Failure to protect historic areas of city ‘a disgrace’
Councillors condemn plan to ditch conservation areas after years of neglect by authority
CONSERVATION areas could be ditched because the council has allowed too many historic buildings to be altered. Old parts of Northfield, such as the ‘Austin Village’, and Bordesley Green’s ‘Ideal Village’, are among those which council officers deem are no longer worthy of protection.
But the decision has angered councillors on the city’s plan- ning committee. Chairman Mike Sharpe, said: “We as a city have been so weak in looking after our conservation areas. We have been a disgrace to be quite honest.”
BIRMINGHAM City Council has been branded a “disgrace” for years of failure to protect the city’s heritage.
Planning committee chairman Councillor Mike Sharpe was scathing of his own authority’s record of caring for its historic neighbourhoods after the committee launched consultation to scrap two conservation areas.
The outburst came as officers proposed scrapping the ‘Austin Village’ in Northfield and ‘Ideal Village’ in Bordesley Green as it was revealed 95 per cent of homeowners had replaced Victorian sash windows with UPVC double glazing.
In a majority of properties front doors had been replaced, porches added, brickwork rendered or painted over, boundary walls knocked down and modern driveways laid – meaning little of the historic character could now justify conservation area status.
The designation is meant to protect the character of parts of Birmingham and places limits on what can be built or added, including banning features like plastic window frames and large extensions.
But Cllr Sharpe (Lab, Tyburn), who ordered the review of the city’s areas, blamed a lack of enforcement by council officers.
Mr Sharpe said: “We as a city have been so weak in looking after our conservation areas. We should take a look at ourselves. We have been a disgrace to be quite honest.
“If we are going to enforce conservation and are going to do it as a committee then we have to be prepared to stand by what we say and not get the wobbles because of what some people are saying to you.”
Mr Sharpe was referring to a failure of council planners to stop residents modernising their homes, leading to a domino effect as whole streets are transformed and lose their character.
Planning committee colleague Cllr Barry Henley (Lab, Brandwood) added: “There is no point in defending conservation areas which have become meaningless as the Austin and Ideal Village have.”
He added that the council “undermines its own authority” when it does not enforce conservation areas. “We should not give an inch,” he added.
The review looked at all 30 of Birmingham’s conservation areas and proposes altering boundaries in some, merging others and possibly creating two new ones at Acocks Green and Weoley Hill.
Residents and community groups in Acocks Green have since 2008 been collecting evidence to establish their case – but they have become frustrated at the slow progress.
Julia Larden, of the Acocks Green Focus Group, said they wanted more clarity from the planning department about what was required of them.
Planning committee member Gareth Moore (Cons, Erdington) said conservation areas should not be cancelled just because the council has failed to enforce them.
“Times change and certain things
We as a city have been so weak in looking after our conservation areas Planning committee chairman, Councillor Mike Sharpe, above
like putting in driveways for example is not the most damaging of features, particularly if it’s taking cars off the road or dealing with modern living.”
He said residents in his Erdington ward, which had an abundance of historic buildings, had asked to be considered but were told that no new areas could be considered.
“I don’t see why we should be proceeding with conservation areas for Acocks Green and Weoley Hill and not Erdington,” he added.
He has now called for his district to be considered.
> the conservation area status of the ‘ideal Village’ in Bordesley Green could be ditched
> The ‘Austin Village’ conservation area near Longbridge is to be scrapped