The vaccination programme continues to accelerate and it looks like we should have offered a first dose of vaccine to over 15 million people by mid-February. This is an astonishing feat and I want to thank all those locally who have made it possible.
We have all been deeply saddened to hear that we have lost Captain Sir Tom Moore. What a character; what a wonderful man, an inspiration to the nation during this crisis. To me, he represented selfless sacrifice over a lifetime of service to the country, coming from a generation that served the country so well during WWII and continued this service throughout the rest of his life. Rest in peace Sir Tom, with our heartfelt condolences to your family and friends.
So, it now rests with us to build for the post-pandemic future. Can I mention a couple of projects that demonstrate our ambitions for the borough?
The first is our recently announced vision for a new forest, the Arden Forest, a diverse and continuous green landscape through Solihull and the Meriden Gap. It follows on from our Climate Change Prospectus and ‘Planting Our Future’ programme, which aims to plant at least 250,000 trees over the next 10 years. This vision is for a green and biodiverse future for Solihull’s green belt, that will benefit future generations, our wildlife and our landscape, retaining and building on the characteristics of the borough. You can read the full statement here.
Secondly I hope you have had a chance to look at our proposals for the Solihull Town Centre Energy Network. This innovative project aims to be the beating heart of a planned network generating and delivering affordable low carbon heat and power to Solihull town centre buildings.
This is part of the wider strategic approach, which we are developing to decarbonise the borough over the next twenty years. Please have a look at the plans and comment on the proposed designs ahead of a formal planning application being submitted in late February.
In other news, we still have support for those struggling to pay their fuel bills and keep their households warm due to financial difficulties as a result of the COVID pandemic; this is part of our COVID Winter Grant Scheme, which runs until 31 March. There is more information here.
We’ve commissioned Act on Energy to deliver a winter fuel scheme providing fuel vouchers for families and households who are using pre-payment meters, or for those who pay for their gas and electricity via direct debit, in receipt of paper billing or pay directly to a fuel supplier for oil or LPG.
Similarly, Age UK Solihull is extending its Winter Warmth campaign to help more local residents stay warm and keep fed this winter. They are providing heating repairs, heater provision and other essentials such as warm clothing, blankets, quilts, electric blankets and food vouchers. This is not just for older or unwell residents; it is for anyone who needs help staying warm and fed this winter.
There is more information on help available, including the Act on Energy vouchers, here.
The pandemic has challenged the mental health of many including business owners who have had to navigate the various restrictions, and deal with difficult financial and staffing issues. To help business owners, we have organised Mental Health webinars using our allocation from the European Regional Development Fund‘s (ERDF) ‘Reopening High Streets Safely Fund’. The last one is next week on 10 February, you can join it here. The webinars will be recorded and hosted on this platform for people to view at any time after the event.
Finally, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games (28 July to 8 August 2022) is only 18 months away and preparations are well under way. We’re inviting everyone across the borough to start sharing their ideas, priorities and expectations for the Games through our online survey.
As one of the host authorities, with six events (Badminton, Weightlifting & Para Powerlifting, Boxing, Table Tennis and Netball) taking place at the NEC, the responses to the survey will help us plan and invest over 2021 and 2022, to make sure the opportunities the Commonwealth Games creates are relevant and accessible to everyone.
There are two versions, one specifically for children and young people, as well as one for all residents and stakeholders living and working in the borough. The survey will close at 12 noon on 17 February so please participate and share before then.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council