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Look at what you could have won

Look at what you could have won

🕔14.Sep 2018

After seeing the Speedboat dangled, Phil Burrows from the The Druids Heath and Monyhull Forum looks at the the options for the area’s regeneration and lessons to be learned for future consultations ahead of a Cabinet decision expected next month. 

Jim Bowen

I loved watching Bullseye in the early nineties and the way Jim Bowen presented it. He’d always guide the players through, geeing them up like a kind uncle right up until the end, when, to the amusement of millions he would parade a speedboat in front of whoever lost with the immortal words “look at what you could have won”.

The Speedboat

It turns out that this might be a good metaphor for what the council is doing to the residents of Druids Heath. Back in March 2017, Birmingham City Council took a rather small, select group of residents from Druids Heath to Telford; excited to show them what the regeneration of Druids Heath could look like.

When they arrived, they were shown new housing that had already been built and then large swathes of land being cleared for development. They were told that this phased approach would be the same in Druids Heath.

When asked for more information they told residents that there was none to impart as even the outline plan had not been done yet, but this trip was to allow residents to see and have a say in the different options.

In the new build areas, they gave a talk about how it had been done, how things were decided upon, some problems with the build and how they had been rectified and so on, and then gave a tour.

As residents walked around the streets they were told to think about Druids Heath, about how the Radburn principle of design had resulted in people not being able to get their vehicles near their home, and often backing on to dark alleys which encouraged crime.

Residents were told (and shown) how regeneration would produce housing with open spaces around them, providing good access for vehicles and parking and discouraging crime.

Throughout the day they showed a range of different housing and housing design and asked residents opinions on: wood panelling on the front of houses; rendering (and what colour?); size of houses and whether they should be tall (ie. 3 floors) or wide (to get in the required number of bedrooms); and so on…

They also talked about the overall layout, where play areas and other public open spaces were, how they served the residents and why they were placed there.

Through the day they said that no decisions had yet been made for Druids Heath, but they showed a whole scale regeneration, including a brand new retail area, and asked for their opinions on windows, low and medium rise types of accommodation and even street layout. All of this meant that residents came away excited by the prospect of a large scale regeneration of the estate. They dangled that speedboat in front of their eyes.

How Many Council Homes Do You Want to Lose?

About 9 months after the tour in Telford, every resident was sent a questionnaire and plans with 3 very similar choices in them. All of the options involved losing the tower blocks, which meant losing council homes at a time when there is a huge shortage.

The tower blocks are high density and fit a lot of people into a very small footprint, the new homes being proposed were low density and fitted a small amount of homes into a very large footprint.

Keeping the towers or compromising and building at a medium density weren’t offered, even though Birmingham City Council has done this in other areas.

The consultation also didn’t mention whether the new homes would be council homes or private homes. Only after asking were we told that there would likely be a split between the two. This makes the question of density even more important as not only are homes being lost to the bulldozer, but they’re also being lost to the private sector.

Druids Heath residents were not given either the necessary information, or the choices, to make an
informed decision.

Look At What You Could Have Won

  • Fast forward to July 2018 and after a meeting with the planner, we’ve now been told that:
    150 council homes will be lost during the project, whilst there are 8,909 households on the
    waiting list.
  • The people that will be moved to make way for the first three tower demolitions will not be
    moved into newly built council homes as none will have been built by the time the
    demolitions have started.
  • No residents will have the right to be rehomed within the area. If people want to live in the
    area, then BCC will make every effort to accommodate this, but it will be dependant on what
    properties are available at the time of the move and therefore not guaranteed.
  • The residents of the last 3 towers to be demolished may be able to bid for new homes in the area if the timing is correct and any rehousing will need to be in line with the councils allocations policy.
  • There will be no consultation on density.
  • None of the above will affect Druids Heath South, which will not be touched for the next 7years.

This makes me wonder why residents from Druids Heath were taken to Telford, being as the chances of them getting one of these houses as a new council home is so slim. Getting people’s hopes up seems like a cruel and unnecessary thing to do.

The Way Forward

It’s a few months before the cabinet members at Birmingham City Council will receive the planners report and recommendations. The work on costing homes at the proposed densities is more than likely complete by now and to ask them to review it would risk the whole project being halted.

This is sad as it could have been avoided if residents had been given the appropriate information and choices at the time. We’d either have had; a denser build with more council homes or; the same density as the current proposals but without getting residents hopes up. As this cannot happen, the Druids Heath and Monyhull Forum propose the following recommendations:

  • The timings for demolition of the towers should be changed so that, as far as is reasonably practicable, the council only demolishes a tower when there are new homes in the area for people to move into;
  • Residents of the towers should be given first choice of the new homes that are being built;
  • That BCC develops a new strategy for future consultations on regeneration that takes current best practice into consideration. This is with a view to being complete before planning work starts on Druids Heath South.

Main Pic: Tom Evans/B14

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