LOCAL OPINION: Community spirit is alive and well in Stockland Green

Words by Uzma Shaffiq / Pics by Ed King

“The beautiful thing is that they come from all walks of life and ages, from pensioners to school children – all dedicated to help.” 

Uzma Shaffiq, Community Developer Officer for The Pioneer Group, talks to Erdington Local about the community backbone and neighbourhood camaraderie that supported Stockland Green through the coronavirus crisis. 

Starting my new role at The Pioneer Group in February 2020, I had high hopes of building a strong network of organisations and people who wanted to make Stockland Green a great place to live and work. From these networks, I would be instrumental in creating several initiatives, and 2020 was going to be the best start to my working life.

Little did I realise, COVID-19 was waiting just around the corner, ready to turn everything on its head. The pandemic struck and suddenly residents needed support more than ever.

As for everyone, those first few weeks were a challenge. We needed to mobilise on a scale not seen since World War 2; but as a proud University of Birmingham History graduate, I understood the dedication behind communities in those tumultuous times and I knew our work would provide crucial support to residents during this modern crisis.

Our team works throughout a number of communities such as Stockland Green, Castle Vale and Falcon Lodge – and while each area may have a different programme of specific needs, we still come together to share ideas. Last year we faced the same challenge – we needed to support residents in all communities to ensure that no one was hungry, felt isolated or was left in a vulnerable situation.

With face-to-face interactions gone, the internet was suddenly our saviour and became critical as a tool to communicate in our quest to build a better community. It was no longer about boots on the ground, but rather fingers on keyboards and faces on video calls.

We started by meeting online with residents and community groups to understand their concerns and priorities. There were so many people that want to be actively involved in supporting the Stockland Green community, it was incredibly heart-warming to see how deeply people cared for their friends, family, and neighbours.

Food provision and mental health support was top of the list and once these areas had been outlined, we witnessed a huge mobilisation within the community. The beautiful thing is that they come from all walks of life and ages, from pensioners to school children – all dedicated to help.

Local organisations supplied food parcels and arranged prescription runs to support residents through the months of uncertainty, and an army of residents came forward to help with the deliveries. The whole initiative was so moving; without these wonderful volunteers giving their free time, we could never have helped so many people.

For those that were more isolated and may not have much use of the internet, such as some elderly, wellbeing activity packs were created and delivered to keep recipients busy during lockdowns. Fantastic at raising spirits, boosting morale, and giving those who are staying at home something exciting to do, the packs were also delivered by volunteers, the lifeblood of our community.

2020 also saw the birth of other voluntary organisations such as the Stockland Green Action Group with the aim of making the community a better place. I am always blown away with their efforts as they tackle fly-tipping, unsightly alleyways, and fight for a better tomorrow for Stockland Green. We are pleased to work closely with these members, supporting them with funding bids and various initiatives as they set a shining example of community spirit.

With a keen sense of keeping the Stockland Green passion alive, we also revived the Stockland Green Ward Forum where organisations such as the Local Regeneration Trust, Councillors, the local MP, and residents all come together to work towards a shared vision of a better Stockland Green.

For The Pioneer Group, the commitment to the area has never been stronger. We provide affordable housing and want our tenants and their neighbours to feel safe and secure in their homes which is why we are now working with Birmingham City Council to deliver the new Safer Streets programme; a £432,000 initiative in Stockland Green that will implement a range of measures including street lighting upgrades, six redeployable CCTV cameras, and a crime prevention assessment for all homes.

Over the last 18 months, our community has faced major hardships with a healthcare crisis, job losses and new way of living. We came together to survive. Today we are in a good place to build even stronger community spirit as we say goodbye to 2021, probably the hardest year many of us have faced.

I look forward to 2022 and everything we are doing to make Stockland Green a great place to live and work.

For more from The Pioneer Group, and the work they do across Stockland Green and North Birmingham, visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk

NEWS: Woman arrested on ‘attempted murder’ following vehicle attack on Reservoir Road – man remains in critical condition

Words by Ed King / Pics by Jobe Baker Sullivan

Reservoir Road was shut down today following a disturbance late on Friday night, leading police to cordon off the Erdington/Stockland Green thoroughfare whilst searching for clues.

As confusion grew across the area, with traffic brought to a standstill, West Midlands Police were reticent to issue any information other than the situation “was not fatal.”

Later on, it emerged there had been an ‘attempted murder’ using a vehicle – a 44 year woman has been arrested, whilst a ‘man in his 40’s remain in hospital in critical condition.’

People across the area had seen police presence arrive on Friday night, one Stockland Green resident told Erdington Local: “I saw some flashing lights late last night… but I didn’t think anything of it, there are flashing lights around here all the time.”

Another local resident speculated it may be a hit and run, with someone having wandered into traffic whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

They said: “Most nights, all round the shops, the druggies come and hang out.”

Terry Bracher, who lives on nearby Bleak Hill Road, told Erdington Local: “Whilst walking the dog I saw police and taped off area, but didn’t know what it was.”

Local artist Jennette Hill said: “I saw the police last (Friday) night as I drove through on my way home, at about midnight. I thought it must have been bad.”

Following requests from Erdington Local and other concerned parties, West Midlands Police issued the following statement earlier today: “A woman has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a man has been seriously injured after being hit by a car in Erdington.“

We were called to Reservoir Road at just after 10pm last night (8 October) and found a man with significant head injuries.

“The vehicle left the scene but has since been recovered and a 44-year-old woman has been arrested.

“The woman – who is known to the man – has also been detained on suspicion of driving while unfit through drink or drugs and remains in police custody for questioning. The man in his 40s remains in hospital in a critical condition.

“The road remains closed off while our enquiries continue and anyone with information is urged to get in contact.”

As investigations continue, West Midlands Police are calling to members of the public to come forward with any information that might help shed light on the case.

Stockland Green has just received £432,000 from the Government’s Safer Street initiative, which will be used to tackle street level crime, anti-social behaviour, and public disorder.

Stockland Green stakeholders are in the process of engaging with the community to formulate a Neighbourhood Plan.

The strategy will see local residents, police, strategic partners, and Birmingham City Counmcil join forces and work together to make positive changes in thre area.

West Midlands Police have stated anyone with information about the attack on Reservoir Road can get in touch via Live Chat at www.west-midlands.police.uk or call 101 and quote 20/1792022/21.

NEWS: Erdington Labour and Kashmiri community host post-lockdown Eid Fair

Words by Ed King

On Saturday September 4, Erdington Labour and the constituency’s Kashmiri community will be hosting a post-lockdown Eid Fair.

Held at Highcroft Community Centre, Slade Road, Stockland Green, the event is free to attend and will run from 11am to 4pm.

Observers of Islam across the world celebrate two Eid events each year. Eid al-Fitr (or ‘little/sweet Eid’) is a three day festival marking the end of Ramadan in May. Whilst Eid-al-Adha (or ‘big/salty Eid) is a four day festival to celebrate Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah, starting on the 10th day of the last month in the Islamic calendar  which in 2021 would have been July 9 to 13.

This year, due to restrictions from the Covid pandemic, both Eid’s were celebrated within households and ‘bubbles’ – as many religious festivals were curtailed due to the spread of coronavirus.

But the chance to come together as a community, welcoming all faiths and backgrounds, has not been lost – with Erdington Labour and the Kashmiri community working together to host this special Eid Fair event.

Spearheaded by Naziah Rasheed, Erdington Labour’s BAME Officer, the Eid Fair will have a variety of food stalls, local produce, games, and fun activities for children – such as a bouncy castle and a face painting stall.

Naziah Rasheed told Erdington Local: “Since the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in July this year , we decided to organise a belated Eid Fair for the local community in Erdington.

“Although it’s an Eid event, it’s not only for Muslims but for all faiths to celebrate together.

“The aim of the event is to bring all communities together to have a fun day out and also to promote local small and home based businesses, for them to display their products and services.

“We have food stalls from different cultures and cuisines including Moroccan, Afghan, Kashmiri, Indian a,nd East African to name a few.”

The recently appointed Edington Labour BAME officer is also keen to hear from Erdington’s BAME communities, with a recent survey sent out asking ‘to know the issues the BAME communities are facing’ so she can ‘work towards making change locally and nationally.’

An online version of the BAME survey can be found at www.jackdromey.co.uk/erdington-labour-bame-survey

Open to all faiths, backgrounds, and ages, the Eid Fair will be held at Highcroft Community Centre on Slade Road, Stockland Green – running from 11am to 4pm on Saturday September 4.

For more on Highcroft Community Centre visit www.highcroftcommunitycentre.co.uk

For more from Erdington Labour visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonLabourParty

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 Leader Ian Ward to visit Short Heath Playing Fields with new housing proposal

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ed King & Estelle Murphy

The battle to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ has been fought for just over one year, with residents becoming campaigners in July-August 2020.

Now the highest office in the city is coming to address the matter in person, as Birmingham City Council Leader Ian Ward meets local residents on Friday August 20 – with a new plan for the proposed housing estate.

Cllr Ward will be on Short Heath Playing Fields from 1pm to 3pm discussing the Council’s revised proposals for the green space, previously earmarked for 84 new homes to help address the city’s social housing needs.

Local residents and concerned citizens are invited to attend the Leader’s address, which has been long called for by the Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) – a local action group spearheading the campaign to save the parkland.

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington is also scheduled to attend, following more than 12months of negotiations with SHFT representing the local concerns directly to the Leader’s office.

He told Erdington Local: “For over a year, I have been working to bring all parties to the table in an effort to reach an agreement over the future of Short Heath Playing Fields that is acceptable to both Birmingham City Council and the local community.

“I listened to the concerns of local residents, who felt their voices were not being heard, and have brought key stakeholders to the table on a number of occasions over the past 12 months.

“There have been ongoing and robust discussions during that time, but I’d like to thank both the City Council and local campaigners for their willingness to engage in a dialogue over the future of the playing fields.

“I am pleased that Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, will be visiting Short Heath to meet with campaigners and discuss the proposals for the site.

“I made a commitment to ensure the voices of local campaigners would be heard at the highest level of Birmingham City Council, and I am honouring that commitment by helping to arrange this visit.

“I sincerely hope that an agreement can be reached on the future of Short Heath, and that all parties can work together in support of our local community moving forward.”

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson further confirmed: “This is the latest in a series of meetings with campaigners and Erdington MP Jack Dromey to discuss the site and possible ways forward.

“We’re working with the community to ensure that any future development on the site works for the local community and the city as a whole.”

Eager for local residents to voice their concerns directly to the Birmingham City Council Leader, Short Heath Fields Trust have been canvassing those living near the playing fields and reaching out further through social media.

Campaigners are concerned that the time of the Leader’s visit, 1-3pm on a Friday afternoon, will exclude many people as they would still be at work.

In a statement to Erdington Local Short Hearth Fields Trust said: “It is vitally important that anyone who has an interest in the former playing field site comes down to join the conversation.

“There won’t be another opportunity to have the ear of the Council Leader and the MP for Erdington at the same time again regarding this, at least not for a while and our community deserves a voice.

“They will be on the site at the Short Heath Road Entrance to Bleak Hill Park between 1pm and 3pm this Friday.

“Have your say and hear first-hand what they have planned for our park space.”

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:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1007069176404521/

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

NEWS: Birmingham City Council agree to ‘move forward in partnership’ with Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign

Words & pics by Ed King

On Friday 11th December, the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields took a significant step forward – following a meeting with Birmingham City Council Leader, Cllr Ian Ward.

Set up by Erdington MP Jack Dromey, the meeting was also attended by Cllr Sharon Thompson (North Edgbaston / Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods), Cllr Penny Holbrook (Stockland Green) and Cllr Josh Jones (Stockland Green) – with Stephen Hughes and Estelle Murphy from Short Heath Fields Trust representing their community.

In 2019, the 2.71 hectares green space situated between Bleak Hill Park and Short Heath Road was earmarked for a new housing estate – with planning application sought to allow up to 108 new homes to be built on the beloved playing fields.

Following botched community consultation, alongside objections from Erdington Councillor Robert Alden at Council meetings, the local community established themselves as Short Heath Fields Trust to fight the proposed developments and establish a two-way debate about the best use of the open space.

Earlier this year, a proposal was written by Short Heath Fields Trust outlining an alternative use for the green space and submitted to Birmingham City Council – following an intervention by Jack Dromey MP.

Birmingham City Council are now bringing the proposed development plans back to the table, with Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward looking to revisit the concerns of the community – following a meeting with campaigners last week.

Birmingham City Council leader Cllr Ian Ward said:  “This was a very constructive meeting and, having listened to the proposals, we are keen to engage with residents to find a way forward that meets Birmingham City Council’s objectives and delivers for the local community.”

Looking to strike a balance between the increasing frustration from his Short Heath based constituents and the Council’s wider agenda for social housing, Erdington MP Jack Dromey has been acting as a go-between in a fiercely contested situation that had previously looked gridlocked.

Jack Dromey MP said: “I’m pleased with the positive and constructive meeting between Birmingham City Council and Save Short Health Playing Fields campaigners to discuss the plans for Short Heath. 

“The campaigners gave a passionate and detailed presentation that outlined their vision for Short Heath Playing Fields. Throughout this process I have been impressed by their vision and determination, and these are why the campaign has generated the momentum it has. 

“I’d like to thank Birmingham City Council for agreeing to the meeting and for how responsive they have been since I first contacted them on this matter. The meeting showed they are listening to the community and that is warmly to be welcomed. 

“Both parties have agreed to move forward in partnership to build a plan for Short Heath Playing Fields that the community can be proud of. They have my full support.” 

Whilst social and affordable housing is an issue across Birmingham, a wider problem not unrecognised by Short Heath Fields Trust, the decision to tear up an urban oasis and area of natural beauty has been severely questioned by local residents.

Birmingham City Council’s own Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), published in December 2019, made no mention of Short Heath Playing Fields as a possible site for development – whilst citing various alternatives to meet the City’s need for social housing.

The initial consultation further failed to include residents of Short Heath or Perry Common, only inviting those from Stockland Green who neighboured the playing fields.

Following months of campaigning, amassing support from people across Erdington, the 11th December meeting with Birmingham City Council seemed to mark a reversal of fortune for the beloved green space.

All those present at the start of the meeting, including Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward and Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods Cllr Sharon Thompson, have agreed to work alongside Short Heath Fields Trust to find an alternative – one that would meet both the need of social housing and to secure valuable green space for the community.

However according to the members of  Short Heath Fields Trust present on 11th December, Cllr Josh Jones (Stockland Green), who arrived late to the meeting, is still maintaining his position that the entire of Short Heath Playing Fields should be used for social housing development.

On behalf of local residents and the Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign, Short Heath Fields Trust said:

“As a community we have fought hard and while the battle is not over, positive first steps have been taken towards a solution that would see sports and community back on the playing fields as it always should have been.

“Councillors Ian Ward and Sharon Thompson have agreed to come and meet our community in the New Year, finally giving them a voice, with a view to building a plan for the playing fields that meets the needs of everyone.

“In Jack Dromey’s own words our community is no longer banging the door to be let in, we now have a seat at the table.

“Short Heath Fields Trust made a promise to our community to get their opinions heard and moving forward will continue to do that – working with the Council and local residents to find a solution to this problem.”

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

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

NEWS: Erdington healthcare expanded with Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre

Ed’s note… Please contact NHS 111 (it’s free to call) before attending Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre, as walk-in patients cannot been seen.

Words and pics by Ed King

The new Erdingon Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre (EUTC) is now open and operational, boosting much needed healthcare across the Erdington constituency.

Established to replace the Health & Wellbeing Walk-In-Centre, that operated from a shopfront site on Erdington High Street, the EUTC can see up to 100 patients per day – taking over previously unused space at the Stockland Green Primary Care Centre (SGPCC).

Despite being a well-loved and well-used facility, the previously high street based practice was not without its challenges – such as opening hours , parking, and proximity to busy licensed premises. The site was further dogged by the constant threat of closure, once in 2013 then again in 2020.

Following several campaigns to save the facility, the Walk-in-Centre finally closed it’s doors during the coronavirus crisis – but with assurances from Birmingham healthcare bosses that such a facility would remain ‘at the heart’ of the community, as called for in an open letter by MP for Erdington Jack Dromey.

The new Stockland Green Primary Care Centre based EUTC will be operational 12hrs a day, seven days a week – with a significant capacity for parking and emergency vehicles, allowing drivers to get right to the front door in desperate situations.

Next to several major bus routes, the EUTC will also offer easier access for patients using public transport from Erdington wards such as Stockland Green, Perry Common, Kingstanding, and Short Heath.

Further facilities on hand at the EUTC are three GP services, a pharmacy, and ‘a range of NHS community services.’

The NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (BSCCG), who manage the city’s NHS healthcare provisions, are hoping that many of the issues surrounding the old high street centre will be solved with the new facility.

Paul Jennings, Chief Executive of NHS BSCCG, said: “We welcome the opening of the relocated Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre; which will provide crucial urgent care services to local people.

We are committed to ensuring there is suitable local healthcare provision across Birmingham and Solihull, which meets the needs of our diverse communities.”

Erdington’s Member of Parliament, Jack Dromey, is also hopeful that the new UTC will bring widespread benefits across the constituency.

Speaking to Erdington Local about the EUTC , Jack Dromey MP said: “I am delighted that the Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre has opened and is already providing a first-class service to the people of Erdington.”

The Erdington Walk-In Centre saved countless lives, and when it closed temporarily due to COVID, many constituents contacted me with concerns over the future of our local healthcare provision. Back in August, I sought reassurances from the Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group that Erdington would retain such a service, and I am pleased they have delivered on that promise.” 

The new site not only offers improved medical facilities, but the increased accessibility will hopefully mean many more Erdington residents will now access this invaluable local service.” 

It is important for those who wish to use the service to remember to call 111 in the first instance to be referred for an appointment. The threat of COVID-19 is still very real, and we should not risk the health of others by turning up at the new Urgent Treatment Centre without an appointment.”

Local residents looking to access the EUTC, during the coronavirus crisis, have been asked to initially contact NHS 111 – to make sure everyone at the new facility can be met with COVID-19 safe environment.

For more details on how to access the Urgent Treatment Centre, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk/your-health

For more information on NHS 11 online, visit www.111.nhs.uk

For more from Jack Dromey MP, or for contact details to his constituency office, visit www.jackdromey.org

For more on the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk

EXPLOITED: Part 3 – The unchallenged rampage of HMOs and shared houses, wreaking havoc for a profit across our community

Words by Adam Smith

In the third instalment of EXPLOITED, Adam Smith looks at the oversaturation problem in the HMO and supported living sector – hearing from the top of two housing associations and going right down to the root cause of the misery.

It’s a license to print money,” one former employee of a housing association tellingly revealed.

And it stands to reasons where there is easy money on offer there will be a queue of people ready to take it.

On the Birmingham City Council website there is a list of HMOs where landlords can charge the benefits system £900 for a room, which often can be more than £500 over the private rented market value. And the list runs into the thousands.

Across Birmingham there are 2345 HMOs with six or more people living in them, with applications pending for another 758 properties – including houses in Mere Road, Queens Road, Chester Road, Hillaries Road, Norfolk Road, Kings Road, Slade Road and George Road in Erdington.

As well as the licensed HMOs there are thousands more smaller HMOs and shared houses which fall into the category of ‘exempt’ or ‘supported’ accommodation. There are hundreds of companies which can apply for an HMO license in Erdington, many of which have been arguably set up just to take advantage of the system.

Spring Housing Association (SHA) is a Birmingham based Housing Association which operates HMOs, hostels and social housing – an organisation that has been referenced in previous Exploited articles. SHA has close links to Birmingham City Council and is one of the biggest housing associations in the Midlands, managing or owning more than 700 properties.

SHA, which has Edgbaston MP Preet Gill on its board of directors, has lobbied the Government to tighten up regulations and is now even turning shared houses into family homes.

SHA group chief executive and founder, Dominic Bradley, told Erdington Local there should be tighter regulations on the mushrooming number of companies which can run HMOs and shared accommodation.

He said: “We believe that there is over saturation of exempt shared housing provision in Birmingham. This is not to say that this type of housing doesn’t have an important part to play in the prevention of homelessness in all of its forms. In fact it’s essential.

However, we have long recognised that in parts of the city we are over saturated with this style of housing – which is disruptive to local communities. Stockland Green is an obvious example of this.”

Dominic added: “It’s one of the reasons we are about to purchase a shared house in Erdington and convert it back to a family home. We are aiming to do something similar in Edgbaston, which has had similar community issues to Stockland Green.

Whilst this is a start and one we are keen to develop further there are wider more systematic issues that need to be tackled around strengthening existing regulations about what we mean about care, support and supervision and work with providers to curb the current unmitigated growth and target provision linked to local strategy which we know Birmingham City Council are very keen to achieve.”

In the last article, Exploited – Humans Must Obey,  we outlined the rules tenants have to follow whilst living in supported housing and HMOs.

In the housing sector the term used is ‘Exempt Accommodation’ because in 1996 Housing Benefit regulations were changed to include ‘non-commissioned EA’ which were defined as ‘accommodation which is…provided by a non-metropolitan country council, a housing association, a registered charity or a voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf also provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.

‘If a provider or landlord meets these criteria, they are exempt from rent restrictions within the private rented sector and are able to yield rent levels, paid for from housing benefit, far in excess of ‘general needs’ social sector rents and, often, market rents.’

These two paragraphs provided the starter of the sector gun, as landlords and housing associations realised they could charge more rent without the hassle of tenancy agreements – and the introduction of Universal Credit in 2012 massively increased the sector. The Conservative government’s change of rules, that the tenant received the housing benefit and not the landlord, meant it made sense for landlords to claim their houses were ‘exempt’ so they could get the cash directly as had been the case for decades.

The last Parliamentary research into HMOs, published in 2019, revealed there were more than 497,000 HMOs in England in Wales in 2018. And that number is growing.

Spring Housing Association, the University of Birmingham, and Commonweal Housing combined to produce a 60 page report – Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation – which detailed the shocking state of housing provision and detailed how thousands of people were stuck in negative housing situations across the city. 

Ashley Horsey, chief executive of Commonweal Housing, a charity formed to ‘implement housing solutions to social injustice’, described the damage exempt housing is doing to tenants and communities.

He said: “The findings of this report are stark. That over 11,000 people in Birmingham – and many thousands more across the country – are living in potentially unsafe and unsuitable ‘exempt’ accommodation should concern us all.

Residents interviewed for this report described feelings of ‘entrapment’ in financial instability; exclusion from decision-making processes; lack of control over where, and with whom, they are housed.

At the same time, the nature of too many of the business models involved in this space are causing some concern, not least inflation linked leases from property owners requiring ever rising rents.

In addition, the deficit-based tenant modelling – talking up your tenant’s weaknesses to justify your income stream – is all too common, and a tricky place to be morally. Especially where there remains little oversight.”

Ashley added: “The ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ nature of some of the governance and regulation of this sector is alarming. Of course, everyone accommodated in the exempt accommodation sector is in need of a home. But asking no questions simply because this sector is putting a roof over a head is not good enough.

In particular, the exempt accommodation sector is too often the only housing available for the marginalised, the overlooked, the undervalued and the de-valued in society. They are the women who find themselves here after fleeing domestic violence, as their only housing option.”

The next instalment of EXPLOITED will reveal the shocking stories of women who have either lived in, live in, or have been affected by HMOs, exempt, or shared housing.

To read Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation, visit www.springhousing.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Spring-Housing-Final-Report-A4.pdf

To read the 2019 Parliamentary briefing paper on HMOs, visit www.commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn00708 

For more on Spring Housing Association, visit www.springhousing.org.uk

For more on Commonweal Housing, visit www.commonwealhousing.org.uk

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com