Kings Heath BID “a plague o’ both your houses!”

Reproduced below is a statement from Kings Heath BID following the successful and peaceful demonstration organised last Saturday by businesses and residents to protest against the undemocratic imposition of the Kings Heath LTN. It has been passed to us in the knowledge that we fear no democratic discussion, nor do we seek to control, manipulate or divert whatever any resident or business wishes to say, we believe absolutely in the right to freedom of speech.

The Workers Party – Birmingham considers it our duty to give the message a wider audience since no spokesperson for the BID itself came forward to speak during the demonstration in front of residents and businesses, though they are clearly taking an interest. In the wider interests of democracy we feel it is only right, that we give this point of view wider circulation, and the platform it denied itself last weekend.

“The Directors of Kings Heath Business Improvement District (BID) would like to convey their disappointment with the way that the BID was represented at an anti-LTN demonstration in York Road on Saturday 5th June.

Not for the first time, the BID has been unfairly brought into issues and concerns that some businesses have with Birmingham City Council’s introduction of the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme. Moreover, the Directors cannot condone comments made at this demonstration that were direct and false attacks on individual business owners and Councillors who have been elected to represent this area within Birmingham City Council.

To address specifically some of the comments made:

The BID has supported businesses that are against the LTN (as well as those that are in favour of it). Given that it is such a divisive issue, though, the BID’s position, since the LTN was introduced, has been to remain neutral and to support and signpost any business that wants to share its opinion on the LTN

The BID is prepared to examine any independent survey and would not dismiss it as “fake news”

At the BID’s recent AGM, members voted strongly in favour of the BID itself remaining neutral with respect to the LTN

The BID was not set up by the Council, rather it was voted for by businesses in Kings Heath. It is absolutely not in place to take over council services.  These are protected, as with all BIDs in the UK, by a baseline services agreement which actually prevents the BID from doing this

There are not “9 people controlling the BID”. The BID Board is currently comprised of Directors from 13 businesses from across the BID area, who, individually, share a range of views on the LTN

7 of these Directors represent businesses on York Road, from both retail and hospitality sectors

It is therefore fundamentally untrue that the people running the BID are pro-LTN

Any representative of a levy-paying business or organisation that has paid its levy in full can nominate themselves to become a Director and serve on the Board 

It was stated that there are 6 people on the BID with a vested interest in the LTN. Again, this is simply untrue and the majority of businesses in Kings Heath will have a vested interest of one sort or another

The issue relating to the dismissal of the BID’s previous Town Centre Manager is currently sub judice. Contrary to comments made at the demonstration, however, the owner of the Kitchen Garden Café had left the BID before any proceedings against the Town Centre Manager began and had no further involvement with the BID until April this year

Councillor Lisa Trickett is not currently a Director of the BID, although the BID has invited Birmingham City Council to nominate a representative to join its Board – in line with the majority of other BIDs both in Birmingham and across the country. The Council representative will be representing the Council as a levy-paying member of Kings Heath BID

Kings Heath BID has been working on behalf of businesses across Kings Heath Town Centre since 2008 and in that time has achieved a great many things. Unfortunately, in that time, it has also had to deal with businesses who feel that their way is the only way.

The LTN has impassioned the local community, residents and businesses alike, but for the BID to take a stance against the LTN would be to ignore those businesses that support it. Equally, the BID cannot simply endorse the LTN as there are businesses which are so clearly against it.

The Directors of Kings Heath BID, on behalf of all businesses within the BID area, are committed to working with Birmingham City Council and other partners to ensure that whatever measures are put in place to improve traffic flow and environmental air quality in Kings Heath are enacted with the best interests of Kings Heath businesses at heart and to seek solutions to these and other issues that affect our area.”

TO JOIN THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE LTN FILL IN THE FORM

Large Kings Heath LTN protest ‘first of many’

Saturday saw a large demonstration in York Road, Kings Heath, against the imposition of the LTN (low traffic neighbourhood). At the conclusion of the meeting it was announced that the organisers would hold a further meeting on the first weekend in July. Speaking after the event the organisers said the demonstration would be the ‘first of many’ public rallies, which would need to be followed up by a legal challenge and public meetings.

A divided community?

Despite claims that a counter-protest by cyclists and others was planned, no such pro-LTN counter-protest took place. Over the course of the rally two to three hundred people participated in a good natured and spirited community protest. Speakers from various shops and residents groups were given the platform which was chaired by the Regional Secretary of the West Midlands branch of the Workers Party, Reuben Lawrence.

WP activist Lauren gave an overview of the effects of the LTN on local businesses. Lauren had co-ordinated the Saturday protest in consultation with businesses and residents who have responded to the 8,000 local leaflets distributed by the Workers Party on the subject. Many businesses were unwilling to put their name to the demonstration as they feared the response from the local councillors and their animated supporters, but the following were willing to publicly state their involvement in the campaign:

Balloon Away – Shirley Anne Florist – KH Pet Centre – Johnstans Butchers – Maurice Robinson Sports – Comfort and Recline – Contrasts of Poplar Road & One Step Ahead Key Cutting

This group of businesses in tandem with individual residents and the Workers Party pointed out that the streets in Kings Heath belong to all residents, and that it was not fair to make some streets suffer an intolerable increase in traffic so that others could benefit. Lauren, to loud cheers said that Birmingham (and Britain) needs real green policies, starting with public transport solutions to reduce car usage; selective road closures were not a solution.

The full video of the rally can be seen on You Tube:

Cllr Trickett not willing to listen

Reporting from the rally Birmingham Live said that hundreds of residents had descended on York Road, and provided photographs to prove the point. In a display of arrogance Cllr Trickett rather than listening to what the protestors had to say, questioned whether the reporter was even there. Calling into question the journalists integrity because the story was not “on message” Cllr Trickett displayed yet again the kind of arrogance that suggests the fight against the LTN will need to be both united and protracted.

Photographs

Below is a small selection of photographs from the demonstration, more will be added later in the week.

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Workers need real ‘green policies’

The Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) experiment has been sold across the UK as a green policy that will reduce pollution and emissions, a policy that will encourage people to get on their bikes or use public transport, a policy that has no downsides!

Though the stated aims of reducing emissions and improving public health are matters that everyone can support, do LTN’s actually deliver what they purport to?

A recent report published by Wandsworth Council as part of their review of the LTN in Balham and Tooting showed the following outcomes:

  • There is some reduction in car use, but people using cars now take longer trips which increases the overall car usage
  • Pollution and emissions may be reduced on the streets with road closures but this has pushed pollution on to other streets, typically main boundary roads that were already burdened with very high levels of pollution
  • Traffic has been increased on high streets and boundary roads meaning people are sitting in their cars emitting pollution for longer in the same space
  • The report also raised concerns about delays to emergency services due to road closures and increased traffic

Following the review and report, Wandsworth council decided to suspend the trial of the LTN, stating “It is clear that the LTNs are not delivering the benefits we want to see. In fact it looks like the combination of changes in areas like Tooting…are unfortunately having the opposite effect.”

There is clearly a divided opinion on the success of the LTN’s, they are supported by many people who live on the now carless roads, they get to breathe cleaner air and are still able to use their cars to drive down other people’s streets. Support also comes from people who are so far unaffected by the LTN’s, people who tend to walk, cycle or use public transport and are not affected by road closures and increased traffic on boundary roads, however we can all be impacted by delays to emergency services, increases in pollution on the high street, and division within our communities.

The Workers Party of Britain supports the development of radical solutions to the urgent problems confronting us as a result of environmental degradation, but we are not in favour of measures which punish the working class whilst leaving the big monopolies and real polluters untouched. This is why we oppose the current imposition of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods across the UK.

A real green policy must focus on the biggest polluters, not the single mum trying to take her kids to school, or the small business owner trying to survive in the face of lockdowns and now the wholesale pedestrianisation of their street which has massively reduced footfall, and consequently, passing trade.

What would a real green policy look like?

A real policy to reduce emissions and pollution by bringing cars off the road must involve free public transport for all children in the UK, this will encourage families to use buses and trains rather than private vehicles or taxi/uber services. Across the UK it is often cheaper for a family of four to drive their private vehicle or to use an uber services than to take the bus. Free transport for children would change this.

Free public transport for all children in the UK would also allow children better access to school, work, nature, social and cultural activities. It would improve attendance rates in school and help to reduce traffic and pollution on our roads.

Free bus travel

Free bus travel for children is a truly green and social policy that would benefit all families across the UK, rather than LTN road closures which create longer car journeys, make life more difficult for the elderly and less mobile, and hurt small businesses already struggling after lockdown and the economic downturn.

In London free public transport for children is already a reality, though the Workers Party would extend the current age restrictions. Elsewhere in Britain, a myriad of strategic authorities (many set up under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009) have far reaching powers over local transport infrastructure and regeneration.

In the West Midlands the combined authority established Transport for West Midlands as an executive agency with wide ranging powers and a huge budget of more than £900 million. Taking £7 million from this and adding it to the £7 million currently given for concessionary fares would mean free public transport for hundreds of thousands of working class children. This situation is replicated across the country.

Join the Campaign

Sign up now to our campaign for a really green, really fair and really radical policy for change.

Birmingham Workers Party members campaigning against the LTN in Kings Heath

High Court finds Birmingham City Council’s homeless housing programme unlawful

Birmingham City Council acted unlawfully by putting homeless citizens in unsuitable and sometimes dangerous housing.

The High Court delivered a judgement on Friday 23rd April, finding that the Birmingham council “had been operating an unlawful system for the performance of its main housing duty under the Housing Act 1996”, as the council had been leaving tenants in unsuitable accommodation while seeking alternative long term or permanent housing.

One claimant, listed in a report from the BBC, is disabled with multiple serious health conditions and requires a power wheelchair. This person had been placed in a two bedroom home since 2018. As the home was deemed a temporary residence no adaptations were made to accommodate the claimants requirements which would have allowed them to live more comfortably with their disability. Three years later this person is still residing in the so called “temporary accommodation”, still without changes made to the property to make it suitable and functional.

In the last few years Birmingham council has sold off a number of valuable public and community assets in order to fund cuts and redundancies, including the sale of thousands of public housing flats and community nurseries which have now been privatised. It was easy to foresee that these cuts and sell offs would lead to a shortage of suitable public housing and community services for those most in need.

Meanwhile, Birmingham council sits on financial reserves of over £400 million which is projected to reach over £450 million by 2023. Why then are the council pushing for ever more cuts to basic services for working people? Why are they selling off public housing to developers when poverty is on a sharp incline and we know that the demand for public housing is going to skyrocket? Why are they unable to fund even the most basic adaptations to public housing so people with disabilities can live comfortably and with dignity?

We will soon realise the full scale of the financial crisis as the country exits lockdown and the furlough scheme will draw to a close. We anticipate rapid increases to unemployment and underemployment and with that rising poverty all with fewer public resources to support the people.

It is not acceptable for the council to claim there is a housing shortage in their defence of the unlawful treatment of people in their housing program. The council has manufactured its own housing shortage while it sits on a pile of almost half a billion in cash. Who is this money for? Where will it be spent? Certainly not on the struggling working people of Birmingham.

The Workers Party branch meanwhile has been campaigning for many months for FREE bus travel for children across the West Midlands, a move with obvious benefits for work, education and public peace that would cost a mere £7 million.

These are the sorts of measures that can improve the lives of Birmingham’s poorest right now, and we call on like minded people in the city to join with us in fighting to make them a reality.

References

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/revealed-birmingham-city-council-selling-15906789

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/one-five-brummies-living-poverty-17989153

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-56886515

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-41124098

Birmingham infant mortality rate almost double the national level

A shocking report says more than 100 babies are dying before their first birthday each year in the city.

A report has found that infant mortality levels in Birmingham are 7 deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 3.9 deaths in England overall.

Infant mortality rates are highest in the areas of the city with the worst deprivation levels. Families of Pakistani origin are disproportionately affected, the report suggested the potential risk of marriages between cousins as a potential contributing factor to the increased mortality, however similar high rates of infant mortality were not seen in other areas with large Pakistani communities such as the London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Redbridge.

Britain ranks amongst the worst in Europe for infant mortality. A study by the British Medical Journal found that Britain had 3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014 and is trending upwards after a steady decline from the year 2000, this trend shows strong correlations with the rates of child poverty across the UK and as Birmingham is home to some of the highest rates of child poverty in the UK, with some areas such as Birmingham Ladywood, having 55% of children living in poverty, it should come as no surprise that Birmingham has the highest infant mortality rate in the country.

Birmingham councillors have voted to create a multi-agency task force to reduce infant mortality in the city by at least 50 per cent by 2025. Its remit involves working with community groups and faith leaders to help minimise the risk factors, however as poverty is a key correlating factor in high infant mortality as shown in a 2019 article by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), it will take more than community groups and faith leaders to reduce infant mortality.

The Workers Party of Britain, Birmingham branch demands a broadening of the discussion to look at social class. The redistribution of wealth and the improvement of the material conditions for Birmingham’s most deprived is an urgent necessity.

Where could the council spend its money?

Hard working families are sinking into poverty, whilst the council wastes millions in vanity projects. Already Birmingham has secured more than £2 million in funding for large plant boxes to shut off some residential streets as part of a “green” solution to congestion, under a scheme known as an LTN (Low Traffic Neighbourhood).

The Workers Party branch meanwhile has been campaigning for many months for FREE bus travel for children across the West Midlands, a move with obvious benefits for work, education and public peace that would cost a mere £7 million.

These are the sorts of measures that can improve the lives of Birmingham’s poorest right now, and we call on like minded people in the city to join with us in fighting to make them a reality.

Find out more about Free bus travel for children in the West Midlands:

https://birminghamworker.org/free-buses-for-children/

Other references

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/10/e029424 Taylor-Robinson D, Lai ETC, Wickham S, et al
Assessing the impact of rising child poverty on the unprecedented rise in infant mortality in England, 2000–2017: time trend analysis: BMJ Open 2019;9:e029424. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-029424

https://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/child-poverty-is-on-the-rise-and-concentrated-in-the-places-the-governments-policies-will-hurt/

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2020/october/child-poverty-rise-shapest-in-midlands-and-north/

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/health/2021/04/05/fears-unemployment-could-increase-child-poverty—with-the-regions-total-at-almost-90000-pre-pandemic/