17 June 2022 – Message from Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council


As we approach next week’s launch of Your Future Solihull which will bring together all our climate change work, I do worry about how climate change is sometimes presented.

I think it is absolutely vital that while we recognise climate change is a big challenge, it is also an incredible opportunity and our response to it could bring huge benefits for all.

There is real potential for business growth and new technology to develop ways of working, travelling and living, that are both low carbon, and equally important, sustainable. This will create new industries and sectors that will give birth to new jobs and export opportunities.

With that in mind we are trailing a small place-based retrofit scheme in Elmdon which will deliver warmer and more comfortable homes with reduced energy consumption and lower bills. 

It was Clean Air Day yesterday. Reductions in carbon emissions can only help reduce pollution, improve health and give us cleaner air. As part of our approach to climate change we are improving our landscapes, planting more trees, hedges and hedgerow creating green spaces for people, wildlife and leisure.  This not only increases the borough’s biodiversity but removes carbon dioxide, produces oxygen and will make Solihull an even nicer place to live and work.

The Earth has finite resources, so we also need to look at how we use them more effectively.   The green economic revolution will be about moving towards a circular economy.  Instead of making things that last a short time before becoming waste and add to our landfill, we get into the habit of reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling.

The point I am making is that the work to tackle climate change will produce benefits, both for us and the planet.  We don’t need to order the hair shirts just yet. 

The ‘Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill’ has our planning system at the heart of it.  One or two eye catching proposals have hit the headlines such as the ‘streets votes’ – where local people could vote on adopting a design code for an entire street or block.  This is intended to facilitate development, not stand in its way and the idea that housing delivery targets should be subject to greater sensitivity regarding local challenges and evidence.

In truth the planning system is in need of some reform, but this Bill will not satisfy everyone.

Planning is a difficult and complex subject.  Also, as residents complain, it is sometimes seemingly deaf to local sentiment, as even a cursory glance at our planning committee papers or the lengthy review of the Local Plan will attest. 

The desire for new developments against a desire to retain the current character of places is a delicate balance and whichever way the argument falls it will inevitably leave some unhappy. The Bill is now at committee stage in Parliament and if passed we will ensure it will be implemented with the best interests of the borough at its heart.

Mental health is such an important issue.  It’s estimated 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.  Anyone can experience periods of poor mental health and it’s important that support is available.

The Department of Health and Social Care is undertaking a consultation and would like you to have your say on a new 10-year mental health plan for England.

The government wants to ensure the new plan responds to the public’s priorities and sets out what we can do as a whole society to drive better outcomes. We all have mental health, and therefore we all have a part to play in changing things for the better.

They need people from all backgrounds, those with lived experience of mental ill health and health professionals to respond.

Have your say via the online public survey, which is open until Tuesday 5 July.

Following on from the mental health survey I’m pleased to announce a new programme that aims to make a real difference to the physical and mental health of borough residentsAimed at those who are suffering with their mental health this programme will takes its inspiration from next month’s Commonwealth Games. A Sport England Commonwealth Active Communities fund award of £436k will be used to work with our voluntary community and health care organisations to create a better link between sport, physical activity and mental health.

A big thank you to Living Well, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Colebridge Trust and Think Active, your support has helped with securing this grant. Being physically active is proven to improve both your mental health as well as your physical health, see here for details of activities available near you.

I was pleased to see my cabinet colleague support the calls for bolder measures to reduce smoking as outlined in the Khan Independent Review. Despite fewer people smoking over the past decade, the number dying from smoking related illnesses remains alarmingly high.  In the past three years nearly 35,000 people have sadly lost their lives.

There isn’t a magic bullet that will stop people smoking or make smoking obsolete. However, if we work with health organisations across the region we can play a part. We can take illegal tobacco off the streets and help people to quit. We can also support the stronger measures such as raising the age that people can buy tobacco products by one year every year.

Next week is Refugee Week and Solihull Council has organised a free event for people to learn more about refugees in Solihull and the West Midlands. Taking place at The Core Theatre on Wednesday 22 June, 12pm-6pm, the event includes an animated short film screening, live music performances from local bands and fun activities. You can register your attendance on Eventbrite here or drop in on the day.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to meet some of the Ukrainian refugees that our wonderful Solihull people are hosting in the Borough. I know our officer team is doing their best to help them as they tackle a new period of their lives in the UK. I was a bit disappointed to hear about the bureaucracy and difficulties some of them are facing – not by government, but in this case by the banking industry.

Supportive words are one thing in the media, but when it comes down to the frontline, I just hope everyone will do what they can to help these people who have suffered so much.

Finally, with the national rail strike happening over the next week, Tuesday 21, Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 June, I know there will be an impact on services into and out of the borough.  To find out how your journey may be affected please do check the National Railway journey planner or refer to the West Midlands Railway website.

Let us hope the dispute is resolved as quickly as possible so that our railways can continue play their part in the transport network the region needs to keep our economy moving.    

Take care.

Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council