Housing at reservoir ‘makes no sense’

Concerned residents have warned using space on the edge of Edgbaston Reservoir nature reserve to build homes “makes no sense”.

Candlelit vigil for the Tower Ballroom at Edgbaston Reservoir. Credit: Scott Hewer
Candlelit vigil for the Tower Ballroom at Edgbaston Reservoir. Credit: Scott Hewer

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling for Birmingham City Council to “meaningfully engage” with users of the site about its future.

The petition follows news the historic Tower Ballroom is to be demolished after the site was earmarked for homes by the council.

But residents have argued the 3,000-home target for the Greater Icknield area contained in the Birmingham Development Plan (BDP) is already due to be exceeded by existing developments.

They added two developments near to the reservoir have less than the minimum required amenity space according to the council’s planning guidance – in favour of more homes being included.

Reports to planning committee members stated residents could instead use the reservoir for recreation.

The sites include the 260-home Hermetic Rubber Factory site at Icknield Port Road and 752-home Soho Wharf development.

The council’s Places for Living supplementary planning guidance requires 30 square metres of private amenity space to be provided per apartment.

This would equate to 7,800 square metres for the proposed Hermetic site development – while only 4,000 square metres was included in the approved planning application – just over half.

In the case of the Soho Wharf development, there would be a requirement of 24,840 square metres of public open space to be provided for a development of this size.

But the approved application proposed only 2,518 square metres of on-site open space provision – just over 10 per cent – resulting in a shortfall of 22,322 square metres.

A candlelit vigil was recently held for the 150-year-old ballroom which the council has said will be demolished imminently.

Campaigner Eva Bennett of ERCO (Edgbaston Reservoir For All) has written to Edgbaston MP Preet Gill about the situation, and said: “New residents are welcomed to the reservoir – it is a site that should remain fully accessible to the general public.

“So in the light of the increased footfall which will inevitably arise – why take space on the edge of the local nature reserve to build more homes? It makes no sense.

“For me it seems blindingly obvious that the site of the Tower Ballroom, on the waterside at least, should be re-wilded to provide a little more green space for the general public to enjoy, especially in the face of the increasing population in Greater Icknield and beyond.

“We all saw what happened during the early stages of this pandemic. People came in droves to the reservoir.

“The high proportion of HMOs [houses in multiple occupation] and other forms of transient accommodation in the area means there are many people living near the reservoir without gardens and green space.

“The reservoir was, for many, a life-saver for those who were otherwise cooped up in small spaces.

“Everyone else has learned from that, the importance of open green spaces for our health and well being.

“And the city council claims to have learnt from that too. However in practice we are seeing planning approval being given to developments that do not incorporate sufficient amenity space for their residents.

“Times have changed since the BDP was published, and the critical role that green space plays in our well being, should be enough to prompt the council to reconsider their position.

“Especially since the council is already on track to achieve the targets it set out in the BDP, without building flats on the edge of a local nature reserve.”

She said a Community Partnership Forum set up in 2020 involving more than 20 community groups was not in her view a “partnership” and that decisions to put housing on the reservoir had already been made.

She added: “So we would call that consultation rather than engagement, and it is this that prompted us to launch a petition calling for such meaningful engagement, which has now over 900 on-line signatures and more than 100 further signatures on paper.

“It is unfortunate that this petition has not yet been formally presented to the full council, but we expect this to be rectified at the next meeting of full council.

“We have already insisted that all references to ‘collaboration’, ‘partnership’ and ‘engagement’ be removed from the new draft supplementary planning document [Edgbaston Reservoir Masterplan draft] and the term consultation be used instead.

“Finally I would say that all masterplans produced by the council provide ‘clear guidance’ for development. However the evidence is that it is only guidance.

“That is how it can emerge that so many new developments can be approved without sufficient amenity space; and that we are failing to meet our own targets for affordable homes.”

Chris Vaughan, of Friends of Edgbaston Reservoir, who started the petition, said: “Circumstances have changed since the original supplementary planning document [Edgbaston Reservoir Masterplan draft] was issued – we need to talk about all the developments taking place.

“It would be good to have a talk with not just planning officials but council executives as to why they are still insisting they need all these developments when circumstances have changed.”

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said there had been extensive public engagement around the plans for the reservoir.

They said: “The Tower Ballroom site is identified in the Birmingham Development Plan (adopted in 2017) for redevelopment to deliver much-needed family housing with a mix of commercial and community uses.

“The Edgbaston Reservoir Masterplan builds on the policy allocation and sets a vision to provide high-quality affordable homes with ground floor uses to create activity and improve safety.

“Future development will be highly sustainable and respect the adjacent Local Nature Reserve. The masterplan provides clear guidance to protect and enhance the natural environment to ensure the reservoir can be enjoyed by future generations.

“The council has undertaken extensive public engagement on the masterplan. This includes establishing a Community Partnership Forum, where representatives from the local community have engaged in redrafting the masterplan to ensure it better aligns with the community’s vision.

“The second draft of the masterplan, in which the proposals for the Tower Ballroom site continue to be based on the BDP’s long-identified housing designation, will go out to public consultation in spring 2022.”

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