Wednesday, 28 October 2009


Here are the details of our speaker event at the University of Birmingham Avon Room, University Centre on 19th November at 7pm.

The climate crisis has been caused by rich industrialised countries, but it is the world’s poorer majority who are paying the highest price, as extreme weather events become more common, freshwater glaciers melt, and droughts increase. We believe that this means rich countries owe a ‘climate debt’ to the global south.

The Climate Justice UK speaker tour this autumn will see public meetings held around the country. Join us to hear why we need a global climate agreement which is both effective and delivers justice for the global south, and how you can make this happen.
Speakers are:
* Mohammed Shamsuddoha (Equity Bangladesh)
* Andy Atkins (Friends of the Earth)
* Hilary Thorndike (Refugee Council)

Spread the word: Invite your friends to this event!

Full details of the tour can be found at:

Organised by: World Development Movement, People & Planet, Jubilee Debt Campaign, and Friends of the Earth.

More information about the Shared Planet conference is at:


The climate crisis has been caused by the rich industrialised countries, but it is the world’s poorer majority who are paying the highest price, as extreme weather events become more common, freshwater glaciers melt, and droughts increase.

We believe that rich countries owe a ‘climate debt’ to the global south. Not only do we need to reduce our emissions drastically, but we also need to provide new money so that poor countries can develop in a sustainable way and cope with the climate crisis which is already putting millions of lives at risk. This should not be seen as overseas aid, given out of charity, but compensation for our overuse of the earth’s resources.

In the run up to the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December, rich countries are trying to bully developing countries into accept unreasonably large emissions cuts, whilst shirking making the necessary cuts themselves. At the same time, they are seeking to channel climate change funding for poor countries through the World Bank, the largest multilateral lender for fossil fuel projects in the world! What’s more, this will mostly be in the form of loans which will only add to the unjust debts which developing countries owe the rich world.

Come and hear our speakers explain why we need a global climate agreement which is both effective and delivers justice for the global south, and how you can make this happen.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

SOB - Save Our Buses?

There are worrying signs that all is not well with bus provision in Birmingham. Instead of improving the services, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are becoming even more infrequent in places where people need them. Only today there was an article in the Birmingham Mail about prices being too high and we have been campaigning for months for better bus services to be driven by a Statuatory Partnership which would be responsible for driving improvements. There is an e-petition for this and we have been collecting signed letters from discontented bus users.

It seems that National Express, which runs TWM (the company responsible for buses such as the one in the picture) is in financial difficulty and may not be able to survive. This means that a new company could soon be running the buses here and we need to be ready to engage with them and explain what it is we expect from the bus service in this city.
At the transport action group meeting on Monday evening it was decided that we need to hold a special meeting to draw up our demands or "bus manifesto" to be prepared for such a situation and use in our campaigning. Next Monday we have a general campaigns meeting at 7.30, but we'll also be holding a special bus meeting before it at 6.30. So, if you feel strongly about this come along then, or email your comments to and we'll use them to guide the discussion.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Our Food Chain Parade

Last Saturday, members of our campaigns group were out in Birmingham City Centre on a Food Chain Parade to end our Food Chain fortnight of action.

As you can see from the picture below we were drawing people's attention to the issues surrounding factoring farming in this country leading to deforestation of some of the world's most valuable pristine habitat in South America. Arrows go from the animals to the bags of soy feed which they eat to the man with the chainsaw who cuts down the trees to grow the crops.

The parade went from in front of Tesco on New Street, up to Victoria Square, along Colmore Row, down Church Street, across to Ludgate Hill, up to St Pauls Square, along Brook Street, along Graham Street up Frederick St and along Warstone Lane where we finished at the 24 carrot farmers market in the Jewellery quarter.

Shaking our maracas we made our way along the route giving out badges and stickers to people along the way and singing our own version of "Old MacDonald Had A Farm".

It was a really fun event. Thanks to everyone who helped make the props and who joined in on the day. Let's hope that all the MPs get behind this now and the bill goes through parliament to make our food planet-friendly.

Click here to see how you can help online.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bees - the new canaries

Over the years a few different animals and plants have been termed the new canaries in the coal mine for climate change and the ecological problems facing the world. Amphibians are at terrible risk of being wiped out, which could lead to huge increases in the numbers of insects and other problems. Coral-bleaching shows how much the oceans are warming and there is also evidence of how acidic they are becoming, with the real possibility that they could lose their ability to store carbon. Now though, it is the turn of the bees to become the symbol of environmental problems with a new film vanishing bees looking at the reasons for colony collapse disorder and warning of the consequences if nothing is done to save them.

On Wednesday a few of us from Birmingham Friends of the Earth went along to see the film at The Electric cinema and all of us certainly did come out thinking we wanted to do something - maybe put a hive on the roof of the Warehouse? Well, no that's probably not feasible, but definitely plant some bee-friendly stuff in the garden and maybe chuck a few seed bombs into the disused bulldozed sites of Digbeth.

While not as bleak as the Age of Stupid, the picture given in this film in the no-action-being-taken scenario, is also pretty worrying. The arguments for the importance of bees for all of us are pretty stark and cannot be ignored. The trouble is that neither this film nor any scientific study has provided conclusive proof of what is causing the bees to disappear. If you go expecting to get that, you'll be disappointed.

As a film, the vanishing of the bees has been described as "earnest", so I wasn't expecting it to be much more than informative, but there certainly were some interesting characters in the film and a few shocking facts - for example, the USA is now flying in bees from Australia to pollinate certain crops!!! It was also nice that there was a woman called Bee and a man called Dr Pollan in there who obviously belonged in their field.

The culprits are gradually revealed in the course of the documentary through interviews with bee-keepers, scientists and farmers. As an environmentalist they are pretty much what you'd expect; the use of certain pesticides, the use of intensive farming methods that have created huge monocultures rather than the biodiversity of mixed organic farming systems, loss of habitat and probably some of it is due to the industrialisation of bee-keeping itself. Many of these are also drivers of climate change and other problems associated with the ecology of our planet, so although the fate of bees is not necessarily directly linked to climate change, if we deal with one we will be helping to deal with the other, too.

I hadn't realised quite how much The Vanishing of the Bees would be about the USA, but that was primarily the focus, with only a minor mention of the UK. The fact is that we are the two countries mentioned who have not banned a certain Bayer pesticide with nicotinoids, which has been banned all over Europe where bee-keepers showed conclusive proof of what it was doing to bees (even Germany has banned it and Bayer is a German company!). I very much liked the French bee-keepers who took on the industrial giant and won, describing themselves as hippies who had been underestimated.

The American bee-keepers were interesting characters, but most of them work on such a massive industrial scale, taking their bees back and forth across the USA on lorries, that I kind of want that way of working to fail. There were a few small-scale bee-keepers and the ones who work locally with crops that flower at different times of the year seem to be doing much better.

Overall, it was certainly worth going to see, but the film was a bit over-long and could have been a bit bolder. For someone who didn't know about the topic at all, it would be very revealing, but for those with a reasonable amount of knowledge already, it did sometimes come over as a little patronising.

What is clear after seeing The Vanishing of the Bees, is that we must do something to change the destructive farming practices and have a new green revolution. This will help with food security both in terms of contributing fewer of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change and in helping to protect bees who are vital for so much of the food we eat. This all ties in very well with our Fix the Food Chain campaign, so look here to see how you can help with that in Birmingham this weekend.

Joe Peacock

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

This Saturday - Fix the Food Chain Parade

Do you want to support a thriving yet planet-friendly farming industry? Then come and join us this Saturday 17th of October.

To finish off our summer of action when we have been out and about campaigning at festivals farmers markets and other events across Birmingham to build support for our campaign we will be having a parade through the city centre on Saturday.

The Parade will consist of a chain of people including:
  • Chicken and cow sandwich-boards (see above)
  • Soy-bean sacks and maracas
  • Farmers with placards calling for planet-friendly farming
  • A lumberjack with a chainsaw

The parade will start at 10:30 in front of Tesco on New Street, up to Victoria Square, along Colmore Row, down Church Street, across to Ludgate Hill, up to St Pauls Square, along Brook Street, along Graham Street up Frederick St and along Warstone Lane where we'll finish at the 24 carrot farmers market in the Jewellery quarter.

What's wrong with the current food chain?

Animals in British factory farms are pumped full of protein to speed up their growth. Soy is a major source of protein but to produce enough, precious habitats like rainforests are cleared in South America to make way for vast soy plantations.

Destroying these forests increases climate-changing gases in the atmosphere. In addition, small-scale farmers are forced off their land by soy plantations and can sink into poverty because they are unable to grow food for their families and/or cash crops.

But the global chain doesn't only affect remote locations and people. UK farmers and ultimately the public also pay the price because we are all more vulnerable to fluctuating commodity prices.

So how do we fix the Food Chain?

The Food Chain campaign isn't about getting rid of meat and dairy farming - it's about getting Government to revolutionise it.

We want to see them change the deal behind our meals. This means:

  • Shifting subsidies away from factory farming.
  • Supporting farmers to grow their own animal feed.
  • Supermarkets offering fairer deals for everyone.

What can I do?

That depends on how much time you have and whether you want to get more involved.

You could

  • Parade with us on Saturday
  • If you have limited time but are in the vicinity you could sign a Fix the Food Chain postcard which will be sent to your local MP
  • E-mail your MP here
  • Come to the once a month Food Chain campaign meeting and get more involved - for more information e-mail Joe Peacock at
The sun is predicted to come out on Saturday so what a better day for helping the environment, UK farmers and stocking up on some local food at the farmers market all in one go!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Digbeth: Past, Present & Future

I went along to the Digbeth: Past, Present & Future discussion at Ikon Eastside on 6 October, as BFoE has long been involved in the area both from a campaigning front and the fact that BFoE's building 'The Warehouse' has been located there for 32 years (well the building has been there much longer, but BFoE have been in there for 32 years).

The event was very well attended, with only a handful of seats left. The event started off with the showing of a short film made up of old archive film footage of Digbeth through the years, which included:
Holiday crowds leaving the bus station and Moor Street station (1956)
The opening of Midland Red Bus Station (now Digbeth Coach Station) (1958)
An escaped bull from the slaughterhouse running through the streets of Digbeth (1963)
Deritend flats due for demolition (1965)
Birds Ltd leaving the Custard Factory (1965)
The Irish Protest march (1969)
National Front Rally and rival protests by the anti-fascists (1978)
Closure of the Typhoo Tea factory (1978)

It was very interesting, and sometimes amusing, to see the old Digbeth and how it has gradually transformed over the decades.

Following on from this was an open discussion with the panel made up of Nicky Getgood (of the Digbeth is Good blog) who was chairing the discussion, Adam Crossley (of Digbeth Residents Association), Joe Holyoak (architect, urban designer and vocal supporter of Digbeth's heritage and future), Jonathan Watkin (Director of Ikon Gallery), Dave Harte (Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at Birmingham City University), and James Hall (Architect for BCU's BIAD building from Associated Architects). Philip Singleton (Assistant Director Planning & Regeneration at Birmingham City Council) was also due to be in attendance, but cancelled at the last minute due to a double booking.

The debate flowed quite seamlessly between issues of urban planning policy, creative industries, Digbeth as a digital district, art, education, communities, music, entertainment, voluntary and social groups, and generally back through and around all of these subjects and the issues surrounding them on multiple occasions. Personally, I thought this highlighted the complex interconnected web of people and uses that makes up Digbeth, and that each subject can't be considered on its own when it comes to the area's future. As well as the discussion amongst the panel, the audience also contributed a great deal, both vocally and through Twitter, with a projector and screen rigged up to show a live feed of people in the audience tweeting their questions, comments, facts and associated links. I thought this was a very innovative approach to engaging the audience, and seemed to work well, allowing the less physically vocal members to contribute to the debate, or simply to add links to facts and points of interest elsewhere on the web that were mentioned in the debate. Many of these items were brought into the discussion, I think these will be added to the Ikon website along with the film footage at some point soon.

As I said, a great number of issues were covered in the discussion, but there was a great deal of debate around the physical form of Digbeth. The lack of a coherent planning policy for the area was brought up, and the absurdity of the conservation area guidelines (which include the banning of trees and greenery, as well as resistance to opening up the canals and River Rea to the wider urban environment), and the fact that planning policy was tossed aside when the 'vanity' scheme that is The Beorma Tower turned up. A great deal of concern was also raised about the wholesale levelling of buildings to make way for new large monolithic developments which lost the character and plot history of the area, some of which had gone ahead, and some of which have now stalled, leaving a barren wasteland of rubble in their wake with seemingly no redevelopment in sight. Especially highlighted for critisism were the Bradford Street area and the Eastside/City Park area, the latter also attracting comments about the forcing out of local businesses and residents such as Rosa's Cafe, Los Canarios and Fred Grove in order to make way for new architecturally annonymous large scale development that has still yet to happen. This despite the showing of a flashy computer generated fly-through of the Eastside redevlopment and city park set to suitably upbeat marketing music and regularly pointing out large sums of money that are to be spent - I got the impression the audience was distinctly unimpressed with this, and it also received a few derogatory comments from the panel too!

There seemed to be a lot more support for the incremental organic development of Digbeth, more in line with Professor Michael Parkinson's report (rather than Big City Plan), with a greater emphasis on keeping the historic grain, concentrating on smaller developments and reusing buildings. On the last point, ideas were also forthcoming on putting artists and other creative and small businesses in touch with landlords of vacant buildings to see about leasing these on a short term basis for affordable rents. Such an initiative could help prevent the sorry story that comes from the government's ending of tax relief on empty buildings, which results in it being cheaper to demolish a vacant building than to pay the business rates on it (but that's another issue I won't get started on right now!).

We were also given a presentation from James Hall of Associated Architects on the new Birmingham City University BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art & Design) building. Comments were made that this should help to connect the wider Digbeth area with the Eastside/City Park area (which is currently severed by the railway line) in both a physical sense and as a means of fostering links with Digbeth's vibrant creative scene.

Talk also turned to the creative sector, and with the council seemingly wanting to make Digbeth the 'creative district'. Whilst there are a great number of creative industries and organisations now resident in Digbeth (I for one was certainly surprised to hear that Digbeth now has more art galleries than any other area outside of London), it seems that people were generally happier to be to amongst the current melting pot rather than be pushed into a prescribed 'creative quarter'. To me the council's approach is again tied to it's often two dimensional planning use zoning, which lacks the dynamism of a place like Digbeth that ebbs and flows at a far greater rhythm than planning policy ever does.

Tying into the whole creative sector was the council's efforts to enable 'Digital Digbeth' through the provision of a very high speed data connection. The council seems to be making big moves with this plan, and people seemed broadly supportive, although they thought it should be accessible to all areas of the city rather than a specific area, and should be about providing the infrastructure rather than prescribing a use for it. However, it does sound like Digbeth will be just the first trial area.

Topping off the discussion were the ongoing issues of the lack of life's basic necessities, such as a grocery store and a cash machine, as well as noise complaints about live music venues from a seemingly vocal minority, and the risk that this may put the brakes on Digbeth's reputation for live entertainment and nightlife which is an integral part of it's vibrancy.

Overall I thought it was an excellent evening, with a great panel, well attended, with an innovative use of Twitter, and resulted in a very wide reaching, but focused discussion that I feel contributed a wealth of information to the debate about Digbeth's future. It was just a pity Philip Singleton of Birmingham City Council wasn't in attendance, he missed a great opportunity to engage with a talented and passionate group of people who had a Typhoo Tea Factory full of great ideas to progress Digbeth in a way that respects it's past and nurtures it's future. Perhaps those passionate Digbethites should make their own plan, if we can have 'BCC-DIY', a community version the Birmingham City Council website, why can't we have a community plan for the future of Digbeth?
'Digbeth-DIY' anyone?

A Good Egg

MP Dr Lynne Jones took time to come to the Warehouse cafe last Monday to show her support for our Fix the Food Chain campaign.

The campaign which promotes the use of planet-friendly agricultural practices over intensive factory farming (currently a very large source of greenhouse gas emissions) has gained widespread public support and now the Early Day Motion which is sponsored by Dr Jones will hopefully become a private members bill next year.

As well as cracking open an enormous egg, Dr Jones had a Meat Free Monday meal in the vegetarian cafe and spoke to campaigners about the issue.

“I am committed to ‘fixing the food chain’ and helping small farmers and I am joining the campaign by Friends of the Earth which calls for planet-friendly farming.

Our excessive consumption of meat and dairy, especially from intensive farming is contributing to climate change and harming wildlife. It’s great that so many of my constituents have got in touch with me over this important issue.”

This Saturday we will be following this up with a parade through Birmingham city centre ending up at the farmers market in the Jewellery quarter to bring more attention to the cause. If you're around, come and cheer along the farmers, cows, chickens and others coming to a square near you on Saturday to call for a new green revolution which is fair, sustainable and does not cause harm to our planet.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Response of Birmingham Friends of the Earth to the West Midlands Rail Development Plan

As those who follow our activities will know, recently we ran a very successful public campaign to get as many people as possible to respond to the consultation on the WM Rail Development Plan. We got over a thousand letters from local people asking for the re-opening of stations on the Camp Hill line stopping at Balsall Heath, Moseley, Kings Heath and Stirchley, as well as being part of the wider rail network.

In addition to that, we did also submit a very detailed response of our own, running to over 20 pages. If anyone would like to see a copy of that, I am very happy to email it to them - contact me at and I'll send it to you, but here for everyone is the summary of what we want without all the detail.

What should a Regional Rail Network Achieve?
The Network should be one that is consistent with other policies such as Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), West Midlands Regional Economic Strategy, Local Transport Plans, National policies (such as those relating to Climate Change), demographic changes (accommodating different groups). To work, the Network has to be structured support passenger journeys of those not using the private car (rather than assuming that all have access to a car), and must address the following:

  • Movement of goods and materials (so it is not solely about passengers)
  • Reliability in all seasons
  • Low energy demand
  • Improved quality of life
  • Incorporation of innovation to design, maintenance of the railway
  • Changes in the type of rail vehicles including those for freight
  • Upcoming challenges such as Peak Oil, Volatile energy prices, reduction in long distance commuting, localisation
  • Railway as a workplace
  • Accommodating tourism, coping with other languages

Trends in demand
The market for rail is large and being fixed infrastructure, customers and users have confidence that it will remain in place.
Access to the railways for potential freight in Birmingham is currently very limited as the provision is for large volumes to a limited number of destinations. To achieve the Climate Change mitigation targets, the current arrangements whereby goods are moved principally by road and over long distances, has to change. Rail has to play a part in such change and to suit such change, current short termism (such as eliminating the freight potential of Longbridge and (outside Birmingham) Longbridge, has to be reversed.
Department for Transport statistics on bus travel indicates that of non bus users, half would be willing to use buses. This indicates that there is potential for growth in bus as collector for the rail network (and for journeys wholly undertaken by bus). Currently residents of Birmingham communities suffer the severance resulting from high volumes of car traffic; reduction in traffic levels and transfer to bus and train can improve road conditions for other travellers (including pedestrians and cyclists) and enhance journey time reliability.
Contact with the public by Birmingham Friends of the Earth has clearly established that there is strong support for available rail transport within walking distance of homes and workplaces at such places as Balsall Heath and Kings Heath. The case for reviewing past studies such as the Multi Modal Study for the West Midlands (that advocated Benson Road Curve, Bordesley Chord and other passenger train enhancements including stations), should be undertaken but with a fresh perspective.
The market for rail to serve journeys for recreation has barely been explored: many attractions that target Birmingham residents are genuinely (or are perceived to be) not easily accessible by rail or bus. This applies also to some towns that are not served by a rail station such as Market Drayton, Alcester, Newport (Shropshire). Need for a comprehensive Network Transport planners have a hierarchy of passenger flows and the type of public transport provision that is justified. Generally, however, each settlement in the West Midlands Region should be setting out to improve its degree of sustainability. This means that shared use developments (i.e. employment and residential and services) and increased attractiveness of each settlement should be the policy around which transport is based. The current policy of accommodating long distance commuting is not consistent with meeting carbon targets.
Taken in this context, all settlements should be connected by public transport feeding into the railways. The current layout of the railways and the way that they are used, directs many passenger train services to or through central Birmingham even if that is not on the way. In future, connections between substantial or expanded settlements shall be required to be by rail and this will require some railway reinstatement or new provision: the rail strategy should state this. Settlements that currently have a station (such as the town of Polesworth) should retain that station, and if patronage is low, measures to promote the usage instigated. Passenger growth has been substantially developed in the past at various places including Lichfield, Cannock, Pershore, Redditch and Bromsgrove.

Door to door journey
Overall journey time is generally dictated by time spent waiting for a connection rather than by the speed of the bus or train. In Birmingham, particularly if the pressures imposed by peak journey to work usage can be reduced, a frequent service to all Birmingham local stations (including the new ones on the Kings Heath /Camp Hill route), will attract more passengers to the West Midlands Rail Network. To benefit the greatest number of people at the lowest cost, provision has to be concentrated on those arriving at their station without wishing to store a vehicle (i.e.on foot, cycle, bus, taxi, dropped-off).

Journey information
The occasional user of the railways can feel daunted by uncertainty of frequency, time of last train etc. The railway in Greater London addressed this by its underground map and successors showing conventional lines. The key to building confidence is continuity, if this is not there patronage will suffer. Close to Birmingham, interchange at Smethwick Galton Bridge varies year by year whilst uncertainty hung over the link between Walsall and Wolverhampton for so long that passengers all but gave up on it.
Generally, access to information needs to be a portable and affordable version of the Traveline website (with fixed versions at stations). For the motorist, navigation is simplicity itself with the talking map ‘sat nav’.
Visitors to Birmingham are deterred from arriving by train because the local rail network is geographically incomplete. The Rail Strategy has to acknowledge that businesses operate in parts of the city served by a railway but with no local station or with an infrequent service. For the city to exploit its rail infrastructure, this needs to be addressed. There are opportunities for businesses to locate to Birmingham if local rail services are available. Local rail provided by the Docklands Light Railway was a major factor in East London regeneration.

Effect of Climate Change
The effect of climate change has been variously interpreted. For the rail network, having a human presence is probably prudent. For this reason, removing such on the spot monitoring such as that from permanent way inspectors and gangs and staff at stations, should be undertaken with caution.
Previous episodes of extreme weather have already caused disruption, for example the storms during the summer of 2005 which flooded a number of routes around the West Midlands. Predictions of more occurence of extreme weather conditions such as intense rain that overwhelms drainage and damages signalling, intensely hot summers that result in rail expansion, and extreme storms bringing down trees, signal trouble ahead. We are surprised that there is no identification of the issue in the draft strategy.
If there is unavoidable disruption to the West Midlands Rail network, on an increasingly frequent cycle, contingency measures need to be in place.

The Business Case
For interventions on the rail network that are seen as enhancements, a Business Case has to be prepared. Unfortunately, enhancements that are required as part of a regeneration or for other external benefit, are unlikely to emonstrate the required rate of return. This has to change. This has long be n the case when construction of an access road has to be justified, those circu stances using a Cost BenefitAnalysis model; an equivalent model for rail is needed. For Birmingham, funding for rail improvements other than through Network Rail and Central Government may have to be sought.

The Role of the RUS
The Railways Act 2005 envisaged that the railway infrastructure owner, Network Rail, would be given instructions when it came to strategic planning decisions. Network Rail’s role is a ‘steady state’ one and it is therefore envisaged that the Regional Rail Strategy would be imposed and its direction reflected in the Route Utilisation Strategies. The RUS (Route Utilisation Strategy) is a mechanism set up under the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to plan maximum return from the existing rail network. In the days of the SRA, there was a degree of involvement in RUS preparation from transport planners and some consideration of the Local Transport Plan (LTP). Abolition of the SRA has meant that the RUS preparation has passed to Network Rail who do not have a duty to consider strategic rail planning.
It is evident from the content of recent Network Rail Route Plans that they are the output of train planners. Whilst done with the best intentions, the approach has harmed the Birmingham local train services. The services have been reshaped (for instance to accommodate additional long distance trains whilst avoiding addition of new track), examples including the skip stop service and irregular intervals on the Coventry route. The old fashioned hierarchy of displacement of local train services to suit long distance trains (rather than building capacity and signalling that copes), is at variance with the Department for Transport DaSTS policies. This Regional strategy needs to make a stand on this issue.
Currently the RUS and Network Rail’s business plan submissions for funding are separate and sometimes opposed to the Local Transport Plan process. It would be progressive for the railway expenditure process to be directed by a Regional Planning body.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Swan Centre- has the Tesco project stalled?

Funny goings on are happening at the Swan Centre, in Yardley which I live nearby. A planning application for a Tesco development was given late last year and so the plan was that the Tesco would open spring 2010. This was all dependant on the A4040 road being diverted over green space allowing space for Tesco to have a large car park outside their store.

All things seem to be going to plan as over the summer the market and car park building was demolished, so I thought it wouldn't be long until they started to do the road works. However, its all stalled. I know they have a tight deadline to get this open by spring 2010 so wondered what had happened.

I then spotted this article the Birmingham Mail, which explains that the development has been unable to compulsory purchased of some land owned by a Mr Knight-Adams, a Malvern-based entrepreneur. He has objected to the purchase and has forced a public enquiry.

Why you wonder has he objected? He is opposed to the Tesco plan and believes "Yardley needs a comprehensive mixed use scheme which will provide opportunities for smaller businesses as well as other facilities that benefit the community."

The inquiry outcome is expected by the end of the year. So I guess it will be a spring 2011 before we get anything at the Swan Centre, which is tragic. The area really needs a boost as the redevelopment of the area has been dragging on, the market traders had to move out years ago and gradually shops have been leaving the Swan centre so it really does leave a sad picture at the Swan. However, I agree with Mr Knight-Adams that a mixed use scheme would provide better opportunities for smaller businesses and the arrival of a large supermarket to the Swan is also a worry to local shopping areas such as Acocks Green and Yardley.

So interesting times ahead, does this mean that the the planning system has become ineffective and the only effective way of stopping or stalling developments is buy buying an interest in the development. Does this mean only those with money behind them will get to effectively fight these new developments? Already there is the national Greenpeace campaign airplot, where people are buying a piece of the land in the middle of the proposed third runway site at Heathrow. And we have an example of this in action in Birmingham, so watch this space and see how the inquiry at the Swan centre pans out.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Following on from In Town Without My Car Day

Last Tuesday some of the Birmingham Post's Power 50 took up our challenge to show some leadership and give up their cars for the day on In Town Without My Car Day. Even senior figures at the council pledged their support for the idea and so we are hoping that next year there will be some officially sanctioned events, but, even more importantly, some drastic improvements in public transport provision in Birmingham and in safety measures for cyclists and pedestrians.

One of our volunteers went with councillor Salma Yaqoob as she did without her car for the day.

Pictured here walking children Mikael and Aslan to school, councillor Yaqoob said "Normally taking the children to school and travelling to work in the morning is a last minute rush. We lead such a packed life so we save time in the car. Today it felt good - not driving. I had to do this. We had extra time to chat. Walking is good exercise and it felt like the right thing to do."

Her eldest son, Hamza (not pictured) goes to school on the bus every day, which councillor Yaqoob thinks is important for teaching him independence. "Over-protecting our children doesn’t help them so it is good for him to go on the bus."

Salma Yaqoob herself confesses that she doesn't use public transport very often because it takes longer than going by car and she can't afford the time. She also conceded that it was time to take action to improve the situation "As a party, we need an integrated transport policy. The less people feel daunted at leaving cars behind the more they will use public transport because it is convenient and it saves time".

She also pledged to improve her own record in future "I hope that this time next year I will have a it more of a record of using public transport, refocusing my good intentions. The test is whether I can keep it up. I think it will be a slow and steady change for me".

Another of those who took up the challenge on the day was Professor David Bailey, who is very clear that it's the lack of decent public transport that keeps people in their cars and asked “Why not have road pricing like in London and put the money into public transport?”

From the business angle, Jerry Blackett from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce also took part and was pictured with his folding bicycle on the fron page of the Birmingham Post. Of the experience, he said "The journey took 45 mins which is 20 mins longer than by car. However, being on the train for part of this, I could read my day’s meeting papers etc. for 30 mins, so gained time overall."

He also said that he would support having a good look at organising something more substantial for the day next year, although encouraging cycling in general should be the highest priority, "As a cyclist, I also want to see more provision of road space. This is difficult for Birmingham. We don’t have the wide streets some other cities enjoy. But I’d like to see what we think we might achieve".

Many of Friends of the Earth's members and supporters are car-owners, so we would agree with Mr Blackett when he says "I think it important we don’t demonise the car driver", but also that we need to "make alternatives to the car attractive so that drivers get more choice".

Our campaigns are not about taking all cars off the roads every day, but encouraging people to use other forms of transport when possible and recognise that roads are not only for cars, but for cyclists and pedestrians too. Pedestrianisation has made a huge difference to Birmingham city centre, but we sincerely hope that the Big City Plan will also make a difference to the accessibility of wider areas of the city by cycle or foot.

We will continue to push the council to improve public transport and facilities for walking and cycling. Our twenty's plenty e-petition can be signed here and there are also petitions for better bus services and re-opening rail stations.

Next year we would like Councillor Len Gregory to take In Town Without My Car Day seriously and organise some proper events for it, as other towns do. With such actions we can start looking at changing Birmingham's reputation as an overly car-friendly city that is not suitable for cycling or walking around.

Photographs: Jane Baker /