Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Friends of Edgbaston Reservoir AGM

Edgbaston Reservoir and the surrounding roads are within Ladywood ward. The Friends of Edgbaston Reservoir is an organisation that tries to preserve the character of this jewel in the crown of central Birmingham - they have been at the forefront of the opposition of the proposed Tower Ballroom redevelopment for example.

None of the Ladywood Labour ward councillors attended the meeting. I don't know why. You'll have to ask them...

Nick Bird from ISIS was first up. ISIS is a sort of development corporation part-owned by British Waterways. They control all 28 acres of land inside Icknield Port Loop, which is a canal loop adjacent to the Reservoir.

This whole area is ripe for redevelopment, alongside adjoining land owned by Advantage West Midlands (a development corporation funded by central government) and Birmingham City Council. All these organisations apparently co-ordinate activities in something called the 'Landowners' Forum'. I must admit that this was the first time I'd heard of this body. Nick said that the Forum 'could work better', which set a few alarm bells ringing. I must find out more about it, and who from the Council participates. It is absolutely imperative that the area is redeveloped as a contiguous area - we should aim for a situation where it's almost irrelevant which 'player' owns which bit of land. All of them have a public service remit after all.

ISIS's bit will be a mixed-use, housing-led development. A figure of 1000 residential units was mentioned. 1000 units? How are all the inevitable cars going to get in, park, and get out again? This needs some serious thought. Nick mentioned that a 'car club' might help - something that's been tried in New York. Perhaps.

ISIS is doing a bus tour of the area showing people their ideas. Sadly I couldn't find the timetable on their website, so all I can say is to look out for it!

I thought that ISIS were good to come to the meeting, but the whole thing is lacking detail at present. In particular, architectural style and housing mix have a huge influence on how an area 'performs'. We need to avoid 1000 identical, boring, grey flats built on the site. Similarly, we need to avoid wacky designs - the kind of buildings that architects build just to impress other architects. Nick gave some assurances that the development won't be 'another tentacle of city living'. However, we all know that 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' often appeals...

The remainder of the meeting involved discussions around the Tower Ballroom site and Harborne Walkway (a disused railway track bed now popular with walkers). I won't go into too much detail on the discussions as I think it's only fair to wait until the FER has published their meeting minutes.

All in all, a very worthwhile evening. Thanks to St Augustine's Church for hosting the meeting in their hall, and to TNT News for filming it.

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