden added: “It was great to be at The Recovery Foundation art event in Central Square and to see so many people from across the area together who had benefited from the art sessions that they have put on locally, especially in Rookery Park.

“These kind of events can help provide people with that support and community conversations that help people when they need it.

“Cllr Gareth Moore and I will be doing what we can to help support The Recovery Foundation with their plans for further events and services to support the local area in the coming months and years.

“While this was their first Erdington art show, at the Secret Art Studio Space, I have no doubt it won’t be their last.

“Well done to all of the local residents who produced some stunning pieces of art as part of the show.”

For more on The Recovery Foundation visit www.therecoveryfoundation.org.uk

NEWS: Cllr Robert Alden hits back at Heather Wheeler MP’s “godawful” Birmingham comment

Words by Ed King

Erdington Ward councillor Robert Alden, and leader of the Birmingham Conservatives, has hit back at comments recently made by Heather Wheeler MP who referred to Birmingham and Blackpool as “…godawful.”

Sparking widespread outrage across Birmingham, and a slew of social media comments with pictures celebrating the beauty and rich culture to be found across the city, Mrs Wheeler’s off the cuff remark upset two entire cities and angered tens of thousands more across the UK.

In an open letter to his Conservative Party colleague, Cllr Alden challenged the ‘all too common prejudicial view of our city’ whilst citing ‘the birthplace of the industrial revolution’ as the ‘engine room of the UK economy.’

Cllr Alden went on to celebrate Birmingham’s ‘big heart’, and how it is a ‘safe haven… for those facing religious persecution’ – as represented by the City of Sanctuary status Birmingham has held since 2015.

He continued to cite Birmingham’s ‘culture of philanthropy’, ‘industrial heritage’, and ‘more Michelin restaurant than anywhere else in the country outside London’ – even offering to show Mrs Wheeler around his proud home city when she visits for the Conservative Party conference.

Birmingham has been the host of the Conservative Party Conference for many years, with the next all-party event planned for October 2022.

Member of Parliament for South Derbyshire, and both a Cabinet Office Parliamentary Secretary Assistant Government Whip, Mrs Wheeler made the remark during the launch of the Government’s new digital strategy on Thursday 9 June.

Mrs Wheeler MP was reported as saying: “I was just at a conference in Blackpool or Birmingham or somewhere godawful.”

Apologising for her remarks the following day, Mrs Wheeler MP posted on Twitter she had “…made an inappropriate remark that does not reflect [her] actual view”.

But the derisive comment had already been picked up by mainstream media, sparking ager and defence from politicians and public alike – with many taking to social media to visually and verbally challenge the comments.

Erdington neighbour and Yardley MP Jess Phillips was quick to respond, stating that whilst she understands: “people make off the cuff remarks regrettably all the time” it is the “implied snobbery that’s the problem.”

Phillips continued to recognise that whilst “it’s ok not to like everywhere. It’s not ok to look down on them in a sneering way” – before challenging Mrs Wheeler’s perceived “patriotism” as needing to be “much more than singing Jerusalem and waving flags” and “finding the joy from the people and the grit as well as the scenery in our country.”

Also appearing on social media, a post of Heather Wheeler MP contributing to Parliament via a digital platform in 2020, amidst social distancing restrictions, seems to show the South Derbyshire MP use inappropriate language whilst addressing the House.

NEWS: Public Space Protection Order finally back on Erdington High Street

Words & pics by Ed King

After years of campaigning, Erdington High Street and the surrounding streets are now back under a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) – giving local law enforcement greater powers in tackling street crime, drinking, and anti-social behaviour.

Following a combined effort from the Erdington Business Improvement District (BID), Erdington Ward Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, and members of the North Local Partnership Delivery Group (LPDG) – working alongside West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council – Erdington’s PSPO was finally approved and back in operation from Monday, 16 May.

Brought in under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, a PSPO allows local police teams to forcibly remove anyone from the ‘Restricted Area’ they suspect are intoxicated, behaving aggressively, or causing problems for other people – without an official crime being reported.

Starting on the corner of Oakfield and Wood End Road, the PSPO for Erdington covers from Orchard Road and across Sutton New Road – encompassing Abbey Catholic Primary School and Highclare School – then back up Summer Road to Six Ways Island and Erdington High Street.

With the previous PSPO running out in 2018, many residents, businesses, and constituency stakeholders have been championing to have it reinstated.

The latest application being submitted in December 2021, following a period where objections against the order could be heard.

But despite seeming to be a unified ambition, there have historically been some objections against the PSPO in Erdington which stymied the process of reinstating the order.

Several reasons for the four year delay have been suggested, with Terry Guest, Erdington Town Centre Manger, previously telling Erdington Local:

“There’s a few stories about why it hasn’t been renewed. One is that someone objected on the grounds that the PSPO included beggars, and there was an objection against the human rights of beggars – because initially the order included the removal of beggars off the High Street.

“No one should be homeless, and we’ve done quite a lot of work with the police and their partners in helping people who are homeless.

“There’s another aspect to this and that’s professional begging, where people aren’t homeless, aren’t poor, and are begging on the High Street as a crime basically.”

Policing across the West Midlands has been slashed since 2010, with the regionwide budget losing £175m over the last 12 years. Over 2200 police officers have been lost, including around half of all officers allocated to neighbourhood and community policing.

With policing resources stretched and response teams taking priority, many have felt the PSPO would give much needed support to those officers still patrolling Erdington High Street.

However, even after the PSPO was passed at the end of 2021 the order still required Birmingham City Council to install signage before it could be enforced – which took nearly another six months.

Special training for local business owners was also needed from West Midlands Police, working alongside the Erdington Street Warden, Erdington Street Pastors, and private businesses security staff.

Following the eventual reinstalment of the PSPO last month, Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden said:

“We’re disappointed it has taken as long as this to get the signage up and training in place – for the zone to be enforceable it requires signs to go up on lampposts and training to be provided by the police, which we needed to get the Council to implement.

“But it’s now really positive that everything’s in place, and Gareth (Moore) and I have been working with the Erdington BID and the police to make sure that got moving.

“Now the police can start enforcing it (the PSPO) and hopefully it will lead to a safer High Street for people to be able to enjoy spending their time and shopping on.”

NEWS: Erdington Litter Busters receive Lord Mayor Award for cleaning up constituency

Words by Ed King

On Thursday 24 May, Erdington Litter Busters (ELB) received a Lord Mayor’s Award for their services to Erdington.

ELB have been sweeping up the constituency streets since 2018 and currently have a ‘growing community of volunteers’ going out across Erdington on the first Saturday of each month.

The group also look after a 3.5 mile track of canal and run their ‘Adopt a Street’ programme, where individual members litter pick around where they live – the initiative currently has around 200 streets ‘adopted’ across Erdington.

A social group as well and an enterprise, the Erdington Litter Busters also meet for ‘a friendly coffee and chat’ after each monthly litter pick, tend a local allotment together, and can be seen involved in countless other community groups – from street paintings to saving playing fields.

Nominated for the Lord Mayor’s Award by Cllrs Robert Alden and Gareth Moore (Local Conservatives, Erdington) and Cllr Mick Brown (Labour, Gravelly Hill), Erdington Litter Busters were notified of their success in a special letter from the Lord Mayor’s office at the end of April.

One of the last duties before his yearlong term came to an end, Birmingham’s erstwhile Lord Mayor Muhammad Afzal presented two of the ELB founders, Dawn Edwards and Rob Gunnell, with the award in the Council Chamber at the Birmingham Council House in Victoria Square.

Given annually by the exiting Lord Mayor, the awards recognise individuals and organisations who have ‘improved the reputation’ of Birmingham or ‘improved the lives of a great number of people’ in the city.

The nomination criteria highlight the awards will only be given to honour “outstanding achievement or exceptional service to the City and people of Birmingham”.

Joining Dawn and Rob at the awards ceremony were the three local councillors who nominated the group, and who have all put party politics aside for the good of the community and joined the ELB on numerous ‘clean ups’.

Many political wards across Erdington are blighted by roadside rubbish, illegal fly tipping, and waning Council waste disposal services – with virtually every candidate in the recent local elections highlighting the issue on their campaign trail.

After receiving the coveted award, Erdington Litter Busters Dawn Edwards and Rob Gunnell told Erdington Local:

“This was a golden opportunity to receive such a prestigious award on behalf of our ELB team and for the many volunteers who continue to make such a huge difference to where we live.

“It also continues to be a huge privilege to be a part of a community initiative which started out four years ago and has now diversified significantly with other projects in the area.

“We very much appreciated being nominated by local councillors, Mick Brown, Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, who have been supportive from the onset.

“It is our desire to build on our partnership with the City Council in a way which enhances our understanding of their plans and strategies for supporting community groups like ours”

Cllr Robert Alden commented: “We were delighted to jointly nominate Rob and Dawn for the Lord Mayor’s Award and were delighted to be there for the awarding of it. They have both done brilliant work for our area helping to tackle fly tipped rubbish, litter and graffiti.

“All of the litter busters do a wonderful job, and we have and continue to be very happy to support the group in any way we can to help us all show pride in Erdington.”

Cllr Gareth Moore said: “Congratulations to Dawn and Rob for all their brilliant efforts leading Erdington Litter busters. A massive thank you to everyone who also volunteers with the litter busters all your efforts are hugely appreciated.

“We have been delighted to work with all the litter busters over the last few years and look forward to continuing to do so in the years ahead – together we are all making a real difference to our local area.”

Cllr Mick Brown added: “You often hear stories in the media about people who have made a real difference in their communities but never expect to actually meet one; well in Dawn and Rob I have had the privilege of meeting not one but two.

“I never cease to be amazed at not only their commitment to personally making a difference but to their ability to inspire others to want to make difference as well.”

For more on Erdington Litter Busters visit www.erdingtonlitterbusters.com or www.facebook.com/groups/ErdingtonLitterBusters

NEWS: Erdington’s city councillors announced as local election results declared

Words by Ed King

Voters across Erdington have decided their next council representatives, as the results of the local elections were announced today.

Winning the Castle Vale Ward, Labour’s Ray Goodwin was “blown away” by the support he received from local voters – beating The Green Party’s John Macefield by a narrow 44 votes, but with a confident 233 lead over the Local Conservative candidate Tyrese Romain.

He told Erdington Local: “I’m absolutely blown away; this is absolutely amazing. I did wonder if I should stand, but as many people know it was Jack’s (Dromey, Erdington’s recently deceased MP) last wishes was that I stand, and it was really important that I did. So, in my mind I did it for Jack. And Jack, I won it for you as well.”

The Green Party also picked up many new votes in the Gravelly Hill Ward, where newly standing candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes achieved 363 votes – beating the Local Conservative candidate into second place by 35 votes.

Although not enough to take the ward from Labour’s Mick Brown, who has traditionally held a strong lead in Gravelly Hill, The Green Party’s endorsement from local voters shows a significant move away from previous local election – with Labour losing over 400 votes from the 2018 results.

Green party candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes told: “Of course, I am disappointed but really not surprised.

“I have loved every minute of the Gravelly Hill campaign, meeting people, getting to grips with local issues and of course solving problems.

“We have gained a lot of support and the Green Party has made a footprint across the city. At local elections people must vote for the candidate they believe in and it’s clear, their belief is still unanimously with the sitting councillor.

“My work as a Green Party advocate has only just begun and I will still be around pushing forward on green issues.”

Labour continued to clean up across the constituency, with both candidates in Stockland Green – Jane Jones and Amar Khan – successfully retaining the ward for the party, although losing hundreds of votes from the 2018 elections.

Local Conservatives’ new Stockland Green candidate, Estelle Murphy – who moved into politics after successfully campaigning to save Short Heath Playing Fields – was voted in third, and the only front runner candidate to improve on her counterpart’s performance in the 2018 elections.

She told: “This has been a brilliant learning curve as a first innings and I’m looking forward to what I can achieve in the next four years.”

Elsewhere across the constituency, Perry Common was won by Labour’s Jilly Bermingham, who beat the Conservative candidate Rachael Okello with a 204 vote lead.

Whilst Pype Hayes was won by Labour’s Basharat Mahmood, beating Local Conservative Clifton Welch by 91 votes – mirroring the closely fought contest in the 2018 local elections.

Cllr Robert Alden and Cllr Gareth Moore retained the Erdington Ward with a confident majority, the largest in the constituency, collectively beating Labour’s Suriyah Bi and Basharat Mahmood by 1189 votes.

Speaking to Erdington Local after the announcement, Cllr Alden said: “It’s a huge honour to represent the people of Erdington, something I’ve been delighted to do for almost 20 years.

“Erdington’s an incredible place and we’ll keep doing all we can to represent the people of Erdington.”

Cllr Gareth Moore added: “The responses, over the last few weeks on the campaign trail, have been really positive and people are grateful for the work Robert (Alden) and I have been doing in Erdington and it’s great to see that reflected in the result today.”

But the shock of the day came in Kingstanding, as Labour and Local Conservatives split the ward with one candidate winning for each party – Rick Payne taking 1286 votes for the Local Conservatives, and Des Hughes receiving 1350 for Labour.

Whilst both candidates were saddened their running mates would not be join them in local office, each were firm that they would work together for the good of Kingstanding.

Local Conservative Rick Payne told: “I just want to thank all the people of Kingstanding who have put their trust in me to represent them as a councillor.

“And I will work with who I have to work with to get the best for Kingstanding.”

Labour’s Des Hughes, who was elected Kingstanding councillor in 2015 but lost the ward the following year, added: “I’m delighted that the electors in Kingstanding have given me the opportunity to represent them again, which I look forward to doing with enthusiasm and vigour.

“I do regret that my college, Naz Rasheed, isn’t able to join me. But ultimately, we’ve (Rick Payne, Local Conservatives) got our political differences, but the objective is to serve the residents of Kingstanding and that’s what counts.”

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

ELECTION NEWS: “…the work starts now,” Paulette Hamilton wins Birmingham Erdington by-election for Labour

By Erdington Local election news team

After weeks of a fiercely fought campaign trail, with twelve MP hopefuls from mainstream parties and independents in the running, Labour’s candiate Paulette Hamilton has been voted in as Erdington’s next Member of Parliament.

Winning with 9,413 votes, a majority of 3266, the Holyhead councillor will now be on her way to Westminster as Erdington’s next voice in the House.

Despite a significantly low turnout, where only 27 % of registered voters made their way to a polling station earlier in the day, Birmingham Erdington remains a Labour seat – one the pary have held since 1945.

“Thank you to every single person who used their vote to vote for me,” Hamilton told the crowd at Erdington Academy, where ballot papers had been counted since before 11pm on Thursday night.

She continued: “I am truly honoured and humbled to be elected as the Member of Parliament, I will not take your vote for granted.

“I have met many of you and I have heard what you have to say and I commit to you now, I will work for you – for Erdington, for Castle Vale, and for Kingstanding. I have made promises to you that I intend to keep and I cannot wait to get started.

“I will be your voice in Westminster and challenge this government to get a better deal for Erdington.

“It’s what we deserve, it’s what you deserve, and the work starts now to get it done.

Having been focused on the quickly called by-election, with the Labour Party whip’s office announcing the early March date only hours after Jack Dromey’s funeral – Erdington’s previous MP who died on 7 January – Paulette Hamilton is hoping to take some time to mourn for her father, who also died tragically as her campaign trail began.

But the long serving councillor and freshly appointed MP is already making plans to serve her new constituency, as she assumes her new role as political champion for Erdington, Castle Vale, and Kingstanding.

She added: “We have got some many things that residents have asked us to do, and my plan is, as soon as possible, to get stated with that.

“Some of the things that are at the top of my list are relating to the local (Erdington) high street, crime and anti social behaviour, Short Heath Playing Fields – which people feel passionately about – and HMOs and exempt accommodation, working with other MPs to ensure we tighten the legislation in those areas.

“I’ve had a lot of people supporting, helping, and ensuring that I can be the best MP that I can be. And I believe after 18 years of being a very good councillor, I believe this is my time to step up and show – not just the constituency, but the country – what Paulette Hamilton can do.”

Coming in second place, Robert Alden secured 6147 for the Conservatives, once again narrowing the gap between the two main parties fighting over the Birmingham Erdington seat.

Having battled it out against Jack Dromey over the past four General Elections, many thought Alden might win the longstanding Labour seat in this by-election – as concerns about the Labour run Local Authority continue to grow across the constituency.

“We’ll be taking the momentum from this election into the local elections in May,” said Alden, after the results were announced, “and it was really interesting speaking to residents during this election because they had Labour canvassers on the door saying: ‘I know you’re angry with the Labour Council, but just hold your nose and vote Labour.’

“It’s clear that Birmingham Labour has a real problem… the way they’ve treated people in the city, the way they’ve left our streets unclean, the way they’ve left the roads unfixed. And we’ll be taking that fight to them in the May elections, to challenge Birmingham Labour and hold them to account.”

He added: “What you’re seeing is a seat that’s been a Labour seat for the last 85 years and the fact that the majority is so small here today is really a damning indictment of where the Labour Party is nationally.

“A result like you’re seeing tonight is showing that the Conservative Party is very much where it was in 2019 and doing a good job in representing the country. And locally we’ll continue doing all we can to help stand up for the local area.

Despite a clear lead between the front running two parties and others on the ballot, Dave Nellist secured third place for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) with 360 votes.

Fourth place went to Jack Brookes with 293 votes for Reform UK, narrowly beating the 236 votes won by Siobhan Harper-Nunes for the Green Party.

Lee Dargue secured 173 votes for the Liberal Democrats, whilst Michael Ludwytche was the highest ranking independent candidate with 109 votes.

Results for the remaining candidates, all securing under 100 votes each, were: Mel Mbondiah (79, Christian Peoples Alliance), Thomas O’Rourke (76, Independent), The Good Knight Sir NosDa (49, Monster Raving Loony Party), Clifton Holmes (14, Independent), and Dave Bishop (8, Church of the Militant Elvis).

But whilst celebration, commiseration, and cardboard boxes will be prominent in by-election campaign offices across Erdington tonight, announcements for candidates standing in the 5 May Local Elections are expected next week.

A General Election will soon follow, to be held in either 2023 or 2024, where the Birmingham Erdington seat will be contested again.

Paulette Hamilton (Labour) voted in as Erdington’s next Member of Paliament

ELECTION NEWS: MP hopefuls and party representatives battle it out at the only all candidate Erdington by-election hustings

By Erdington Local election news team

On Sunday, 27 February, candidates running in the Birmingham Erdington by-election got the chance to battle it out on the first election hustings – held at the GRS Lions Club, Church Road, Erdington.

Sitting in front of a packed house, with all 120 seats filled with politically engaged locals, nine of the twelve MP hopefuls and party representatives answered questions asked by Erdington residents and registered voters.

Organised by Erdington Local and Churches Together, the event was the only Erdington by-election hustings to invite all candidates to attend, with others refusing to include independent or ‘fringe’ candidates.

The Erdington Local and Churches Together hustings were chaired by Rev. Emma Sykes from St. Barnabas Church and Ed King, editor of Erdington Local.

All but the Monster Raving Loony Party and the Militant Bus Pass Elvis Party had representation, although stand ins were sent by both the Labour Party and the Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA). Tommy O’Rouke (The Peaky Blinders / Independent) withdrew last minute due to food poisoning.

Labour candidate Paulette Hamilton was unable to attend due to family arrangements, needing that Sunday to help organise her father’s funeral – who died unexpectedly at the start of her campaign. Preet Gill MP (Labour, Edgbaston) stood in for Paulette Hamilton, with the Labour Party confirming her availability on Friday, 25 February.

The CPA’s candidate, Mel Mbondiah, is a pastor in Walsall and “Sunday is a difficult day for her”, according to her campaign agent and CPA leader, Sid Corlde – despite having told Erdington Local during their campaigning on Erdington High Street the day before the party were worried about questions over LGBT issues.

Originally planned for Saturday, 26 February, the date was moved to the Sunday as no suitable venue was available on the day before, with many candidates and others involved in the event also unable to make the Saturday.

The first to formally decline, there had been no response from the Labour Party about either date as other candidates confirmed Sunday as the preferred option. Whilst the CPA showed an initial interest in both dates, the party pulled their candidate at 10:30pm the day before the hustings.

Neither the Labour Party nor the CPA requested a different day or time in order for their candidate to attend, with both parties opting to send a party representative as a stand in.

After a brief introduction, where the CPA stand in, Simon Brookes, awkwardly opened by admitting his own party’s candidate should have attended the hustings herself, the candidates and representatives took questions from selected local community groups and institutions.

Co-founder of the Erdington Community Volunteers, Jo Bull, wanted those hoping to become Erdington’s next Member of Parliament to explain how they would increase mental health provision and the availability of immediate care.

Finding herself “very much out of my comfort zone” standing in a room full of people and political candidates, Jo’s question garnered a supportive round of applause from the room and a volley of answers from the people on stage – with Lee Dargue (Lib Dems) recalling his own struggles with depression and highlighting the absurdity of metal health support ‘by appointment only’.

The Crisis Café at the Beechcroft Centre on Slade Road, a well-known and used service for local residents struggling with mental health issues, will still only see people pre-arranged and during limited opening hours.

Next to stand up was Stephen Hughes, Chair of Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) whose two year fiercely fought battle against Birmingham City Council resulted in a suspension of plans to build an estate on the Perry Common/Stockland Green parkland.

Following a question to all candidates about their commitment to “save and protect green spaces” such as Short Heath Playing Fields, Mr Hughes wanted clarification from Ms Gill – standing in for Paulette Hamilton – what “credence” her answers had on behalf of the absentee Labour candidate.

Determined to get this point nailed down, Mr Hughes highlighted how “Ms Hamilton repeatedly has refused to meet with our group; she is the only candidate not to come down (to Short Heath playing fields) and answer questions.”

Ms Gill responded by saying Paulette Hamilton would take over the good work done by the recently deceased Jack Dromey MP in saving the fields, which immediately irked audience members and Mr Hughes alike, who simply responded: “…it wasn’t Jack Dromey who saved the playing fields it was Short Heath Fields Trust and our community that stopped the houses being built.”

And then Ms Gill uttered perhaps the most important sentence of the night, she said: “Paulette (Hamilton) wants you to know she will get a commitment from the cabinet not to build on the playing fields.”

A statement which would mean a victory for Short Heath Playing Fields Trust, Councillor Robert Alden (Conservative) scented an open goal and ran in saying: “Councillor (Paulette) Hamilton had voted for houses to be built on the land several times as she is part of the cabinet which wanted the estate built.

“She has voted against Erdington at every opportunity.”

Mr Hughes was delighted with the commitment, he agreed: “We saved the playing fields, but we need the cabinet to say they will never build on the land.

“Preet Gill said she was speaking on behalf of Paulette Hamilton and that promise to get a commitment from the cabinet is now on the public record, I just wish she (Hamilton) would have said it herself.”

Trying to cram in as much as possible, each candidate had been allocated one minute to answer questions.

But as the evening wore on answers got longer and strayed further from the point, in some cases totally ignoring the original question.

After an initial question about what the candidates would do to improve the outside perception of Kingstanding – which got lost in translation for most of the panel, apart from independent candidate Michael Lutwyche and the Conservative’s Robert Alden – Gary Byrne, Vice Principal of Kings Rise Academy, asked what each candidate would do to help him improve and “tweak” his curriculum internally to benefit the children in Kingstanding.

With candidates proffering a volley of education based analysis and rhetoric, Mr Byrne became so frustrated at the Green candidate, Siobhan Harper-Nunes, who said she had sent her children to “alternative education”, he eventually sat after declaring the panel were “just not answering the question.”

Claire Westmacott, a volunteer from Bethany Foodbank, asked what the candidates would do for people leaving hospital care without food – but only after making the point she too had asked Paulette Hamilton (Labour) to visit her organisation but had been met with silence.

Jack Brookes (Reform UK) jumped on the question to ask his own to the audience, and the world beyond: “Do you want to freeze to death or starve to death? We need to start fracking; we have 50 years of gas under our feet.”

An ecologically questionable stance unpopular with the crowd, Mr Brookes’ comment also prompted Lee Dargue to demand “…where?”, before looking at the floor as if there was a gas field under the Church Road venue.

Having the timing and confidence of a stand up comedian, the Liberal Democrat also earned a hearty laugh from the audience by saying: “this is the cleanest mic in history” when handed the freshly cleaned microphone, which was being constantly wiped with special sanitiser throughout the evening.

However, it was not just jokes coming from Mr Darge, whose often clear and direct responses earned favour with the Erdington crowd – in an area historically underrepresented by the Liberal Democrats. With the local elections only months away, it led many in the room to wonder how the traditionally placed ‘third party’ will fare on 5 May.

Mr Lutwyche, who also grew more and more popular with the crowd for his straight talking and fiercely local approach, got a round of applause for saying nothing sickened him more than seeing a politician posing in front of a foodbank.

However, as the issue rolled down the panel, none of the candidates succeeded in giving a proper solution to the original question about those leaving hospital going home to starve.

Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim (Redeemed Christian Church of God, Erdington) asked what the candidates would do to stop street crime on Erdington High Street. In September 2021, Pastor Rasaq helped bring the nationwide Street Pastors service to the area – resulting in significant success on Erdington High Street and filling some of the gap left by cuts to community policing.

Several of the politicians reached into their bag of statistics to bolster their arguments but could often be contradicted by each others ‘facts’ and figures. Labour’s complaint Birmingham has lost 1,000 policemen under the Conservative Government was met with a Conservative statistic they had put hundreds of coppers back on the beat.

And with a Labour Police and Crime Commissioner and a Conservative Home Office, both main parties could easily blame each other for rising crime.

However, one statistic truly ridiculed by the audience was the assertion from Christian Peoples Alliance representative Simon Clarke, that 94% of prisoners were criminals without fathers; when heckled about the number he retorted the statistics included the American prison system.

But the issue so many people wanted answering was left until last, and Stockland Green resident Chris, who lives in an area blighted by HMOs and badly managed exempt accommodation, delivered it perfectly.

He wanted to know how the Conservatives and Labour would solve the problem when several of their councillors in Birmingham are HMO landlords themselves.

Prompting Robert Alden (Conservatives) and Lee Dargue (Lib Dems) to publicly clarify neither they nor their family had profited from HMOs, the question got a rowdy shout out from one audience member saying that other candidates vying to be Erdington’s next MP could not say the same.

However, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate, Dave Nellist, who had joined in the hustings via Zoom as he was self-isolating and recovering from Covid, saved his best interjection till last.

In response to the question about HMOs, and Ms Gill’s declaration the Labour run Local Authority was having its hands tied by a Conservative Government, Mr Nellist offered actual examples of what could be done:

Mr Nellist said: “Go to Newham, a Labour run council in London, and see how they have solved the HMO problem by compulsory purchasing these properties… but Birmingham Council will not do this, why not?”

Proper old school politics, answering a question with an actual answer, the room applauded Mr Nellist ardently.

As the clock raced past the allotted two hours debating time, the chairs of the Erdington by-election hustings began to call the event to an end.

A full and engaged room, crammed with both pertinent points and empty rhetoric, the debate over Edrington’s future had raged – with every seat in the house taken by a concerned local resident looking for the best candidate to represent them in Westminster.

As people were asked to leave the venue with the spirit of democracy and not politically tribal anger, the last words spoken through a microphone surmised what had brought all these people out on a Sunday evening, with one of the evening’s chairs reminding the room: “…and don’t forget to vote on Thursday.”

Polling day for the Birmingham Erdington Parliamentary by-election is on Thursday, 3 March.

The 12 candidates contesting the seat are: Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Labour), Cllr Robert Alden (Conservative), Dave Nellist (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition), Lee Dargue (Liberal Democrats), Michael Lutwyche (Independent), Jack Brookes (Reform UK), Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Green), Thomas O’Rouke (Independent), Mel Mbondiah (Christian People’s Alliance), Clifton Holmes (Independent), David Laurence Bishop (Militant Bus-Pass Elvis Party), The Good Knight Sir NosDa (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party).

OPINION: “Conservative candidate Robert Alden is key to our plans,” says Secretary of State for Levelling Up

As the Birmingham Erdington by-election heats up, and voters explore all the candidates and manifestos to decide who is right to represent Erdington in Westminster, the Rt Honourable Michael Gove MP – Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – throws his weight behind the Conservative candidate, Robert Alden.

Polling day for the Birmingham Erdington Parliamentary by-election is on Thursday, 3 March.

Words by Rt Honourable Michael Gove MP

While talent is spread evenly across the UK, opportunity is not. In too many communities there’s a feeling that the only way to get on is to get out.

This needs to change — and it needs to change for good. That’s why our government’s defining mission is to level up this country.

We want opportunity to reach talent wherever it exists, investment to move wherever it’s needed. We don’t want to slice the pie in a different way; we want to grow the pie for everyone.

So levelling up is a team effort. And local champions like Robert Alden, the Conservative candidate at Erdington’s by-election, are key to this team. Let me explain.

Together with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and local MPs like Gary Sambrook, the government has already started to level up Birmingham — and not just the city centre.

Backed by hundreds of millions of pounds in government funding, the Commonwealth Games are helping to create jobs and drive investment to Birmingham. The regeneration of Perry Barr will be a lasting legacy in itself, restoring the community and transforming facilities for residents.

HS2 will put Birmingham right at the heart of our national high-speed rail network. The long-term benefits will see world-class businesses set up in the region and expand the local economy, while the short-term benefits are already being felt in the form of new jobs, including a thousand extra jobs to construct the new Curzon Street in the city centre.

So levelling up isn’t something that may or may not take place in the future; it’s happening, it’s happening right now, and at the risk of repeating myself, it’s happening across the West Midlands.

We’re regenerating the former MG Rover factory in Longbridge, a development that will create thousands of good jobs with decent pay. We’re recruiting hundreds of new police officers for the West Midlands.

And all of this is just the beginning. We have so much more planned, including here in Erdington. But to supercharge our efforts, we need a local team ready to work with us.

That’s why Conservative candidate Robert Alden is key to our plans.

If Robert Alden is elected as Erdington’s next MP, you’ll have a local champion making the case for Erdington directly to Cabinet members like me.

This is what Erdington really needs — someone willing to stand up for the area and make sure residents are heard.

To see what kind of MP Robert will be, take a look at his record as a local councillor. Over the last sixteen years, Robert has been a force to be reckoned with.

He has been a vocal proponent for Levelling Up Funding to transform Edington’s high street, and I’m currently working with him to get this bid over the line.

I’m thrilled that Robert has invited me to visit Erdington and see the opportunities for government investment myself. This is the kind of get-up-and-go that every village, town and city needs for our mission to work.

And if any readers are wondering how they can play a part in levelling up Erdington, I say this: at the Erdington by-election, vote for the person you believe can work with me and my team to secure funding and make things happen. To my mind, that person is Robert Alden.

For more on the Rt Honourable Michael Gove MP visit www.michaelgove.com

For more on Robert Alden and the Erdington Conservatives visit www.erdingtonconservatives.org.uk/

 

Candidates will be taking questions from the general public at the Birmingham Erdington by-election hustings – held from 6-8pm on Sunday, 27 February, at the GRS Lions Club, Church Road, Erdington.

Click here or on the image above to register for your free ticket – have your voice heard.