Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Development Plan 2014-2031

Balsall Heath grew up in the age of manufacturing and the expansion of Birmingham. Its once green fields became filled with densely packed terraced housing. With the decline of manufacturing industry, many people in Balsall Heath became unemployed and some moved out in search of other jobs. The community became weak, the 100-plus year-old housing stock deteriorated; and the streets became litter-strewn and uncared for. Things became so bad that some observers told residents that there was little it could do to improve matters, and that they should move out in search of a better neighbourhood.

Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Development Plan

In 2012 Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Planning Forum (BHNPF) formally applied to BCC to be recognised as the legitimate body to prepare a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) for their area. We publicised the application on this webpage for a 6 week period between the 12th September - 24th October 2012.

Changing how government works in neighbourhoods

As chair of the Labour party's Social Action Forum, I spent last Monday with Labour councillors and community activists in Balsall Heath at the heart of inner-city Birmingham. Many of us as ministers in the last government got to know Dick Atkinson, the driving force behind 30 years of change in the area, not just for his passion to involve local people in running their neighbourhoods but also for his persuasive pressure for funding when times were tough.

Birmingham leads the way on the Big Society

What does the Big Society mean in reality for communities in Birmingham? How can struggling neighbourhoods in need of regeneration engage in the government's new Big Society idea. A published report has hailed two areas in Birmingham as role models in community regeneration.

Balsall Heath Forum History

Balsall Heath was a white working class neighbourhood close to the centre of Birmingham. Its residents lived in back to back terraced houses. But it was a cohesive and strong community. Then the planners got to work, knocked 30% of the houses down, built some high rise blocks and broke up the old community. Many residents moved to outer ring council estates, leaving space for newcomers from the West Indies, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. The newcomers were isolated and lonely. Crime and prostitution spread until by 1980 over 450 prostitutes and 30 pimps dominated the street corners.


Resounding 'yes' vote for Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Plan

Chief executive of Balsall Heath Forum Abdullah Rehman and architect Joe Holyoak in Ladypool Road

Chief executive of Balsall Heath Forum Abdullah Rehman and architect Joe Holyoak in Ladypool Road

Birmingham's first vote on a new planning policy has resulted in a resounding "yes" from the residents of Balsall Heath.
However, the referendum on the new Neighbourhood Plan saw just over 22 per cent of the area's 10,065 eligible voters take part.
Of the 2,228 who voted, 2014 or 89 per cent, voted yes in the first ever ballot on a local planning policy in Birmingham.
The policy, which includes improvements to the main Ladypool Road and Moseley Road centres and potential reopening of the rail station, will guide potential investors and developers.
Abdullah Rehman of the Balsall Heath Forum said that he hopes other neighbourhoods will follow their example.
He said: "It makes me feel really proud to be part of a community who led a campaign 21 years ago to reclaim the streets from pimps and drug dealers, to a new chapter which seeks to empower and put residents in control of their "place".
"We appreciate all the support we have received from all political parties and all partners who have helped the Balsall Heath Forum over the past four years, and hope it encourages other neighbourhoods to develop their own plan which meets the needs of the people and its residents."
Architect Joe Holyoak, who drew up the plan in consultation with the community, added: "I am delighted we have finally got to the end, with the right result, after four years work.
"It is another significant achievement for Balsall Heath, one of Birmingham's most innovative districts, to now have the first neighbourhood plan in the city."
Coun Victoria Quinn (Lab Sparkbrook) said the Balsall Heath community had shown, through the Neighbourhood Plan and vote, that they shared an identity and cared about the place where they lived.
She said: "This was a spirit of people literally saying 'we belong to this place, we care and we want to be able to have a greater say in and control this place'.
"While the plan may indeed take perhaps a generation to still yet achieve, this endorsement gives those plans a credible chance of making progress and helping the community feel more involved and able to feel able to take control within 'their' place."
Neighbourhood Plans, designed to give communities control over local development and planning, have tended to be adopted in rural villages and market towns. The success in Balsall Heath could encourage their adoption in other parts of Birmingham.
The full referendum result:
Number of eligible voters - 10,065
Total number of votes cast - 2,242
Turnout - (22.28 per cent)
Number of votes found to be invalid - 14
Total number of valid votes counted - 2,228
Number voting Yes - 2,014 (89.83 per cent)
Number voting No - 214 (10.17 per cent)

Entertainment Award Ceremony Special gust speaker Free refreshments



Referendum on the adoption of the Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Plan

1. A referendum will be held on Thursday 8th October 2015 to decide on the Question below:

‘Do you want Birmingham to use the Neighbourhood Plan for Balsall Heath to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?’

2. Applications to be included on the register of electors for this election must be received no later than Tuesday 22nd September 2015.

3. New applications for, or amendments or cancellations of postal votes and amendments or cancellations of existing proxy votes must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Elections Office, Birmingham City Council, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BB by 5 pm on Wednesday, 23rd September 2015.

4. New applications to vote by proxy at this referendum must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Elections Office, Birmingham City Council, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BB by 5 pm on Wednesday, 30th September 2015.

5. Applications to vote by proxy at this referendum applied for on grounds of physical incapacity, or because of works reasons that occurred after 5 pm on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Elections Office, Birmingham City Council, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BB by 5 pm on Thursday, 8th October 2015.

Dated: 28th August 2015

Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Plan

Joe Holyoak discusses progress on the neighbourhood plan for Balsall Heath in south Birmingham, how it will be incorporated into the city's plan and how positive residents have been in responding - particularly through the Balsall Heath Forum and St. Paul's Community Development Trust.

Our Place Pioneers – Balsall Heath Forum

A successful year-long pilot programme saw twelve neighbourhoods across the country working out how to improve the lives of local residents.
Since the pilot programme, Balsall Heath Forum (BHF) have been working hard to continue to improve their community, with some fantastic achievements. Here are some of their updates so far:
Balsall Heath Forum has developed Heartbeat patrol, with 50-100 volunteers visiting at least 60 elderly and vulnerable residents. The group, led by BHF wardens, has volunteers with many skills who help elderly residents in the neighbourhood with practical help, such as repairs, social care and encouragement to be more active.
  • 21 May 2014 Successful Heart Of Gold awards celebrating 20th anniversary of Streetwatch. Huge turn out with some high profile guests of honour. No longer are residents ashamed to be from B12. Well done to all winners hosted by Abdullah and organised by the BHF.
  • 21 May 2014 Phil Bennion MEP spent time in Balsall Heath which was once a no go area because of crime and vice and to see the improvements over the last 20 years. He was accompanied by
  • 11 April 2014 Our past dynamic youth awards winner has achieved 3 A* In Joseph Chamberlain College and has been selected to do medicine at Birmingham University. Well done Husnain Ali Abid star of Balsall Heath.
  •  8 March 2014 Group of concerned residents tackled the ever increasing rubbish problem in George Street Park. The women led group sent out a message that enough is enough, no more dumping. Well done too all involved and Norah from BHF who organised the initiative and is developing the sisterhood group.
  • 4 June 2014 Outdoor celebration of 20th anniversary of Streetwatch continuing from our heart of gold event and saw over 200 people in attendance. Special guests included Chief Supt Alex Murray, Ex Chief Constable Sir Paul Scott Lee and current Chief Constable Chris Sims giving a brilliant speech on the benefits of communities working in co-operation with police. It was also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the formation of the West Midlands police force. There was a great sense of community spirit, and an amazing barbecue to top it all off.
  • BHF have set up a Streetwatch group. Volunteers please call 01214466183 for opportunity to join.
  • TBA – We are preparing to hold our next communal meal and awards night sometime in August which will see our youth being celebrated for good work in Balsall Heath. See linksto last years Dynamic Youth Awards ceremony.
To hear more about what Balsall Heath are up to follow the links from their website

How David Cameron's 'Big Society' began in Birmingham's Balsall Heath

A Birmingham community has become the inspiration behind David Cameron’s vision of a Big Society. Edward Chadwick discovers how Balsall Heath residents have transformed their suburb.
Baskets bursting with colour hang from rows of inner-city terraced houses.
Volunteers sip cold drinks delivered by neighbours while they help to clear a rubbish-strewn garden. Residents on every street have a say how money should be spent locally.
It sounds like urban utopia but in fact it’s an everyday scene played out at the heart of Birmingham’s blueprint for the Government’s Big Society initiative.
Balsall Heath Forum
And what makes the example set by Balsall Heath all the more remarkable is the fact that it was once crawling with prostitutes, crack dealers and pimps, an area where residents were too terrified to walk their own streets.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that Prime Minister David Cameron should use the neighbourhood to paint a picture of his vision to cure the country’s ailments.
His flagship policy will, he promises, hand power to every man and woman as communities take over the role of the state. They will get the right to run local recycling services and amenities free from the shackles of town hall bureaucracy.
Funded by a Big Society Bank, communities will be able to flourish in a move which Mr Cameron has vowed will stop them becoming “soulless clones of one another”.
And the reality in Balsall Heath isn’t far removed from the picture painted by Tory leader in his announcement last month.
Dick Atkinson, the chief executive of Balsall Heath Forum and architect of this unique social enterprise, is happy the success has been recognised, but tempers that with a warning.
Victory has taken nearly two decades since a group of residents who grew sick of the sight of vice girls took to street corners with placards and shamed them in to taking the sex trade elsewhere.
Balsall Heath Forum
Campaigners worked eight-hour night shifts patrolling the streets on top of their full-time jobs and some were attacked as they fought tooth and nail to wrestle their neighbourhood out of the clutches of the criminals.
But, hard-fought as it was, the triumph came slowly but surely. The forum now employs 15 people and can rely on an army of 120 volunteers at any time.
One of the biggest battles remains the struggle to raise the £400,000 annual budget and projects have been slowed by council suspicion.
But Dr Atkinson hopes the Government’s new commitment will help to make funding more accessible and clear some of the red tape the forum finds itself having to negotiate.
He has also dashed suggestions that many neighbourhoods lack the will or ability to make changes.
He discovered people like 56-year-old father of five Abdul Hamid in Balsall Heath. Mr Hamid was one of those men who patrolled the streets, claiming them back inch by inch, and is now a street warden for the forum.
“It took us four years to get rid of the prostitutes and the kerb crawlers,” said the former market trader. “I was out every night on top of my other job and so were other people.
“People ask me why I did it and it’s simple – I didn’t want to see prostitutes sitting on my wall any more or go to the shop for bread and milk and come back with a black eye and no money.”
“Every neighbourhood has people like Abdul,” Dr Atkinson adds. “But it’s only once they realise that they can make difference by coming together that they become empowered.
“There needs to be a sheepdog to guide them, especially when funding is so hard to come by. What I would say to the Government is that you can’t start at the stage we are at now. Of course it would have been easier if the money had been there and it would have made it easier for others to follow us.”
Dr Atkinson has every right to feel aggrieved about the lack of funding.
He says that a fraction of the forum’s annual budget comes from police and Birmingham City Council, he estimates he has saved the police as much as £1 million a year by tackling crime.
On top of that, the retired college lecturer believes a total of £90 million has been added to the value of the area’s city-owned housing stock.
Balsall Heath Forum
It all paints a healthy picture of a suburb where residents say they are the most satisfied in the city, according to a survey.
While it would be easy to assume that satisfaction is born out of falling crime levels and the sight of hundreds of planters and hanging baskets which have replaced the prostitutes on street corners, a report by the right-wing think tank Demos suggests it stems from street level democracy.
The work of the forum has been underpinned by about 20 residents’ associations, some covering only a few streets but wielding genuine influence and powers of persuasion.
That is a fact recognised by Demos author Max Wind-Cowie who says such grass roots democracy is one of the “bedrock components” for Big Society.
His paper, Civic Streets, was launched in Balsall Heath and focuses not only on the forum, but also the example of Castle Vale, where the resident-led Castle Vale Community Housing Association has achieved similar successes.
“Communities that come together, establish a plan of action, and consult the wider community have already demonstrated collective efficacy and commitment to improving their neighbourhoods,” states the report.
“This is a vital first step, and should be a pre-requisite for the kind of radical devolution of funding and power that this report promotes.”
The man who has helped to promote democracy in Balsall Heath is Abdullah Rehman, who quit his job as a shopkeeper to become a “capacity builder” responsible for setting up new groups and ensuring attendance stays healthy.
“It’s down to nothing more than getting people to develop the confidence that things can change,” he said. “They don’t have to see a huge victory, it can be the small things that get the ball rolling and then you go from there.
“But we can’t tell people how to do it because every neighbourhood is different.
‘‘They have to learn for themselves but I think the Government can help them to do that.”
Mr Rehman and his family played host to Mr Cameron when he came to witness first hand the mechanics of Big Society in action in 2007.
The Tory leader still writes to Mr Rehman’s young daughters and if Big Society takes root elsewhere, he might owe a few more letters of thanks to that corner of Birmingham.

Balsall Heath: a case study about the process and demands of consultation


park_in_Balsall_HeathBalsall Heath neighbourhood is located about 2km to the south-east of Birmingham city centre, comprising the western half of the Sparkhill Ward in the city. In common with many other inner city areas, the neighbourhood suffers a range of problems from a poor local economy, through weak social infrastructure, to a degraded local environment.
The resident population is approximately 15,000 in around 4900 households. Over half of the population is of South Asian background with most being of Pakistani origin. It is also a young population with 30% under 16 and 45% under 25 years of age. Approximately half the population was in the most deprived 10% of the nation. The unemployment rate for the ward in December 2013 stood at 18.4% compared with a city average of 9.2%. Nearly half the working age population have no qualifications and over 20% have limiting long-term illness.
The initial drive to prepare a neighbourhood plan arose from discussions between the Balsall Heath Forum (BHF) and the City Council in early 2011. It became apparent the BHF was not constituted in such a way as to be a ‘designated body’ and so the Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Planning Forum was formed. The neighbourhood area was formally designated in February 2013.
The area has been the subject of numerous regeneration initiatives over the years and the plan was seen as yet another way of addressing the area’s problems, particularly the pressure on housing and a widespread desire to upgrade the environment. The overall vision is to promote the sustainable development of the neighbourhood, with a particular emphasis on more housing and environmental improvements. Have a look at this video which describes the background to the Plan and its aims. 
Process and demands of consultation
shops__on_Ladypool_RdIn September 2011 the group started to prepare its plan and undertook a series of consultation events. The programme also included evidence-gathering to identify issues, problems and new ideas, with a view to supporting the emerging proposals for development.
A range of partner organisations was identified, alerted to the neighbourhood plan programme and called upon for proposals and supporting evidence. Use was also made of a number of reports and surveys carried out in recent years.
The engagement of statutory consultees (these are organisations such as the local planning authority, the Highways Agency etc), public and semi-public bodies was poor at this stage. There were the twin problems of lack of resources (i.e. time and expertise) from the neighbourhood side and the unwillingness of these bodies to respond effectively to ‘unofficial’ suggestions which did not fit in with their priorities.
It became very clear that most stakeholders only really wanted to engage in a meaningful way as part of the Regulation 14 pre-submission consultation. (This is the stage when neighbourhood forums, or parish/town councils, have to publicise their draft neighbourhood plan for at least six weeks and consult any of the consultation bodies whose interests they think may be affected by the draft plan.) This was very frustrating as there was a desire from the group to engage throughout the plan development process.
This is what the group did: informal, preliminary community consultation started in May 2011 and continued until May 2012, asking the question: what would you like to see included in the Plan? The main focus of consultation was in the period September 2011 – February 2012 and involved groups, individuals and organisations. Activity included:
  • A major consultation event in December 2011, organised by the Prince’s Foundation, and attended by 40 invited participants (for the workshops sessions) and approximately 100 people (at the following public meeting).
  • A further consultation meeting was organised by the St Paul’s Community Trust (a local charity) which was attended by over 100 people.
  • A series of ‘Children’s Workshops’ took place in January 2012 in each of the five local primary schools, with around 30 children participating.
A major neighbourhood-wide consultation on the draft proposals was undertaken in June-July 2012, including an exhibition of draft proposals and asking the question: this is what we are proposing – what do you think? The exhibition was open to groups, individuals and organisations. In the light of this consultation process, the Plan was amended to respond appropriately to the comments put forward, especially those from the city planners.
The final Pre-submission consultation was in September – November 2013, asking the question: we have now revised proposals and written policies – is it now right? This process was open to all, directed to groups, organisations and statutory agencies; further minor amendments were made.
street_in_Balsall_HeathOther, ongoing means of communication included:
  • Active involvement from Business in the Community
  • Links with the BID Partnership and the Police
  • Daily contact the BHF staff have with local people and organisations
  • The local community newspaper (“The Heathan”), delivered to all households and businesses in the area.
The newspaper in particular is a good means of communication with those who are not actively engaged in the plan-preparation process.
Managing the information coming from the consultation process
A Planning Aid England volunteer was involved with the Planning Sub-Group from 2012 onwards as it had become clear to group members that further progress would require professional planning input. The PAE volunteer was able to help ‘translate’ the bright ideas coming from the consultation process into realistic planning policies.
It became apparent that many of these bright ideas were more ‘neighbourhood management’ issues than land-use planning policies. At this stage the help from the city planning department became crucial to the evolution of the plan. There was a regular interaction with the city planners to refine the plan document. The biggest step was the ‘relegation’ of roughly half of the proposals from policies to ‘projects’ (because they were not land use planning policies) – a point initially difficult to explain to community activists. The semi-formal submission of the final draft plan to an NPIERS ‘Health Check’ (a mock NP examination) via PAE proved useful.
Key learning points
baths_library_Balsall_HeathGaining ‘bright ideas’ from the community is a vital, necessary stage, but is only the first step towards a NDP. Early professional planning input will help ensure that plan policies can become effective in managing and promoting land development. This could come from the local planning authority provided they have the time and resources in place; this input can (and has) come from local volunteers (provided such a resource is available). Where none of this support is available then the way forward lies in raising resources to pay for professional help.
The Balsall Heath Forum had unrealistic expectations about the time required to complete a NDP; there are numerous delay factors. For Balsall Heath a significant delay has been the requirement for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to be undertaken because of the cumulative size of the housing proposals.
The opportunity was taken to widen the SEA to include a Sustainability Appraisal which enabled the draft policies within the NDP to be assessed in social, economic and environmental terms. This proved a useful exercise in that it highlighted a contradiction in the proposals, which was subsequently resolved. The process of checking back with infrastructure providers and potential developers also took a long time, reflecting the difficulty of tying down such organisations as city council departments, housing associations, transport operators etc.
Top tips
  • Put the resources in place to pay for professional help in progressing the writing of the plan document
  • Engage early with the local planning department and line up their assistance with plan preparation
  • Try to engage early those likely to be involved in the implementation of proposals, especially public bodies who may see their priorities as lying elsewhere
  • Be realistic about timescales.
Many thanks to Richard Hammersley, PAE Volunteer, for his help with this case study. 
These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.
Photo credits