I know the media is currently dominated by the national political events and endlessly second guessing what will happen next, but I can assure you here in Solihull we are firmly focused on the major programme of work that we have in front of us and our responsibilities to you, our residents, both locally and indeed regionally.
As expected, the Secretary of State (SoS) for Education, the Rt Honourable Kit Malthouse MP, has written to the Education Select Committee following our attendance at the Committee in June. It is clear we will be served a Statutory Direction and will have a Commissioner, Sir Alan Wood, assigned to help us improve our children’s social care functions.
Despite the progress I know we have made, I understand the DfE’s reasons behind this decision and I am sure everyone at Solihull Council will give Sir Alan their full support.
Staff in Children’s Services have worked extremely hard over the past months and I commend their efforts. With the new senior management team in place and the extra support from the DfE, I’m sure Children’s Services can improve quickly enough to reassure the SoS, and more importantly you, that safeguarding of children, young people and families within Solihull is effective and being done well. I will keep you informed of progress as this remains a top priority for me and the Council as a whole.
The Local Plan is also important for the Council and the borough. Following the Examination in Public and the Inspectors last letter we are asking them for the reasons behind their conclusions, as they could have a huge impact on Solihull.
There are a lot of technical arguments in the letters and our response, but I do want to make clear our position on three key areas.
I am concerned that if they stick to their initial conclusions about the NEC plans, that it will not deliver as expected, we could be put in a position of having to release even more green belt for development. Also, asking us to identify additional sites for housing and development to meet our housing needs and those enshrined in the Housing Market Area could delay matters even more.
Similarly, with the Arden Academy and site KN2 allocation, we believe it is important for the school redevelopment that there is an adjacent site so that the school can still function and continue benefit the local community while development is undertaken.
I do feel we have developed an appropriate and balanced strategy, and if we follow the inspectors’ conclusions, we are effectively being asked to sacrifice more green belt land and stop a useful development going ahead. It will also delay us having an adopted local plan, a plan that would ensure that the future development of the borough retains its character, alongside providing the development opportunities that bring jobs and homes.
We hope to hear back from the inspectors soon!
And speaking of building our economy, I was pleased to see the Deputy Leader, Cllr Karen Grinsell get along to the launch of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Investment Zone bid. We have identified, by way of initial expression of interest, a range of appropriate locations that are positioned to support sustainable economic growth where we want to see it.
Investment Zone status could be the key we need to finally start unlocking some of the local potential across Solihull. The Arden Cross site and the adjacent Hub area in Solihull are prime examples. We already have a detailed masterplan for the area and I’m confident this would provide a healthy return on investment for Solihull, the region and the UK.
The efficient development of this site will also help relieve the pressure on other areas of our green belt in Solihull. We will now have to wait to see the outcome of the bidding process.
I must mention that there is over £400,000 available for community groups, spread across some of the borough wards to improve their local neighbourhoods.
This funding is from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which is money collected from new developments as part of the normal planning process in 2021/22. The current funds include money that has been ‘rolled over’ from previous years. Bids for funds must be submitted by Friday 3 February 2023.
If your community group is looking for funds to improve your local neighbourhood, please have a look at the information and put in a bid.
As someone living close to Frog Lane, these footpath proposals caught my attention and I want to encourage people in Balsall Common to have their say. The proposed new footpath will link up with existing footpaths at Oakes Farm and Balsall Street. It will be suitable for dog walkers, with fences separating the new route from surrounding farmland.
A new nature trail will involve the creation of natural ponds, the planting of trees and hedgerows to enhance the area’s biodiversity and in line with our Planting Our Future programme contribute to our ambition to plant 250,000 trees by 2030.
I am really excited about these plans for Frog Lane, Balsall Common, which if approved will create a better environment for residents and visitors to enjoy and just as importantly allow our local wildlife to flourish.
Your interests are key to the decisions we make, so please do take time to let us know what you think.
Finally, I’d like to congratulate Jessica Whitehill on becoming the new Mayor’s Sea Scout. There is a long tradition of a member of the 4th Knowle Sea Scout Explorers being appointed as the Mayor’s Sea Scout for the forthcoming year, accompanying the Mayor at official events around the borough.
Jessica (17) lives in Knowle and has just started her final year at Solihull Sixth Form College. She is now the proud owner of the Mayor’s Sea Scout trophy alongside a neck scarf bearing the borough crest and a ‘Mayor’s Sea Scout’ ribbon band to replace the ‘Sea Scout’ band on her naval hat. I look forward to meeting her at forthcoming Council events.
Have a great weekend everyone,
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council