Steve McCabe Report Back on Selly Oak Hospital Site Consultation

On the evening of Wednesday 5th October I attended the consultation exercise organised by the University Hospitals Birmingham Trust (UHB) on their plans for the future of the Selly Oak Hospital site. About 40 people took part in the exercise; its purpose was to agree a ‘master plan’ or overall planning framework to guide future developments on the site. Those present involved members of the public, local councillors (interestingly none of the Conservative councillors who have been so critical of the plans) representatives of schools, businesses, community groups and others.
 
I want to congratulate the UHB and Chairman Sir Albert Bore for the imaginative and inclusive approach they have adopted. The redevelopment of this site is too important for the people of South Birmingham for it to be left to any single organisation. That’s why I’ve done so much consulting on this issue myself and why I’ve made so much effort to ensure that the issues raised by my constituents have been included in the master plan.
 
Obviously there’s a long way to go. It could be as late as December 2011 before the Trust submits outline proposals to the city council. They have extended their consultation period to include more detailed discussions with local parties including the Childrens’ Acorns Hospice and Selly Oak Trust School. The earliest possible date for any work to begin on the site is probably 2013 and this will be hugely influenced by the state of the economy, land values and the strength of the construction industry.
 
The design groups have deliberately set out to create a ‘new model village’ feel for the site which respects the traditions of Bournville and Selly Oak and the historic influence of Bournville village.
 
From the outset the key issues have included: the need to protect open space, trees and buildings of architectural and historical significance; ensure a sense of community within the development; and, think about this development in conjunction with the university’s expansion plans, Sainsbury’s plans for the former battery site and the longer term prospects for Bournbrook.
 
Areas of concern include: protection for Raddlebarn Road, there appears to be agreement that Raddlebarn Road should remain as a distributor route for the area but that traffic must be managed on that route to protect local residents and businesses and of course children attending Raddlebarn J&I School and Selly Oak Trust School.
 
The Trust recognises the need to provide leisure amenities within the development. This probably won’t include a swimming pool which was probably always a bit of a fantasy which revealed financial ignorance. In any event that idea has probably been overtaken by the decision of the university to build a new Olympic size pool but the development will include a range of leisure facilities and play areas plus a walkway and cycle route extending the whole length of the site.
 
There are some concerns about proposals for more densely packed housing proposals which would see around 70 housing units per hectare which is certainly on the high side, particularly as elsewhere the development envisages units of around 20 and 35 per hectare which is consistent with existing Selly Oak and Bournville housing. The larger proposals could be offset by pursuing plans for sheltered accommodation for those with disabilities and a foyer style establishment. This would utilise the existing facilities offered by the Acorns Hospice and Selly Oak Trust School.
 
I will continue to press for some small scale innovative workshops to assist with start up business opportunities. This would have particular relevance to the arts, creative industries and IT sectors.
 
The exercise also enabled local residents to raise concerns about houses which would back onto existing properties and to seek reassurances about screening designs to protect privacy and security.
 
Obviously a development on this scale will have an impact on existing local services and there was a strong feeling that any money derived through Section 106 planning gain agreements must be spent on improving local services and not siphoned off for any other purposes elsewhere in the city.
 
There was a strong feeling that more effort should be made to create a better link to the rail station despite some of the technical difficulties and that there was some hope that a canal side feature might help develop the ‘village feel’ as well as deal with some of the site drainage issues.
 
I am impressed with the Trust’s approach and their desire to involve local people and interested parties from the outset. This approach is a template from which other developers should learn. Obviously there will be a high housing content partly because we need the housing and also because economics dictates that the Trust must get a good return on behalf of the NHS although interestingly the Trust haven’t ruled out retaining a direct role in development of the site. I believe it’s possible to build an eco friendly, new model Bournville Village and ensure that for the whole of South Birmingham the development will mean housing but also leisure, culture, jobs, recreation and a strong sense of community.
 
There’s a long way to go; I’ll continue to consult and represent the interests of my constituents over this very important project but at this juncture I’d give the Trust 9 out of 10 for imagination, listening skills and ambition.
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