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Published on September 21st, 2017 | by John OMeara

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DISILLUSIONMENT THREATENS TO ENGULF WARD MEETING

Anger and frustration erupted at points in Tuesday night’s Handsworth Wood Ward Forum meeting. This was most intensely from a group whose children attend a Centre for people with disabilities in Northfield which is threatened with closure – not permissible as an item for discussion here, but symptomatic of a climate of cuts (Paulette Hamilton holds the Council brief for the Centre). Councillor Atwal, from the Chair, himself expressed despair at the inability of the Police and Council to address an inappropriate parking issue which he has been raising with them for years.

Residents were equally despairing at what they saw as a ‘tick box’ approach to defining the area’s priority needs, and how this illustrated a never ending circulation of issues from residents to councillors to agencies and Council and back again without anything ever happening – everyone able to show they were ‘doing their job’ in terms of process but with no outcomes.

Discussion centred around:

The Innovation Fund: 3 projects were approved at an earlier stage, using half of the £48,000 allocation. Now 4 further projects are going forward to Committee for approval: an outdoor gym at Laurel Road, an open air gym and learning facility at Uplands Allotments, the development of Spring Housing’s Hestia House as a community resource centre, and help for Handsworth Diamonds FC to use sport to increase outreach to young people. If approved, these would use up the rest of the budget. There was some dissatisfaction with the process and the lack of information about the Fund in the early stages. All projects will be required to report back to a future meeting about how they have spent the money.

Parking and disturbance: the biggest issue on the night. Residents are being disturbed and disrupted by the use of residential streets for commercial activity – large vans and lorries being parked, unloading and repairs being done at unsocial hours, pavements and roads blocked. Aylesford Road was the one represented but it is happening in several others, and the instances of inappropriate parking which cause obstruction are seen as universal. Several cul-de-sacs are being used by groups of people who don’t live there to park, smoke, etc and again cause obstruction and disturbance.

The effects on people’s mood and quality of life were tangible, and Paulette Hamilton’s work with the local PCSO Sam to ensure timely reporting and action feels almost like an attempt to hold back a tide threatening to engulf them. For now it is clear that the only hope of having an impact is immediate reporting to the police – the very act of multiple reporting helps bring the issue up the police priority list.

HMO’s: linked to the previous issue, not least because conversion of a family home into many individual units of accommodation multiplies issues around parking and waste. This issue was not explored in depth  – a report back is awaited on whether under new legislation an ‘Article 4 Direction’ can be used to refuse new HMO applications in a particular area.

Modern slavery: recent local prosecutions, observation of the ‘demeanour’ of people engaged locally in particular types of activity, and emerging details about the pervasiveness of slave labour, all suggest an urgent need to look at this issue in Handsworth. Councillor Kooner picked up on this and committed to bringing it to a future meeting with relevant expertise.

Ward Plan: residents were told that all Wards have to submit details of their priority issues by the end of September to inform Committee decisions about where to focus limited budgets. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the timescale and a request for extra time. Councillors said they only needed a few bullet points from people (their top 5 priorities), just a couple of minutes’ work, and they will collate this with their own knowledge in order to present the Ward’s priorities. Residents saw in this a cavalier approach to the issues that have been raised again and again over 2 years or more, and saw it as a symptom of a tick box attitude in the system as a whole – ‘if I record this and pass it on then I’ve done my job and we all know there isn’t the money to do anything about it anyway’.

After several minutes’ debate which demonstrated a gulf in perception between councillors and residents regarding what was an adequate process, Councillor Kooner said that the councillors’ submission would come back to the November Ward meeting for discussion, and that this would still be early enough in the process for adjustments to be made if need be.

Young people: there has been real progress with the issues of young people and anti-social behaviour in the area of Stockwell, College, Aylesford, Newcombe and Rookery Roads. The police have given additional funds to Laurel Road Centre so that they can increase their outreach work; there has been work with Handsworth Wood Residents’ Association and others to prepare a bid for Near Neighbours funding; there has been a police ‘blitz’ of Rookery Road, bringing in resources from outside the area as well, linking young people to Oaklands Centre, getting on top of threatening behaviour and people not feeling safe – several families with exceptionally out of control children are being removed from the area altogether. There will be a full report-back at the next meeting.

The last item provided a much-needed note of positivity. Councillors pointed out that day to day they deal with a lot of issues and get some encouraging results, but that of course they can’t share the details of these cases. It may be that some form of anonymized summary of types of issues and outcomes in these cases would help to balance what threatens to become a tale of futility. In the anger and frustration at what’s happening to the physical environment, there is a risk that the potential for positive developments may be missed, and that the priorities of the majority of residents who never attend a Ward meeting or see a councillor may be overlooked.

You can influence the Ward’s priorities over the next year or more by e-mailing your top 5 priorities to Lesley Bannister at Lesley.Bannister@birmingham.gov.uk  In due course you can see the official notes of this meeting by clicking on this link HandsworthWoodMinutes


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5 Responses to DISILLUSIONMENT THREATENS TO ENGULF WARD MEETING

  1. Oldun says:

    All you get from the council is: the nasty Tories have pinched all the money, therefore we will do nothing. A typical response from a council who cannot organise a drink up in a brewery. There is plenty of money for fancy projects, like world games at Alexandra Stadium etc, but nothing for the residents who are blighted by the troublemakers and who actually pay their taxes.

    The answer to all the blighted residents is to report it to the Local Council Ombudsman, complaining that the council is not carrying out its civil responsibilities. That is the only thing that frightens our Burgers and ensures things get done.

  2. Simon Baddeley says:

    HHH wouldn’t begin to try to impart lessons to anyone. Even if inclined, which we aren’t, we’re too busy learning about our own area. Individuals may indeed share information across boundaries, and if asked, we’re always glad to try and help – but we are a tiny group making the smallest of impacts on the big problems we all experience in one way or another. As for Cllr Quinnen….rest redacted.

  3. Susan Ahmed says:

    This is a very good synopsis of the ward committee meeting. I wish more people were motivated to attend. It occurs to me that the vast majority of local residents have no idea that this meeting takes place. It needs much more publicity!

  4. Sue Green says:

    Good piece.  Wish you’d been at GRA AGM last night at Wilkes Green School. Same issues. Filthy environment, HMOs,  rogue businesses crime and car parking. Huge anger at the same problems being existant for over twenty years. Literally with respect to certain locations;, sex, dumping and fires in the gully  between Douglas and Albert rd were on the agenda back in the nineteen nineties.  When someone suggested closing the gullies my de ja vu went into over drive.  I had to remind everyone that this had been explored reported on and  resoundly rejected by the council fifteen years back after lobbying from GRA. Cllr Quinnen offered to report it on our behalf. We can easily do that ourselves using Fixmystreet app. She’s been in the job two terms and the others even longer and nothing has changed for the better. When asked directly had she done anything strategic during her tenure to address this well known  perennial problem she ignored the question.  Hendrinas solo outing sans her usual companions Hussein and  Zaffer is Labour pitching for votes because next year she stands alone for election in Handsworth Ward. The East Handsworth bit of the old ward structure has never held Labours main supporter base. This has always been in Birchfield for Mahmood Hussein and Lozells for Wassem Zaffer and  in the Labour  local ‘selection’ process they’ve grabbed these. So now Hendrina has to court Handsworth and by all accounts she’s putting in the hours. Nine years after she was first elected.  Her second response  to the outpouring of anger and frustration about our rubbish environment was to try sell us the idea of setting up an environmental group similar to one operating on the other side of the park, whilst  desperately trying to avoid using their name.  She was talking about Handsworth Helping Hands which is in Birchfield ward,   and she  knew how this very local Handsworth audience would react. They’d be asking who are they and protesting ‘ why are they over there and not over here cleaning up mess in Handsworth’.  Anyway.  GRA  doesn’t need lessons from Hendrina and  HHH, it has had an environmental policy since 2002. A fact that seems to have escaped our Councillor in her new found enthusiasm for Handsworth. She also seems unaware that  in the past  GRA has partnered with Groundwork,  Street Champions, Neighbourhood Board, Fleet Waste and Management, SRB , and the Environmental Warden schemes, to name some.  Our plans to transform grot spots, that we regularly cleaned up ourselves,  our education campaign through volunteer Street Reps  our proposals about how to improve service delivery from the ground up, through partnership and education got absolutely no support from Cllrs or Officers with rare exceptions. Blocked and   often undermined.  So to have  Quinnen now lecture us on how to do it was a bit  insulting. Labour have left HW to rot for fifteen years. They could afford to treat us with contempt because under the old three member system they could always rely on their large core vote in Birchfield and Lozells. In 2018 they can’t do that. They have to win Handsworth over.  Is that the sound of neglected and put upon pigeons coming home to roost I hear?

    • abi says:

      Thanks for the reminder sue and the information for of us who never knew!!!!
      Handsworth is a ward that is loved by most who live in it.
      We need to let invite new residents to share that fight to keep Handsworth a place to enjoy and live around.

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