14 July 2023 – Message from Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council


This week’s planning committee decided to defer a decision on the HS2 viaduct that runs past Balsall Common. This is based on HS2 holding further engagement with the community with regard to the final designs and appearance of the viaduct.  There is an HS2 Act of Parliament which has actually granted consent to build the railway in principle and follow a set route within a set of size and structural parameters.

However, HS2 Ltd must submit applications to the Council for certain final details of the various structures, relating to such matters as final appearance, extent of noise mitigation barriers and landscaping.

As part of determining these applications there are only certain things our Planning Officers and the Planning Committee can consider. I understand the focus of discussion in this case was around the impact of the proposed design on the locality and the lack of opportunity local communities felt they had to influence that design.

The planning committee really has quite a tough role, one that is known as “quasi-judicial”, and has to determine planning applications in accordance with legislation, policy and guidance, whilst hearing the views of local communities who are the ones affected by all these decisions. If an application is refused, there is always a right of appeal from the applicant, but no such right if permission is granted, so applications have to be looked at very carefully.

It is now up to HS2 to review the proposed designs and engage further to try and overcome the concerns raised by local residents and the Committee.

Today I found out we have been shortlisted for the Best Climate Action or Decarbonisation initiative at the 2023 Association for Public Service Excellence Awards.

The award submission focused on our role in the development of our connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) trials and the potential for this technology to be integrated into our future transport network.

We are at the forefront of this technology and are currently looking at the feasibility of using these type of vehicles to link Birmingham International with Birmingham Business Park, via the NEC, as well East Birmingham. There is more information about the award here.

I spent a day at the Local Government Association annual conference last week and spoke to several other councillors, and many exhibitors from across the country.  I was quietly proud that those who had dealings with us were very complimentary. It is always nice to get positive, unsolicited feedback.

I know many of our partners and contractors like working with us to deliver high quality services and I was pleased to see we recently agreed new contracts with two local care providers. Universal Care Services and Nationwide Care Services will be providing short term care at home services and will support an estimated 7,900 Solihull residents over the next three years.  

One will offer an Early Response Service to support people at home rather than having to be hospitalised unnecessarily.  The other is a Home Discharge Service helping people when they are discharged from hospital.  Read more in the press release here. I have visited both of these suppliers and enjoyed speaking to practitioners and hearing about their enthusiasm for their work and customers.

We keep hearing about the pressures in the health system to provide beds, so these two contracts will hopefully help reduce the burden on the NHS;  much more importantly, they will provide the necessary support to allow people to live independently in their own homes.

Living independently in your own home can be key to people thriving, but it does mean some might experience loneliness or social isolation.  I read an article recently about how this could play a role in the development of dementia. While I wasn’t surprised by the research, it did reinforce the message that staying connected and maintaining active social lives can make a huge difference to us as we age. 

Commenting on the research, Age UK said the findings “provide us with another reason to prioritise social connection with others as we age. Spending time with others is good for our mood and often means that we are getting out and about more, which is also good for our physical health. Keeping our brains healthy is also a very good reason to maintain social interactions.”

For those feeling lonely or isolated, there are services that can offer regular chats on the telephone. One of these is the Chatterbox Action Against Loneliness, a free telephone befriending services for older people who enjoy a chat. You can find out more on our Here2help pages.

I’d like to congratulate students at Monkspath Junior and Infant School for all their efforts on the Zero Carbon Schools Programme, which is organised by the Green Schools Project. Taking part in the programme has helped pupils understand the causes of climate change and the effect it’s having on the natural world. 

They’ve also started to think about the simple things they can do to reduce their contribution to it, investigating and measuring the carbon footprint of the school - 563 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).   The pupils have made posters and leaflets about plastic pollution and healthy lunchboxes, focused on food waste at the school, alongside growing and selling vegetable plants and their own vegetarian recipe book at the school summer fair.

I hope other schools will sign up and take part in this type of initiative.

With the summer holidays fast approaching, I’d like to draw your attention to the range of fun activities in the borough and beyond. There’s plenty of activities on offer from summer camps to days out; from creative arts to library events and activities for children with additional needs. There really is something for everyone. You can find out about our HAF (Holiday Activities and Food) programme funded activities, childcare and other useful links for parents. 

I’d like to congratulate Solihull Moors Foundation for their project to strengthen their community ties in Kingshurst and Fordbridge.  The aim of the project is to promote active lifestyles and engage local families in sporting activities in these areas. Like the Balsall Common Nature Trail, this project is funded by the HS2 Community & Environment Fund.  It’s great to see the Moors reaching out to the wider community with their enthusiasm and experience    

Finally, the Solihull Jazz Festival returns to Solihull town centre with free entertainment running right across the weekend.  It kicks off with a ‘Tribute Night’ tonight, featuring Little Mix and Queen and carries on with a full line-up on the main stage in Mell Square on Saturday, alongside free live music in 20 venues throughout the town centre. You can find out more here.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council

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