Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. Councillor Crawford, do you have anything to add to that?
  (Cllr Crawford) Yes, Chairman. One of the obstacles we found was private sector understanding of what we were trying to do, it was very much a mixture of capital projects, so they understood bricks and mortar, but it was the social side of it, the training element, the involvement, the social inclusion, which was, in the first instance, very difficult for the private sector to sort of get their heads round, if you like. And so, if you ask me how we would look back and do it differently, I think it would be taking more time to involve and explain to particularly the private sector partners. Three years into an SRB programme, everybody is on board and understands; the first year was exceptionally difficult.

  161. Would you think that was the only mistake that you made?
  (Cllr Crawford) I think that the forming of the partnership would be more on a formal footing now; when we first pulled it together it was a very informal partnership to try to involve everybody. I think that, in doing that, we had some partners that signed up to it on paper, but not in their heart, if you know what I mean.

  162. And you think the sort of formal structure would have dealt with that?
  (Cllr Crawford) Very much so. I think it would have focused their minds very much, yes.

  163. Any particular mistakes that Birmingham made; perish the thought?
  (Cllr Stacey) I think we try to learn from any mistakes we make very quickly and build them into good working practice.

  164. That is a tactful answer, Councillor Stacey, but it was not what I asked you: what did you do wrong?
  (Cllr Stacey) I am trying to think of an example.

  165. We can take it you did not do anything wrong?
  (Cllr Stacey) No; sometimes we underestimated what we could possibly achieve. And, looking back, we might have been more ambitious at some of the early schemes; and where subsequently we were able to achieve, through planning agreements, through good design practice, and so on, some very good developments in themselves and what they contributed to the public realm, early on, we might have been a little timid.

Mr O'Brien

  166. Councillor Stacey, the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal, what is the view of the Birmingham City Council about the restoration of that canal?
  (Cllr Stacey) We want to see those restored, and I suppose behind that question is the issue of the BNRR; and we strongly support—

  167. The Birmingham Northern Relief Road.
  (Cllr Stacey) Sorry; the Birmingham Northern Relief Road, in West Midlands speak.


  168. You must take pity on us, Mr Stacey; we do not all have the advantage of being from Birmingham.
  (Cllr Stacey) Second only in its strategic importance in the country to Crewe, I understand.

  169. Yes; you may now continue. I can see you are a man of great intelligence.
  (Cllr Stacey) We very strongly support trying to take the opportunity to restore the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals, because they are part of, or could become part, another part, of the very important canals network in the West Midlands, and what that can achieve for regeneration in our region generally.

Mr O'Brien

  170. That view from the City Council, has that been reflected to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions?
  (Cllr Stacey) I understand it has; it may not have been directly, it may have been through—we have a sub-regional co-ordinating body, which has a very long title, which co-ordinates the seven metropolitan districts on planning and transportation issues, which I happen to chair. And I know that we have expressed the view, from that, so we may have done it collectively, as the metropolitan districts, not singly.

  171. But the weight of Birmingham City Council behind such a representation would be very strong, one would assume, if the Birmingham City Council say "We want to see this road so constructed to allow the canal to have a use." Would it be in the best interests of the Canal Trust and Birmingham City Council to say, "We want to see this canal restored, so it can be used"?
  (Cllr Stacey) I would like to think we would have some influence, and I shall make sure that we reiterate that view. I know I have personally raised it in my regional role. I was last year chair of the regional planning body with Lord Whitty, so I have personally tried to advance that cause, but I will go back and make sure we have done all we could do, as Birmingham.

  172. Thank you. Can I ask both of you, what role, if any, are your respective Regional Development Agencies playing in relation to the waterways; can they do better?
  (Cllr Crawford) Previously to East Midlands Development Agency, English Partnerships actually part-funded the development of the Kiln Warehouse, which is now the headquarters of British Waterways in Newark. Obviously, the East Midlands Development Agency took over a lot of the responsibilities from English Partnerships, and more recently have been very active in working with us in the redevelopment of a brewery, and we are looking at the reallocation of a scrap-yard. Unfortunately, we suffer from, as most riversides have suffered, industry turned their back on the river for quite some time, and we have ended up with scrap-yards and redundant buildings that EMDA are looking to work with us. One of the problems that we do have is that, to try to work with British Waterways, we would like a better definition of whether British Waterways is a public body or not, so that we could use PIP funding on the riverside; so it would be the Partnership Investment Programme funding that we could use, I understand, if it were a public body, and that would enable us to engage with EMDA a lot more.

  173. In your evidence, you advise us of a 160-berth marina that has been developed with the aid of Woolworths; that marina, you say, is there to attract tourism. Have you boating clubs that are using the marina?
  (Cllr Crawford) The marina is not actually finished, it is still being dug out; it is full, because of the floods, but it should be still being dug out. But we do have very active boating clubs, and we do have a lot of tourism from the river; in fact, the festival that we mentioned, a lot of the people that attended the festival actually came by boat and barge.

  174. And what support do the boating clubs get from the local authority?
  (Cllr Crawford) We support them in every way that we can.

  175. Birmingham; is the Development Agency helping with the restoration and development of the waterside in your area?
  (Cllr Stacey) We have just signed a partnership for Single Regeneration Budget Round Six area, in part of North West Birmingham, actually called Corridors of Regeneration, which recognises the canal within that area as a very important part of that regeneration area, with a very great opportunity there to expand the work we have done elsewhere, to build on the work we have done elsewhere in the City, and that is where the Advantage West Midlands are now becoming involved in these issues. I think one of the advantages we have had in Birmingham, in the past, is being large enough to do a lot of the things that perhaps for other authorities requires a body of the size of an RDA to actually assist them to do; because we have had the critical mass, we have been able to do a lot of those things ourselves, but we now welcome the involvement of the RDA in taking over and assisting with some of those issues.


  176. What did you mean exactly, Mr Crawford, when you said about the clarification of British Waterways Board not being a public body?
  (Cllr Crawford) It is my understanding, Chairman, that if we want to use the Partnership Investment Programme we can use that where a public body, with a public body in partnership, develops a specific project, and it is my understanding that we do need a definition that British Waterways is a public body before we can actually access that sort of funding. I do not know whether Richard Dix wants to comment.
  (Mr Dix) Madam Chairman, I think there is some doubt at present, with regard to European funding issues, as to whether or not the Europeans will accept British Waterways as a public body.

  Chairman: I see; so it is not that we are confused, but, as usual, other people are.

Mr Bennett

  177. The whole scheme has been virtually kicked into touch, has it not, by the European Commission?
  (Cllr Crawford) Exactly.

  178. So is this a separate issue from the future of the whole scheme?
  (Cllr Crawford) Basically, it is what the East Midlands Development Agency has said, if they could get a definition then they could have access to that funding.
  (Mr Dix) Certainty will free up the funding, as we understand it.

  Mr Brake: Both Birmingham and Newark and Sherwood, you have mentioned your vision, but neither of you have told us what your vision was; could you tell us, very briefly, what it was and whether you have actually achieved it, or whether perhaps it has changed, evolved, from your original starting-point?


  179. Yes; since you have supplied us with lots of information, briefly, I think, is the relevant word.
  (Cllr Stacey) I think I would refer you to the information, and say that there are layers, there was an overall vision of what canal investment could do, in terms of kick-starting regeneration, and in terms actually of carrying that through then area-wide frameworks, site-specific development briefs. In terms of Brindleyplace, the master plan, which we think was a very important way of making sure that there was the framework there for the private sector to come into, and that did change, the original master plan for Brindleyplace was that housing would be scattered throughout the site. The developers came in, gave their view that it would be better on the site, and we worked to change the master plan; but they could not just do that, the master plan had to be changed to make sure all the things that we wanted delivered would be delivered. So it is having those different layers of vision, from city-wide to area-wide, to site-specific.
  (Cllr Crawford) Our vision very much for the riverside, I mentioned businesses had turned their back on the rivers, is to make the riverside the window to the town of Newark. We have a very historic town there, with a historic market-place, we get a lot of tourism, so it was very much about reinvigorating the business community and encouraging them to be involved, providing a lot more leisure facilities for the community of Newark and encouraging more tourism to bolster the economy of the town of Newark.

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