15/09/23 – Message from the Leader of Solihull Council, Councillor Ian Courts


Last week, I told you about the unfortunate but unavoidable closure of the Core Theatre auditorium due to the presence of RAAC. I’ve got an update this week so I’ll share that with you first. We’re undertaking a full structural review of the auditorium and stage roof, which will take some time to complete. Because of this, we’ve had to take the difficult step of looking to reschedule or relocate all performances that are due to take place between now and the end of November.

Whilst we have been able to successfully relocate some of the performances, it's very challenging to find alternative venues for everyone as there are limited appropriate and available spaces. Some events have been relocated to the smaller studio space, or are looking at relocating here, and in other cases we're helping performers and promoters reschedule performances into 2024.

It's far from ideal, and I completely appreciate that, but must once again emphasise that in the interests of everyone’s safety, we have no alternative. Box office staff are working through the process of contacting everyone who has tickets for affected performances - so please do bear with them. Core Theatre staff have been contacting all companies and artists programmed during the Autumn to discuss the impact on their productions, who have my every sympathy for the disruption.

The rest of the Core building continues to be open as usual, and we’ll provide another update at the end of September once the first stage of our survey work is complete. In common with performers and patrons, we want the Core Theatre to reopen as soon as it possibly can, but we must follow all the most up to date guidance and take every precaution to ensure safety. Read the full detail here.

Speaking of taking precautions. My colleague Councillor Karen Grinsell, the Deputy Leader of the Council, visited one of the providers of the new Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) service this week to find out more about the benefits to our residents. The service has been developed by local GPs and Solihull Council. It will give women in Solihull better access to long-acting contraception methods. This is the first step in a longer-term programme to improve women’s healthcare in Solihull as part of wider national plans to develop Women’s Health Hubs. You can read more about it, including Cllr Grinsell’s thoughts, here.

This week I paid a visit to the excellent Regional Driving Assessment Centre (RDAC) in Hampton-in-Arden. They’re a charitable organisation who receive government funding to support them to help older and disabled people achieve a better quality of life through helping them to maintain or regain independent mobility as drivers and passengers. They have 14 locations across the UK, but their base is here in the borough, and it’s great to see a local operation doing so well and providing such an important service to people. They take referrals from NHS practitioners and other services like Motability, and provide advice, training, and assistance to help people keep their independence. They can help provide vehicle adaptations that support this, like loading systems for mobility scooters and passenger safety systems for children and adults with limited mobility. If you want to find out more about what they do, or think you or someone you know could benefit from contacting them, take a look at their website.

I’ve talked before in this message about our Public Realm Strategy and the consultation we undertook around it. I’m delighted to report now that the strategy has been approved and we’ll now move forward with putting together a business case to implement the plan. Over 3000 people visited our engagement platform – YourVoiceSolihull – to find out more and hundreds spoke to our teams in person in Solihull town centre. The plan is bold, and looks to improve the public spaces in the High Street, Mell Square, and the access to Malvern Park via Park Road. We’re proud of our town centre, but we want to keep pushing forward and improving to make certain that it continues to be an attractive place in future.

To ensure that we can achieve that goal, I’ve convened a new Round Table group to work together on an exciting future for the Town Centre. The group aims to aims to focus partnership efforts on unlocking the centre’s full future potential and make it even more attractive for visitors. The roundtable includes leaders from Solihull Chamber of Commerce, Solihull Business Improvement District (BID), Touchwood and Solihull College & University Centre. At our first meeting we discussed key ambitions and priorities for the town centre over the short, medium and long term. You can find out more about the work of the round table and what we hope to achieve here.

Last week at our Council Cabinet meeting, we approved the locations of four new Family Hub sites. These facilities will be vital spaces for our residents, offer a variety of services under one roof in the heart of their communities. They will provide seamless services and activities for families, incorporating start for life services (such as NHS maternity and Health Visiting services), youth activity, family support, parenting programmes, social and peer support sessions, lifestyle, mental health and SEND support. It’s a long list, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that each of these things is incredibly important in their own right. By bringing them together into one space, it provides convenience for families using the services and important opportunities for staff to work together to get the best possible outcomes. There’ll be more information about Family Hubs coming over the next few months, which I’ll flag up in future editions of this message, but for now if you want to learn more you can click here.

We welcomed an electric new addition to the borough last week, as the new EV charging hub at the NEC opened to the public. With 30 DC chargers, capable of fully charging a car in under 30 minutes and another 150 additional charging stations, it represents a huge leap forward for Solihull’s electric charging infrastructure. The site was officially opened by the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, and he used his visit to announce significant new funding for Local Authorities to improve the availability of charging stations. EVs have a big role to play in reducing our carbon emissions, alongside public transport and active travel, so we’re making steps to improve the convenience of using them for our residents and visitors. You can read more about the new station and our wider plans here.

Sunday 10 September was World Suicide Prevention Day, and as a Council we’re supporting the Orange Button scheme. It’s a community scheme that provides quality assured training to volunteers, at the conclusion of which they are given an orange button to wear. The button shows that they have been trained to have sensitive conversations with people who might be considering suicide. It can be very hard for people to talk openly and honestly about their feelings, so this scheme is a really important way of helping those who might be struggling. There’s more information here.

Finally, a quick note on something I mentioned last week. I’m still getting questions about our finances in the wake of the issues facing our neighbours in Birmingham. I want to reassure everyone again that we are on a sound financial footing here, and whilst times are tough for local authorities as well as everyone else at the moment, we’re committed to prudent financial management now and in the future.

Thanks, and have a good weekend.

Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council.