Published on November 29th, 2018 | by John OMeara6
HANDSWORTH WARD NEEDS A REVOLUTION
The Council’s revised local governance processes put an onus on shared local leadership in identifying and addressing the issues of concern to local residents and organisations, and point us away from ‘old-style’ ward meetings where residents in serried rows put their concerns to the local councillor, facing them from behind the top table, who promises to use their personal influence to bring about change. Without the necessary leadership there will be no voice, and things will simply be ‘done to’ Handsworth.
The Handsworth Ward Forum on 27th November showed how thoroughly it is stuck in old style with no vision of the new, and with a heavy reliance on Council Officers to run things. Without reference to follow-on actions committed to last time there was a lack of continuity. The meeting went over the same ground as the previous meeting but this time, until Neil De-Costa (Senior Service Manager, Neighbourhood Development and Support) intervened, it looked as if a draft Ward Plan would be drawn up based solely on the comments of the 17 attenders. Councillor Quinnen explained that the Wellbeing Centre discussion had to be delayed because full Cabinet still hasn’t considered the proposals, but then the question of when and how this key issue for the area would be looked at got lost.
It has to change – both the furniture and the psychology. The table and the rows have to go. The residents and a resident chair have to lead. The Councillor has to become an agent of the Forum, and to conduct dialogue with the Council and others jointly with residents’ and business reps etc (for example, if there is a clash between local priorities and those of developers along the A41 corridor*).
It can be argued that this is taking on too much of what should be the Council’s responsibility. The Council aren’t entirely off the hook – they have to maintain their support functions, and their overarching responsibility for ensuring there is a fair and representative due process. But in Handsworth ward, unless a way can be found to harness the energy and abilities of those already active in the area to lead in its governance, it will go into steep decline, as will iconic features of key importance to Handsworth as a whole, such as the Park.
This is in spite of individual groups showing great energy, creativity and commitment: Grove Residents Association, Handsworth Community Action Group (HCAG), a new group raising awareness of good waste management on Antrobus Road, and another organizing litter picks in Headlingley Road and surrounding streets – all these were represented at the meeting. But it is the overview which now has to be worked out, presented, and then taken forward.
If you want to add to the priority issues which appear below you can e-mail Councillor Quinnen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Local Governance Manager Lesley Bannister at Lesley.Bannister@birmingham.gov.uk or Neil De-Costa at Neil.De-Costa@birmingham.gov.uk Finally we established that once Cabinet has considered the future of the Wellbeing Centre everyone on the e-mail list would get details of what was proposed, and we will circulate them on local social media. At this stage there is no date for a discussion of the proposals. Here are the issues that were raised for potential inclusion in the Ward Plan and for further discussion at a dedicated Ward Planning meeting on 29th January at the Handsworth Association of Schools building in Welford Road:
Fly tipping, littering, use of enforcement, bins etc outside HMO’s, bins stored on street, trees and leaves and street cleaning, metal collecting/parking/illegal businesses, rubbish on private land and inappropriate use of private land, difficulties clarifying who owns problem areas, illicit activity in unsecured empty properties, need to protect and retain public green space, parking and air quality by schools.
Parking outside schools, need for traffic calming on Grove Lane dual carriageway, untaxed etc vehicles, street lighting on one side of street only, traffic overload on Soho Rd end of Grove Lane and damage to parked cars.
Civil participation and neighbourliness and mental health, vulnerable young adults with disabilities needing local supported accommodation, staggering times of meetings to enable older people and younger adults with children to attend.
Crime and Policing
Expanding Streetwatch so it can cover the whole of Handsworth, using the stats generated by Streetwatch (e.g. by the current HCAG work on Soho Road) on prostitution, drugs and fly-tipping, to argue for resources; educating residents about how to reduce risks e.g. of burglary; counteracting apathy re. reporting crime; ‘care for your neighbours’ campaign; clarify plans for Thornhill Road police station; deal with complexities of coming under 2 police teams; keep pressing for some degree of planning control re. location and numbers of bail hostels (click on BailHostels) and other HMO’s while resolutely avoiding labelling of residents.
There was no time for points in addition to those appearing above.
Children and Young People
Can we influence the quality of educational provision in the area, for example for children with special needs?
The need for elements of a positive vision for the area to balance the ‘complaints’; for workshop spaces for small businesses, planning control over fast food outlets and betting shops and alcohol licences. As at the Handsworth Wood meeting, there was discussion of the balance between ‘felt priorities’ and those based on statistics. Residents want accurate statistics about the area to help identify priorities, whereas Neil De-Costa argued that the ‘felt reality’ is more important, and that anyway there tends to be a close match between the felt and statistical pictures; he agreed to provide all the statistics he can.
There is strong opposition to the raising of charges for garden waste bins from £35 to £50 per year, and concern that this will only make dumping of waste more likely. Neil De-Costa advised people to complete the Budget Consultation (click on Budget) or send an e-mail to email@example.com and copy in your Councillor.
There was a request for ward meetings to happen more frequently, every 2 months. Neil De-Costa said that his team didn’t have the resources to support this number of meetings, so this will need to be a local decision.
*thanks to Amrik Singh Ubhi for this suggestion; awareness of a range of other large plans (e.g. that of the Community Safety Partnership), and of funding attached to them, will be an important part of the process, as will strategies to protect key assets like the Wellbeing Centre.
Date of next meeting: Tuesday 29th January 2019 at Handsworth Association of Schools, Welford Road.
Photos by Gaelle Finley