Saturday, 28 February 2015

Solihull councillors clash over Living Wage at Budget meeting

CAMPAIGN: Solihull Council has been under pressure for
some time to introduce the Living Wage for its workers
A ROW erupted this week over whether Solihull Council could afford to increase the salary of some of its poorest paid workers.
On Thursday night, councillors considered the Budget which sets out the borough's  spending plans for the next 12 months.
Always a heated occasion, this year's meeting was dominated by a debate about whether the council should introduce the Living Wage - guaranteeing its core workforce a minimum of £7.85 an hour.
The Green Party, who set out the proposals, argued the increase in earnings would make a massive difference to thousands of people locally who are struggling to make ends meet. North Solihull would have been a major beneficiary, since wages in the regeneration wards are on average 30 per cent less than across the borough as a whole.
Councillor James Burn (Green, Chelmsley Wood) said it was "hard to understand" how the Living Wage could be refused; the rate is already paid by Birmingham City Council.
The idea won the backing of the Lib Dems, Labour and Solihull's sole independent councillor, but was cut down by the ruling Conservative group, who argued that the policy would cost the cash-strapped authority over £300,000 .
Councillor Ken Hawkins (Con, Blythe) claimed it was "madness" to spend this year's surplus and added that there was no notion of where the money would be found to pay the increased wages in future years.
"How can any political group seek to spend money we do not have and might not have in future?" he asked.
While the Living Wage proposals were dismissed, the budget approved for 2015/16 will nonetheless see council tax frozen for the fifth consecutive year. However, increases in precepts from parish councils will mean that some residents will still see their bills go up.
Speaking after the meeting, the Leader of the Council, Bob Sleigh (pictured right), said that in spite of an ongoing squeeze on council finances, the borough's essential services remained at a high standard.
"Along with the rest of the public sector, the council faces a massive challenge in the next few years to deliver public services with a much lower level of funding than previously," he said.
"However, these are also exciting times for Solihull, with managed growth in the borough's economy increasing the income we generate locally."

Living Wage: Since the late 1990s, all employers have to, by law, pay their employees the National Minimum Wage (currently £6.50 an hour). But many believe that too many families on low incomes still struggle to get by on the statutory sum. This led to a campaign, launched in 2001, for the introduction of the so-called Living Wage (£7.85 an hour outside London). Today more than 1000 employers, including several FTSE 100 companies, have pledged to pay the rate to staff.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Chelmsley Wood teenager's job prospects are hotting up

I LOVATT: Lucy with (left) Michael Bryan, West Midlands Fire Service's
youth engagement officer and Ian Hughes, from the PPDG

A CHELMSLEY Wood teenager with a burning ambition to become a firefighter recently landed her dream work experience placement.
Lucy Lovatt, aged 17, is currently involved in a voluntary course run by Pertemps People Development Group (PPDG), which aims to improve the employment skills of young people in North Solihull.
While completing her study programme, the eager teenager dashed off an email and was delighted when Solihull Fire Station agreed to show her the ropes. Not to mention the bells, poles and hoses.
As part of the five month placement, she is shadowing different departments at West Midlands Fire Service. And away from the station, the PPDG course is teaching her the importance of teamwork, good timekeeping and dressing to impress.
"This is an incredible opportunity and I'm so grateful for all the support I've received from the team," said Lucy, who is more determined than ever to join the fire service.
"If I had to give a piece of advice to teenagers in my situation it would be improve your skills, undertake some work experience and use your time to see if it's an area you definitely want to be in. If it is, learn from those around you and then look to make a career out of it."
Women have traditionally been under represented in the fire service - just four per cent of the current workforce is female. A number of stations around the country have held special recruitments drives in an effort to improve the gender balance.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Robberies fall but anti social behaviour still a problem in Meriden Park

CRACKDOWN: Efforts are being made to tackle crime in Meriden Park,
Chelmsley Wood, but anti social behaviour remains an issue.

CRIME has been cut by more than a third in a Chelmsley Wood street which had become notorious for the sheer number of offences reported.
In 2013, Moorend Avenue had the dubious distinction of  having the second highest number of incidents anywhere in Solihull – with around 80 crimes recorded. Although more than half the offences actually happened in Meriden Park; the main entrance to which is off this road.
Solihull Council said that significant work had been carried out to make the area safer, with CCTV installed and paths being better lit.
The new measures have had a considerable effect on the crime rate, the number of offences recorded fell to 51 in 2014 and there has been a marked drop in the number of robberies.
18 muggings happened in 2013, but the number fell to four the following year.
A council spokesman said: “Whilst anti-social behaviour is still an issue within this park it is positive to see the severity of crimes against the person incidents has greatly reduced.”
The success was highlighted in a report prepared for the council’s crime and disorder panel earlier this month.
DAMAGE: The charred remains of a
tree house in Meriden Park
Members were told that it was important to respond to community safety issues, as this helped build public confidence and reduced fears of crime.
As the Moorend Avenue study suggests, there is, however, still some work to do in tackling crimes such as vandalism. Last year, for instance, the Adventure Playground was repeatedly targeted by arsonists.
Almost a quarter of people recently surveyed in North Solihull are concerned that the authorities aren’t doing enough to tackle anti social behaviour. In total, 23 per cent were dissatisfied with the response, up from 15 per cent in 2013.

Update: Following publication of this article, the Meriden Adventure Playground requested the opportunity to comment.

Simon Rix, senior playworker, said: “While there was an issue with fire raising last autumn, it is believed that this was perpetrated by people from outside the area, who do not have a facility like the Adventure Playground of their own.
“The problem has not resurfaced since and it was mitigated by local people organising a midnight sponsored walk around the park, which raised over £300 towards repairs and rebuilding.
“This showed a worthy community spirit and alongside the playground being voted for by the community for an Asda Green Token grant, illustrates the support that the playground has amongst ordinary people in Chelmsley Wood.”

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Drivers could be fined for parking on verges and pavements

CHEWED UP: People parking on grass verges and the pavement continues
to be an issue in large parts of North Solihull.
TOUGH new measures to tackle problem parking - which could see drivers slapped with a £70 fine -
may be rolled out to areas including Castle Bromwich.
Residents in the suburb have grown frustrated with selfish motorists who churn up grass verges or park on the pavement.
At the moment, Solihull Council relies on bollards and double kerbs to try and deter drivers, but many continue to flout the law.
However, the success of a pilot scheme to tackle similar issues in Dickens Heath has opened the door to more rigorous restrictions being introduced in other parts of Solihull.
Next week, Councillor Ted Richards, cabinet member for transport and highways, will be presented with a report on the the effectiveness of the trial, which started just over 12 months ago.
Road chiefs recommend that the system of introducing Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) and fining those who ignore the rules should be considered as a way of dealing with future problems.
The introduction of TROs will also be looked at when plans for new housing developments -  likely to lead to parking problems - are brought to the local authority.
Coun Richards, who represents Castle Bromwich, has previously criticised those who leave verges looking like "ploughed fields" and force wheelchair-users and mums with buggies to walk in the road to get past.
18 months ago, a joint initiative - backed by the parish council and local police - was launched in his own ward in an attempt to try and bring the problem under control.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Speedwatch meeting in Castle Bromwich this week

A SCHEME to put the brakes on speeding drivers is being considered for Castle Bromwich.
Residents are being asked to attend an event tomorrow evening (Wednesday) to discuss the possibility of setting up a Speedwatch initiative in the suburb.
Similar schemes are already up-and-running in around a dozen locations in Solihull, with volunteers monitoring the speed of vehicles on stretches of road where there is a particular problem with drivers breaking the limit.
Castle Bromwich Parish Council has organising tomorrow's event so that people can find out about how the project would work in practice.
It follows concerns about dangerous driving on a number of main roads locally  - a recent survey suggested that more than half of vehicles are going faster than 30mph as they pass Park Hall Academy.
The meeting will take place at Arden Hall, in Water Orton Road, from 7pm.
If you would be interested in getting involved but can't attend, call the council office on 0121 747 6503.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Marston Green teen jailed for treating the streets like a racetrack

A MARSTON Green motorcyclist - whose dangerous manoeuvres put other road users at risk - has been sent to a young offenders' institute.
Jack Smith, 19, of Fulwell Mews, admitted a charge of dangerous driving and was also banned from the road for three years.
Birmingham Crown Court heard that the teenager was one of several bikers seen speeding through a residential area one afternoon last November.
A police helicopter observed the gang weaving through the streets and cutting across parkland in the Tile Cross area. They covered around six or seven miles in half an hour, sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road.
At one point Smith, who wasn't wearing a helmet, had tumbled off his bike to avoid colliding with another vehicle. He was eventually arrested after running out of petrol.
Judge Nicholas Webb said that the gang had treated the streets like a racetrack and a message needed to be sent about the dangers of such reckless behaviour.
Timothy Harrington, defending, said the group of young men had been "messing about", but Smith now realised he could not continue to act in such a juvenile way.
The teenager was given eight months in custody.

  • Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson was recently invited to Chelmsley Wood by Labour Party activists, who remain concerned about the number of riders tearing around local streets. Mr Jamieson, formerly a Kingshurst councillor, said he would work with his officers to curb the problem.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Chelmsley Wood flats to feature in national photo archive

HIGH RISE HERITAGE: Bangor House, in Chelmsley Wood, welcomed
its first tenants in 1970.
TOWER blocks in Chelmsley Wood will feature in a new project, celebrating the history of high rise flats.
Academics at the Edinburgh College of Art aim to create an archive with images of every multi-storey housing block in the UK.
Their hope is to challenge the negative stereotypes about the buildings, which transformed Britain's skyline in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Flats in Chelmsley Wood have been chosen as some of the best-known examples, alongside apartments in Thamesmead, London, The Gorbals, Glasgow and Manchester's Hulme area.
The three-year project will receive £52,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and by 2017, as many as 3500 photos will be available to view digitally.
Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: "Without archives, vast segments of our nation's history would be missing.
"As the high rise towers that have dominated many towns' and cities' skylines begin to disappear, it is important for us to capture this heritage and give voice to the experience of those who live in these flats and communities."
Prof Miles Glendinning, from the college's conservation studies department, said that the public view of high rise flats had started to shift in recent years and he hoped the project would encourage yet more people to see the structures in a new light.

Highs and Lows: The first of many residential tower blocks was built in Harlow, Essex in 1951. At the time the flats were seen as "a quick fix" for the nation's housing shortage and in fact proved a popular choice with families. But in the rush to erect the buildings, corners were cut and within a couple of decades there were already reports of serious structural problems at many sites around the country. By the end of the 1970s, the tower block boom was over. 
Increasingly the buildings became associated with shoddy workmanship and rising levels of anti social behaviour, The author Lynsey Hanley, who grew up on Chelmsley Wood, went as far as to brand the blocks "slums in the sky", Many councils, who now considered the buildings a failed experiment, took the decision to pull them down. What had once seemed futuristic was rapidly being consigned to the history books.... 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Shake-up of policing in Marston Green

TIME FOR A CHANGE: Residents hope a reorganisation of local policing
teams will benefit Marston Green.
POLICE have responded to concerns about an increase in crime in Marston Green and said that a shake-up of Solihull's local policing unit will mean they're located a lot closer to the village.
Residents have previously questioned why the the officers who cover the village are based in Balsall Common - around eight miles away.
The situation is made worse by the fact that the Bickenhill and Meriden neighbourhood team is responsible for policing events at the NEC and airport and covers such a wide area - around a third of the borough of Solihull.
This has led to criticism from some residents, who fear that local issues aren't given due attention.
But PC Dave Jephcott (pictured, right) recently confirmed that he and a community support officer would be given special responsibility for the Marston Green area, and would be operating out of Chelmsley Wood Police Station from this month. 
In a message to the village Facebook page, he said: "As well as providing us with a better base to work out of, [the move] will also align us with the Chelmsley Wood neighbourhood team...meaning that any support that we may need from extra officers to support operations in the area will be easier to obtain."
Further details about the new arrangements were discussed with residents at last week's meeting of Bickenhill and Marston Green Parish Council.
Insp Allan Green, who made the case for the changes to superior officers, said he was confident that the new system would be an improvement.
He also addressed concerns about rising crime in the village, which have been fuelled by a recent spate of shed thefts and the ongoing problem with off-road bikes.
He conceded that the number of offences reported had risen compared to last year, but was still far below neighbouring areas in North Solihull.
Current priorities for officers include tackling anti social behaviour, and alleged drug dealing, outside the chip shop in Greenlands Road.
Police have urged people to report crimes on 101.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Incredible recovery of Smith's Wood woman who battled anorexia

A YOUNG woman from Smith's Wood whose weight fell to just three and a half stone during her battle with anorexia wants to help others living with the eating disorder, the Birmingham Mail reports.

Concern over Castle Brom petrol station's opening hours

FUELLING CONTROVERSY: The Total Service Station, on the Chester
Road, wants to make its 24 hour opening hours permanent
A CASTLE Bromwich petrol station should be given the go-ahead to permanently open 24/7, planning chiefs have concluded.
In April 2013, the Total Service Station, at 296 Chester Road, received approval to operate right through the night on a trial basis.
On Wednesday, councillors must decide whether the arrangements should be allowed to remain in place.
There had previously been concern about anti social behaviour, people congregating at the forecourt in the early hours and an increase in littering.
Janice Stokes, one of several residents to object to the changes, said: “The service station is next door to a sheltered scheme for older residents [Chestnut Close]. Increased night time traffic would cause disturbance to residents.”
Castle Bromwich Parish Council has also raised concerns, arguing that there is already 24 hour provision elsewhere on the Chester Road.
Despite this, Solihull Council’s planning officers argue that no evidence of an adverse impact on the local area has emerged during the trial period.
They recommended that the planning committee rubber-stamps the proposals, although a condition would be that there are no fuel deliveries between 9.30pm-7.30am

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Scheme aims to reduce journey times between North and South Solihull

EFFORTS to cut agonising journey times between North and South Solihull were given a major boost last week.
Solihull Council has claimed that the Lode Lane Project - a £1.7m scheme to improve the flow of traffic - could reduce journeys by six to eight minutes.
Announcing the proposals at Solihull College last week, Councillor Ian Courts said the scheme would tackle the long-standing difficulties of people travelling from one side of the borough to another.
Lode Lane - one of the main routes into Solihull town centre - gets notoriously congested during peak times and problems are made worse by the sheer volume of vehicles leaving the Land Rover factory.
The build up of traffic, combined with the design of bus routes, mean that it can take well over an hour to travel from the town centre to Castle Bromwich for those who can't drive.
While a detailed plan is yet be announced, the Leader of the Council, Bob Sleigh, has promised that the project will deliver improvements to public transport, cycling and walking routes.
The funding has been made available as part of the Government's Growth Deal - a £21.4million package put aside for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area.

The Long Way Round: Councillors have long recognised that transport links between different parts of Solihull are in urgent need of improvement.
Five years ago, the transport and highways department was asked to look at ways that a more efficient network could help bolster the local economy.
Officers identified that the traditional difficulties with joblessness in wards such as Chelmsley Wood could be eased by better connecting the communities with the main employment centres, such as the NEC, airport and Solihull town centre.
Efforts to improve the situation got off to shaky start after an overhaul of bus services did little to improve the situation for those reliant on public transport.
Some members could barely conceal their frustration over the lack of progress.Castle Bromwich councillor Ted Richards (pictured above) said that routes remained "torturous" and were likely to deter people applying for jobs further afield.
The much-vaunted North Solihull Cycle Network, which was completed last year, saw the council adopt a different tactic. While the scheme attracted criticism after going considerably over budget, there have nonetheless been real efforts to encourage people to use the route to get to work.