Published on May 28th, 2019 | by John OMeara1
‘I WILL MAKE IT EASIER TO WALK, CYCLE, USE BUSES, AND HARDER TO USE A CAR’: BIRMINGHAM CLEAN AIR ZONE AT HANDSWORTH WOOD WARD FORUM
Councillor Waseem Zaffer, Cabinet member for Transport and Environment, gave a vision of the future for transport and the environment in Birmingham when he attended the Handsworth Wood Ward Forum on 22nd May. Some of the headline elements of the Council’s Clean Air Zone (click CleanAirZone), and wider clean air policy, are these:
- a Ministerial Directive from central government which made it impossible not to take action on air quality
- a legal requirement to reduce Nitrogen Oxide levels to 40mg per cubic metre (though even then ‘legal’ does not necessarily equal ‘safe’)
- an analysis showing that only the highest level of action addressing every type of vehicle would produce the required reductions in pollution
- evidence that up to 900 people currently die prematurely each year in Birmingham as a result of air pollution
- securing transitional protections/exemptions to protect jobs and those on low incomes
- exemption for people with disabilities who qualify for a car tax exemption
- looking at how to use planning and licensing processes to improve air quality across the whole of Birmingham – with the improvement of air quality around schools the first priority (the space needed to store asthma medication in schools grows and grows)
- 400 new electric car charging points across the city in the next few months
- considering a scrappage scheme for those living/working in the Clean Air Zone with high polluting vehicles (e.g. £2,000 towards a replacement vehicle?)
- high speed (sprint) bus routes linked to park and ride sites beyond the outer edges of the city (e.g. on the Aston University playing fields site on the far side of the M6 junction 7)
- lower cost public transport (ending the situation, for example, where it is cheaper for a family to take a taxi into town than a bus)
- better quality public transport (ideally this would be addressed first, but the West Midlands only has £4oo per person per year central government funding for transport compared to £1100 in Inner London, and the scale of investment required is not achievable in the short term).
- consideration of an ‘idling’ campaign – picking up on lessons from Westminster Council where people are fined for leaving their engines running unnecessarily
- Birmingham’s largest ever consultation carried out on the proposals
Councillor Zaffar made no apologies for the shift in outlook which was going to be required from the people of Birmingham: ‘I will make it easier to walk, cycle, use buses, and harder to use a car’ – saying that this is driven not just by legal requirements but also by the need to address a ‘health crisis’, starting with the health of children. He pointed out that every day there were 370,000 car journies of less than 1 mile made in Birmingham.
While seeking reassurances about exemptions, and wanting to ensure continuing debate about the potential of solar power and how best to solve the ever-intensifying parking nightmare in residential areas, the meeting was broadly supportive of the strategy and its aims.
Other issues arising:
1. HMO’s: while police interventions remain highly valued, and individual councillors continue to liaise with all parties to try and resolve individual instances of bad practice (with some successes), there is a growing impatience at the delay in getting a city-wide forum off the ground, so that the grass roots impetus for change can be translated into pressure on central government.
Contrasting emotions were expressed by those at the sharp end of the issue in Endwood Court Road and Somerset Road: on the one hand dismay and sadness that vulnerable people who needed support weren’t getting it, and on the other hand angry insistence that there were already too many people in the area who had difficulty coping with everyday life and who were disruptive, and that others should be kept out.
Councillor Zaffar said that the Council knew it had to ‘up its game’ over HMO’s, and said that the last Cabinet meeting had approved implementation of ‘Article 4’ which will mean that anyone wanting to use a property for 3 or more people sharing amenities like kitchens and bathrooms will need to seek planning permission.
Nevertheless this would have no impact on the ‘supported housing’ situation, where almost all control rests with central government and councils remain powerless to act even where there is blatant failure to provide appropriate care. Residents insist they be part of creating the urgency for change in this.
In the meantime Councillors still need to be routinely involved/used where there are problems – both to facilitate solutions where they exist, and to ensure the scale of the problem remains visible.
2. Police update: PCSO Sam Shaw (she and colleague Jade Snookes attended even though it was their evening off) said that they were continuing to monitor and work on issues with HMO’s in Friary Road, Oxhill Road, Cornwall Road, Somerset Road, Selborne Road and Endwood Court Road. A survey has been completed in College Road re. parking, anti-social behaviour and other residents’ concerns, and solutions are being looked at jointly with the Fire Service, the Council and local Streetwatch volunteers.
Neighbourhood Watch schemes have been established in Oxhill Road ‘triangle’, Friary Gardens, the Leveretts and Somerset Road.
There has been 1 recent arrest for burglary, 1 for vehicle crime (culprit required to remain out of the area), and 3 young people have been imprisoned for robbery from other young people (currently the biggest problem in the area).
People need to follow the correct procedure for reporting problems with HMO’s or else cases won’t stand up in Court: they must be reported via 101 or Live Chat on the West Midlands Police site. It is useful to send an e-mail notification to the Handsworth Wood Police Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) but this is not enough on its own.
There is a ‘Junior PCSO Scheme’ running with local schools looking at issues re. seat belts, parking and general road safety. There is also a project running in 2 secondary schools about knife crime and safety.
There continues to be concern about anti-social motor/quad-bike riding, but Sam Shaw clarified that just reporting it going on is insufficient – you need to provide the registration number, which allows tracing of name and address, and then warning letters can be issued, with potential for further action if these aren’t heeded.
3. Highways budget: all this year’s local budget has been committed on the speed bumps by Grestone School (work starting soon), the bollards by Mr. Singh’s on College Road to discourage pavement parking, and two sets of dropped kerbs for mobility scooters.
4. Isolated older people: Councillor Kooner is particularly concerned about this issue, and wants to develop a facility at Hamstead Pavillion which will cater for a genuinely diverse group of people. She has got some initial funding from Aston Villa for a pilot scheme to start on 16th June, has put out an appeal for those with relevant skills and interests to come and help (with several positive responses), and is looking for further sources of funding which would enable provision of food and refreshments. Please contact Councillor Kooner at NarinderKaur.Kooner@birmingham.gov.uk) if you can help.
5. Planning/Empty properties: Councillor Kooner is opposing moves to build 5 houses on the tennis courts in Butlers Close off Butlers Road, and trying to ensure that the courts remain a facility for the Handsworth Wood ward. In response to a query Ken Brown clarified that anyone with a concern about an empty property could report it to the Council online (click ReportEmptyProperty).
6. Wellbeing Centre: there was brief discussion about the pending transfer of the Wellbeing Centre out of Council control. Councillor Kooner suggested the proposal may be similar to what happened at the Harborne Centre, where there was a Service Level Agreement which imposed a cap on charges for activities for an indefinite period. There was agreement that the issue is important for the whole Handworth area, and Councillor Kooner said she was happy to look into it.
7. Seating: for the first time the meeting experimented with a circular seating arrangement. There was thanks to the councillors and governance officers for this, and from a personal perspective I found it easier to relate to everyone in the room, and that we were more disciplined and considerate in taking our turns to speak.