Saturday, 29 April 2017

Feature: Taking the fight to off-road bikers

FROM an upstairs window, a resident films the chaotic scenes below.
A group of six or so bikers cut across the grass and head for a narrow footbridge in an attempt to escape the policeman on their tail.
But when a second officer appears on the other side of the river, the riders are left with no choice but to retreat back the way they came.
The video, shot in Chelmsley Wood last month, is one of several doing the rounds on social media which show the extent of problems being caused by motorbikes, quad bikes and mini-motos screeching through North Solihull.
It’s important to point out that this isn’t an entirely new phenomena. A quick search of YouTube turns up footage of a couple of quad bikes running through the streets of Marston Green some seven years ago.
That said, complaints about boy racers tearing around parks, along pavements and down public roads have definitely increased in the last year or two and no longer do problems seem to be confined to the long summer evenings.
There are regular reports of rallies being held along the Collector Road and gangs use sites such as Facebook to organise mass “ride-outs”, including a particularly notorious incident at Halloween last year; at one stage a group of up to 100 riders launched a frenzied attack on a police van.
Although these incidents are those most likely to make the headlines they’re interspersed with scores of reports of residents kept awake by racing engines, afraid to use certain parks and recounting near-misses which could have ended in tragedy.
Commenting on our Facebook page, Robyn Owens recalled the day she had nearly been involved in a head-on collision after a bike jumped a red light.
“The day I came so close to killing one of them changed me as a driver,” she said.
Previously the police had been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the problem.
When Insp Allan Green, the neighbourhood inspector for Meriden, appeared at a recent meeting in Castle Bromwich, many residents were frustrated by an apparent lack of action.
The officer, who said many of the riders were “nasty, hardened criminals”, insisted that police were taking steps to seize bikes and warned that those who flouted the law could expect a knock at the door early one morning.
“We will find out who these people are and we will do all in our power to stop them,” he assured locals.
Councillor Chris Williams (Green, Chelmsley Wood) was among those to have previously raised concerns about the police response, but he did believe that recent operations were making a difference.
He said the dawn raids – in which bikes are impounded and often sent to be crushed – had acted as a deterrent, although he was less convinced that an injunction which Solihull Council had secured to ban road racing had made much difference.
“The attitude of the police has improved a lot,” he said. “A year ago, they were dismissive so we
worked hard to get that attitude changed. Now, the police understand why we were pushing them so hard and they have taken action.
“But there’s still a long way to go. There are still a lot more off road bikes being used inappropriately that they need to deal with, so the police need to redouble their efforts to get there."

Friday, 28 April 2017

Solihull Council faces hard choice over housing

THORNY ISSUE: The loss of part of Babbs Mill triggered
numerous protests by local residents
SOLIHULL Council should take the “crunch” decision to develop green belt sites rather than continue to cram homes into built-up areas, the borough’s longest-serving councillor has said.
Coun John Windmill, leader of the Lib Dem group, said the local authority was caught between a desperate need for more homes and local opposition to new estates.
Addressing a cabinet meeting this month, he noted that the borough had few brownfield sites, such as old industrial sites or waste ground, to choose from.
This left a clear dilemma as to whether to allow more housing in densely-populated neighbourhoods – with the likely loss of sports fields and parkland – or carve up parts of the green belt, which makes up around two thirds of Solihull.
“You can put so much density into an urban area that the quality of life is destroyed for those that are living there,” said Coun Windmill, a long-serving member of the planning committee.
“It is more realistic...that, here and there, with land of lower value in the green belt we do allow housing.”
His comments came in a debate in relation to a government report which specifically looks at how to address the nation’s mounting housing crisis.
It could be argued that both options would be controversial in North Solihull; areas of green belt, including parts of the Cole Valley, were eroded during the Regeneration, while the development of part of Babbs Mills Park drew significant opposition.
Leader of Solihull Council, Bob Sleigh, acknowledged that the White Paper prepared by ministers posed a number of question as to what was required of the council and said there was “confusion” in some areas.
Coun Tim Hodgson (Green, Shirley West) said: “In an area like the West Midlands you can see the needs of younger people finding it so difficult to get on the housing ladder.
“That is especially acute in areas like Solihull where the house prices are so expensive.”
The discussion comes amid renewed concern that closer collaboration between the region’s councils will put more pressure on Solihull to make land available to help meet the housing needs of neighbouring areas such as Birmingham.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

"People are fed up with politicians who don't listen."

SETTING OUT HIS STALL: Coun James Burn launched his manifesto
at the Three Trees Centre, in Chelmsley Wood.

A CHELMSLEY Wood councillor who is standing to become the first Mayor of the West Midlands has vowed to tackle inequality head-on.
Coun James Burn, who is the Green Party's candidate in next month’s election, has officially unveiled his manifesto - arguing that voters are fed up of politicians ignoring their concerns.
He chose to hold the launch event in the ward he represents, having made clear in his policy document that he has concerns that “disadvantaged” residents often struggle to be heard.
“The economy is growing at the moment, but it’s clear that the wealth isn’t being shared,” said
Coun Burn. “We are seeing a handful of individuals get richer, while the rest of us are seeing a fall in our living standards.
“A whole generation of working young people are unable to even consider the possibility of owning their own home or having a stable job that pays decent wages.
“At the moment, more than half of all West Midlands adults have less than £100 in savings. They are just a broken washing machine or winter coat away from disaster.”
Other key policy announcements include the creation of an investment bank to help small businesses, improving public transport links and appointing a “citizen’s jury” to hold the Mayor to account.
Coun Burn, who has been a councillor since 2014 and is also a qualified social worker, has not been uncritical of the role that he is standing for.
While he welcomes the principle of handing more power to local communities, he believes that the devolution deal agreed for the West Midlands has been shrouded in secrecy.
He has vowed to lobby for more scrutiny, to publish his expenses online and only take a salary of £28,000 – the average for the region.
The rest of the £79,000 pay packet would be put towards helping deprived communities “getting more voices heard.”
The election takes place on Thursday, May 4. An article with full details of all six candidates will be available on the site at the weekend.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Takeaway's tribute to Castle Brom man

A CASTLE Bromwich takeaway this month announced it had named a chef's special in memory of a regular customer, who died in a road accident earlier in the year.
Lime Pickle has dubbed its creamy chicken dish – a personal favourite of local man Alan Watkinson – “Mr Alan’s Massala.”
The 73-year-old ex-Rover worker had died from his injuries several days after a collision at the junction of Windleaves Road, just yards from the Indian eatery.
A Lime Pickle spokesman said it had wanted to do something to remember the popular pensioner, who lived nearby.
“He will be missed tremendously, he was a great customer and a friend to everyone here... always putting a smile on our faces.”
Patrons of the the takeaway, several of whom said they knew Mr Watkinson, have welcomed the gesture on the business' Facebook page.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Terrific response to Chelmsley art projects

SNAP COLLECTION: Rachel Symonds at Chelmsley Wood Shopping Centre

HUNDREDS of local people got involved in a series of community art projects taking place in Chelmsley Wood town centre earlier this month.
The week-long programme of activities, inside an empty unit on the parade, was organised by the recently set-up B37 Project.
The group of volunteers aim to bring the community together through a range of creative activities.
Among the first salvo of ideas included handing out disposal cameras – a true novelty in the age of the iPhone – and asking people to go out in the local area and take photos. The images were then developed and turned into an anonymous exhibition.
Debbie Gara, from the B37 Project, said: “We’re just a group of people who come together to do something like this and then go back to our day jobs.
“We have had an incredible response from those coming in this week. One of the main things we want to do is support local talent, we want to give a platform to the ideas that people have.”
A number of local artists were helping with the activities; pieces by Ronnie Cashmore adorned one corner of the unit, while Rachel Symonds was co-ordinating the “selfie” project. Her aim was to collate 1,000 photos of local people to put together into a massive mosaic.
“When you look at what’s happening in other parts of Solihull, in London, in Bristol, wherever, there’s no reason why the people in Chelmsley Wood shouldn’t have the same opportunity to express themselves,” she said.
“There’s an energy to art. It can bring out a colour and a character that we don’t always see and I think people enjoy the escapism.”
Buoyed by the success of their “launch” event, B37 Project hope to continue organising other events and are keen to hear from residents with ideas. It is also hoped that the initiative could lay the foundations for more public art around the estate.
You can get in touch with the group via their Facebook page.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Save our Playground: Challenge to council's decision fails

A SOLIHULL Council committee has tonight ruled that the controversial decision to only continue funding to Meriden Adventure Playground for another six months was correct.
Last month's decision, which will mean that local authority support comes to an end in September, had been "called-in" by opposition councillors.
In an often heated debate, representatives from the adventure playground had urged the council to reconsider the timetable and allow longer for the facility to become self-sufficient.
Supporters had always argued that the time that had been allowed would make it incredibly difficult to raise sufficient money from elsewhere.
Rebecca Bradshaw, speaking on behalf of the playground, said: "This committee [has] a simple choice. To leave the service to walk the gangplank... based on a poorly assessed decision that will have an impact and a greater expense to the community and authority. 
"Or, to rethink across the remits which some of you hold to at least provide a life raft and flare to attract other funders in time.
"Let’s face it, it's a tiny amount of money needed to keep this service afloat. This committee is the final stop for the decision, and so I urge you to do whatever horse trading needs to be done."
Ultimately the call-in committee upheld the original decision by four votes to three. The split was along party lines, with the four Conservative members backing the cabinet member, while the Green and Liberal Democrat representatives argued it had been the wrong call.
Councillor Stephen Holt (Green, Smith's Wood) noted that the facility served three of the most deprived wards in the country and said that if the council took its commitment to tackling inequality seriously, it needed to take into account the impact on local youngsters.
"The thing that struck me reading through the various how much the playground contributed to helping children from disadvantaged families. It's clear the playground made a difference to those taking the playground away must, by definition, increase the disadvantage.
"It's quite clear that the benefits of the playground are enormous and yet the amount of money [we're talking about] is relatively small."
QUIZZED: Coun Ken Hawkins
His comments were echoed by Coun Glenis Slater (Lib Dem, Elmdon), who said it had to be recognised that the opportunities available to children in different parts of Solihull varied dramatically. She was particularly critical of the suggestion that people in other wards might resent having to contribute towards a facility that they didn't directly benefit from.
"I would like to know why people would complain about other people having something they have already got?" she asked, prompting applause from the public gallery.
Councillor Diana Holl-Allen (Con, Knowle) acknowledged it was a sensitive issue, but argued it had been looked at "thoroughly".
Councillor Ken Hawkins, cabinet member for the environment, housing and regeneration, was the man who made the decision last month and had been called upon to explain his reasons. He argued that financial pressures on the council's departments were such that difficult choices had to be made and there needed to be honesty about the resources available.
"I may not have been happy taking the decision...but considering all the facts and issues relating to it, I'm in no doubt it was the correct decision and I did not make it lightly."
While Coun Hawkins has said he very much hoped that the playground could find alternative funding to continue in its current form - 15 bids have already been submitted - he suggested that much of the current site would be retained. Although without staff, some of the larger equipment would be removed and services such as the clothes bank and food vouchers would end.

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