18 August 2023 - Message from Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council


This week I’ve been out and about round the borough quite a bit. This isn’t unusual for me of course, but it has been a particular pleasure given that I’ve seen three great projects coming to fruition and had the chance to find out about the positive impacts they’re having for Solihull residents.

On Tuesday I was at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens to see the work they are doing on their wetlands. The area, which includes some important and rare habitats, is important for our borough historically and environmentally, and are now available for all our residents to enjoy. The ongoing restoration was made possible by a £23,000 Community Green Grant from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). It’s a wonderful site, and the protected wetland area is only a small part of the full glory of the gardens. They’re particularly important given their location, within a short walk for around 200,000 residents of Solihull and neighbouring Birmingham. To have such a beautiful and varied natural space on so many people’s doorsteps is brilliant, and widening access to nature is one of the key parts of our regional Natural Environment Plan. Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens really is a place to visit all year round, I never fail to find something new to enjoy, with some interesting brick wall features, as well as nice jams and chutneys to buy made from local fruit. Getting out into nature is one of the best things you can do to improve your physical and mental health, so do go along and see the wetlands and everything else they have to offer. You can read more about the restoration here.

Whilst I’m on the topic of getting out into nature, if you need a little encouragement to go and enjoy our local parks and the spectacular countryside we have here in Solihull, can I recommend a spot of blackberry picking? I was out on a walk with my wife the other day during one of the sporadic bursts of sunshine we’ve been experiencing, and I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of that particular fruit we seem to have this year. I suspect the somewhat odd summer weather we have had, rain interspersed with warmer spells, might be behind a slightly earlier ripening than usual, but there seems a good crop already. They make an excellent crumble, or (dare I say Gin for those who enjoy something a little stronger), and if frozen whilst fresh, can last well into the winter. Or, of course, just do as I did and pick some off a nice high branch and enjoy them there and then.

The second of the three projects I visited this week was an excellent initiative on Alston Road in Solihull. 60 properties have been retrofitted with a variety of insulation measures, benefitting homeowners and Solihull Community Housing tenants alike. The scheme, funded through a combination of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and the Sustainable Warmth Competition, targeted houses with low energy efficiency ratings to ensure that this winter they will save on their energy bills, cut carbon emissions, and keep their homes warmer. There are other benefits too, as improved insulation and better ventilation leads to a reduction in the likelihood of damp and mould. It’s something I’m keen to see more of across the borough. WMCA has been doing some good work securing funding and we will be working closely with them to secure more. You can read more about the Alston Road project here. If you’re interested in learning more about retrofit and what funding opportunities might be available to you, please take a look at the Your Future Solihull website.

I visited Solihull Moors Football Club this week, not to see a game, but to see the work of the Solihull Moors Foundation. They are one of over 35 providers across our borough delivering the Holiday Activities and Food programme (HAF) this summer. HAF provides funded holiday activities to children who receive benefits-related free school meals, with around half of the 80 children attending funded by the council through HAF.

The foundation is a registered charity, working closely with a range of community groups and charities, raising valuable funds to support the Solihull area and community. Their work includes collaborating with more than 25 schools in Solihull, to promote topics such as healthy eating, education and anti-bullying. You can take a look at the Moors Foundation website to find out more. I will just take the chance to say that they do great work across Solihull and we are proud, and lucky, to have both the club and the foundation here in the borough. The Moors have started the new season with two wins and a draw, by the way; whilst it’s early days let’s hope for a repeat of their 2022 run to the playoff final and maybe even one step further this year.  

You’ve probably heard the news about the consultation on train ticket office closures. Nowadays many of us tend to buy tickets on our phones; there are clearly places where ticket offices have become obsolete, and a number are already only open part of the time. However,  in my opinion that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily no call for them at all the locations, where closure is a possibility. This consultation must be meaningful and I expect careful consideration to be given to those with additional needs and those who are not so tech savvy. Special attention also needs to be paid to those stations and areas where people still use these services. I appreciate the cost pressures involved in running the railways, but not everything can be about saving money. You can have your say on ticket office closures in the consultation here.

I spoke last week about A level results day, I hope everyone got the results they were after. Next week it’ll be the turn of GCSE students, and there’s plenty of options for them too. Whatever results you receive, it’ll be worth coming along to our information session on Wednesday 30 August. You can learn about alternative options for higher and further education including apprenticeships at the Council. Training providers or organisations that will be there include Prince’s Trust, Barnado’s, Make UK, and NOVA Training. Learn more or sign up here.

The M42 works I mentioned last week were completed 14 hours ahead of schedule, with the old bridge removed by specialist Solihull-based firm Armac Demolition. Well done to them for their speedy work. I know it can be very frustrating for motorists when these things overrun, so I think it’s important to highlight when a company delivers the work efficiently like this. There’s more work to come on the M42, I will endeavour to make sure to give a warning in a future edition of this message, but lets hope they’re completed nice and quickly just as this job was.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street will be in Solihull for a Q&A on Tuesday 12 September. If you want to put your questions to him, you can find out more and reserve yourself a spot here.

Last but by no means least, congratulations to the Lionesses on their emphatic semi-final win on Wednesday: the very best of luck to them for the final on Sunday morning.

Thanks, and have a great weekend,

Cllr Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council