After a couple of months of enforced interlude, it’s good to be writing this message again, and there’s plenty to catch up on. Last week was certainly a busy time, with the elections on Thursday, counting the votes on Friday and of course the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla on Saturday and all the attendant celebrations across the bank holiday weekend. The Coronation was a magnificent occasion, watched by so many millions in this country and all over the world. Seeing so many people turn out to line the streets in support of the new monarch was truly heartwarming.
I know there were parties and events across the borough, with people coming together watch on the big screen in the town centre, and that sense of community and togetherness really shows the value of these kind of events even in our modern and sometimes cynical age.
The local elections which preceded the weekend were, in their own way, an expression of the same values of service, duty, and community that we heard about during the ceremony on Saturday. I’m grateful to the voters of Solihull for continuing to place their trust in my administration, but don’t worry, it won’t make us complacent. We listened on the doorsteps, and I promise that the Council will continue to make your priorities, our priorities. The cost-of-living crisis, rooted in the war in Ukraine, was unsurprisingly on most people’s minds. We will continue to offer all the support we can, and we will tackle this and all the issues facing Solihull with renewed vigour and all the fresh ideas brought by our newly elected colleagues.
I’d like to place on record my thanks to everyone involved in the process. The returning officer, Paul Johnson, and all the Democratic Services staff who are responsible for organising the elections and overseeing their smooth and fair execution, were exemplary in carrying out their duties.
Just as impressive were all the staff drafted in to run polling stations and help with the count at North Solihull Sports Centre. The count was quick and efficient. Having been through many counts as a candidate and as leader, I can attest that all the candidates appreciate not having to wait any longer than is necessary! As I’m speaking of the candidates, I’d also like to say thank you to everyone who stood for election from all the parties. They all deserve credit for putting themselves forward to do their best for their communities.
It’s not an easy thing to stand for election, you’re offering to give up a lot of time and energy, and to put yourself under the spotlight of public scrutiny. Most people do it because they believe in serving the places they live and the people who live there, and in the sense of duty that calls them to do just that. I’d like to congratulate all those who were duly elected as Councillors and thank all those who stood down or lost the vote this time around. I’m looking forward to working with everyone from all parties, and I mean that sincerely.
Our business as a Council is done in meetings of the Full Council, of various committees and scrutiny boards, and every one of the 51 councillors has a role to play in ensuring that decisions are taken and applied according to laws and rules that govern what we do. If you hear ‘politics’ and think of the febrile atmosphere of Prime Minister’s Questions, I’d urge you to watch some of our meetings online or in person. You’ll see that local democracy is often much more collaborative than combative. We don’t always agree, but we can almost always disagree civilly. So, welcome to each of our new Councillors, let’s all get to work for the people of Solihull.
I’m delighted to announce that the Balsall Common Nature Trail project has secured funding from the HS2 Community & Environment Fund. The £56,250 covers most of the cost of developing a publicly accessible nature trail that will loop around the Oakes Farm site. The planting of nearly 800 metres of native hedgerow in addition to trees will be undertaken as part of the Council’s Planting our Future programme. Projects like this are key to realising our ambition of achieving net zero emissions for the borough by 2041. Rewilding on this scale provides a vital boost to biodiversity, and we will always look to ways we can preserve and enhance our natural environment. The project is scheduled to be completed by March 2024, so look out for updates in this message and across the Council’s communication channels.
I was not happy to receive the news that the appeal decision on the use of Waste Lane for lorries to the HS2 site in Balsall Common had gone against the Council. I have met with officers and our local MP, Saqib Bhatti, to start the process of taking advice and reviewing all options and courses of action in relation to this.
The announcement this morning of the expansion of the £150m Community Ownership Fund (COF) could bring huge benefit to communities in Solihull. The fund is designed to help people bring important local assets like pubs and community centres back under their control. If you’re concerned about the future of any community or sports facility in your area, then do look into the possibility of acquiring support from the COF. Applications for the next round of funding are open to parish councils, community groups and charities and start at the end of this month, you can find full details here.
On the subject of Community Funding, The National Express Foundation, the charitable arm of the company that provides bus services in the West Midlands and across the country, is accepting applications for funding from charities and local groups. This year they’re focusing on the following:
• Diversionary Activities. Initiatives that specifically focus on engaging with young people, providing them support and deterring anti-social behaviour.
• Environmental. Initiatives could include but are not limited to: encouraging young people to engage with the outdoors, initiatives that support the environment and involve youth groups
• Employability. Initiatives that directly or indirectly equip young people with skills, experience or qualifications that will support them gaining access to employment.
• Wellbeing. Initiatives that positively impact or provide support to young people through: physical activity, mental health and/ or social interaction.
Foster Care Fortnight will be taking place from 15 – 28 May. To celebrate the occasion, the Council’s Fostering team are running two activities. A fostering information stand will be at John Lewis Solihull from 15 to 17 May. The team will be available to discuss everything fostering, face to face, so if you’re interested in becoming a foster carer or just curious to find out more, please make your way down to have a chat. They’ll be on the ground floor adjacent to the escalators – you won’t be able to miss them.
Additionally, a Foster for Solihull walk, aimed at existing carers and people who are considering becoming a carer, will take place on Thursday 25 May, 11:30 – 14:00 at Brueton Park.
If you or anyone you know is interested in attending the walk, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and confirm attendance.
Earlier I talked about the brilliant celebrations across the borough to mark the Coronation. The Mayor of Solihull has asked children and young people of Solihull to design a bookmark to commemorate the occasion. It could show a Coronation event in Solihull, a street party with neighbours, drinks and cake with family and friends in front of the telly – or something else entirely. The main thing is to be creative and produce a lasting legacy of the Coronation. Click here for more information.
I hope you all have a very good weekend, hopefully (this week at least) free from people knocking and seeking your support in any election!
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council