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Friday, 10 March 2017

'A fortnight ago things changed...'

A summer meet of the Friends of Black Patch Park outside the Soho Foundry Tavern
.... for Black Patch Park and its friends. It was not as if The Friends haven't left a lobbying trail since we founded ourselves 13 years ago. But last year - 16th March 2016 - we met the late Darren Cooper when he was the Leader of Sandwell MBC. Unofficially he assured us that things must change. We had prepared a draft report on the case for bringing back housing along the edges of the Black Patch, arguing that only by having people who opened their windows and doors onto the park was there a hope of restoring and maintaining it.
In the meantime the park became more and more ravaged by fly-tipping - with the worst we'd ever seen hitting even the national press at the end of February. Given the amplifying repetitiousness of these problems I didn't hold out much hope for the meeting we'd sought with the new Leader of the Council several weeks earlier. Phil Crumpton and I had sat in the middle of a wrecked space venting - feeling our hopes were futile, wasted.
Three years ago we'd designed a visitor's trail for the Black Patch - 'striving to renew a place' 
In February last year we'd written about 'bringing people back to the Black Patch'
Leader's Office - Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council 23 Feb 2017
L-R Simon B, Andrew Simon, Phil Crumpton (FoBPP), Cllr Richard Marshall, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC, Ajman Ali, Interim Director, Neighbourhood Strategy, Sandwell, 
Ash Barker and Harjinder Jheet (FoBPP)  (photo: Max Cookson, Transport & Waste Operations Manager)

At the meeting between Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC and the Friends of Black Patch Park on 23 Feb 2017, Cllr Eling said he was impressed at the comprehensiveness of the report that the Friends had produced, recommending that people be brought back to Black Patch Park as the only solution to its neglect and blighting. His Cabinet had walked around the park a few weeks earlier. He had followed our case. He agreed with our plan and its arguments for rezoning the area for new housing around the park and beyond. This, the Leader agreed, was the only way to resolve what he described as the ‘conundrum of the Black Patch’ - a problem created by a prolonged series of failed piece-meal measures; in particular, a repetitive cycle of forced illegal entry, consequent trashing, expensive clearance, inadequate boundary securing and monitoring. “Black Patch” he declared “has been historically disadvantaged by its lack of connectivity. But there’s a new connectivity which changes the fortunes of the Black Patch”. There would be no solution to the ‘Black Patch conundrum’ without a restorative strategy for this part of the Borough.
- Such a strategy must not be implemented piecemeal, since piecemeal actions have brought about the notorious problems of the Black Patch,
- The strategy must reconfigure ‘a new space’ that visibly and physically breaks out of the ‘isolation’ of the park created by transport and former industrial infrastructure – such as railway embankments and the ‘tunnel’ of Queenshead bridge,
- This new space is an answer to the challenge of how to create a sustainable community in the area; bringing new tenants and residents in affordable housing, not only to the borders of the park, but to a wider area, via additional housing along a new hub-walkway linking Black Patch to the Metro station on Handsworth New Road and the neighbourhood of Birmingham’s Soho district.
Note: These are the views of the FoBPP following their meeting at Sandwell Council offices but I received this email y'day:
'Good Afternoon Simon. Both the Leader, Cllr Steve Eling and Cabinet Member for Leisure, Cllr Richard Marshall have agreed that your draft notes are an acceptable account of the meeting and are happy for them to be in the public domain. If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me. Many Thanks, Jane Perham, PA to The Leader'
The Friends of Black Patch Park - "We can't go on meeting like this!"
Back to the future - 30 March 2017 - and I'm writing on Facebook:
The Friends of Black Patch Park have been allowed a few weeks of optimism, believing after our meeting on 23 Feb 2017 (current group photo on the top of this blog entry) with the Leader of the Council, one of his Cabinet colleagues and officers, that the area around the Park would be rezoned for housing - and the future of the park assured by restoring it as the green centre of 'a community of place'. The words of Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC, had been that there must be an end to 'piece-meal' decisions in this area of Smethwick, and a recognition that 'the conditions now exist for a sustainable community of park users in the area; that would finally 'offer a solution' to what he called 'the Black Patch conundrum'. But Sandwell's Cabinet have now referred, to planning committee, a plan for a transit site for Travellers next to the park (Ref: DC/17/60410), and, in so doing, have driven a wedge through Cllr Eling's vision of a sustainable housing plan for the area - one that offered a solution to the decades-long neglect of this area. Neither despair nor resignation are in the vocabulary of the Friends of Black Patch Park. We shall continue to make a case that we, mistakenly, understood had been accepted by the leadership of Sandwell Council. The speed with which the transit site (see map below) between Boulton Road and Foundry Lane has been cleared, suggests that despite the reference in past weeks to alternative sites in the borough, these were, in actuality, given no serious consideration. Now we are being asked to believe that a transit site on a vital part of what ought to be zoned for housing in Cllr Eling's vision, as he shared it with us on 23 Feb, will actually be paid for and used by Travellers, when the tempting space of Black Patch Park, whose security Sandwell MBC and the police have been unable - even unwilling - to protect, is just across the road. The placing of this site, intended as a means by which the council can trigger eviction procedures under Section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, is more likely to ensure continuation of the 'piece-meal' problems of occupation, trashing and expensive eviction and clearance that have long blighted the Black Patch area.
Plan for a Transit Site next to the Black Patch

Transit site next to Black Patch Park - in the heart of what should be new housing around the park









This is Cllr Steve Eling's 3-page letter to FoBBP member Phil Crumpton seeking to allay fears about the current decision to place a temporary Traveller's Transit site next to the last remaining homes near Black Patch and in the centre of an area that a month before he'd described as the 'sustainable housing area' that would recreate Black Patch Park as a 'community of place'.
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Andrew Simons (Hon Sec FoBPP) draft letter of objection to application DC/17/60410:
Dear 
I am writing on behalf of the Friends of Black Patch Park in relation to the planning application (DC/17/60410) for a temporary traveller transit site at the corner of Boulton Road and Foundry Lane, Black Patch, Smethwick B66 2LS. The Friends wish to object to the planning application on several grounds. 
1. The planning application is in contravention of planning policy guidance for traveller sites as set out by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2015 (Planning policy for traveller sites, DCLG, August 2015). In particular, we wish to draw your attention to the following:
a) There has been no community engagement with either the settled or traveller communities with regards to the proposed transit site. For example, there has been no consultation with residents of Murdock and Avery Roads which are immediately next to the proposed site, or the residents on other adjoining streets such as Perrott Street, Eva Road, Foundry Road, Queens Head Road etc.
b) There is little or no evidence of SMBC having worked collaboratively with neighbouring local planning authorities – even though the proposed site is immediately adjacent to the border with Birmingham – to ensure that the site is sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. Indeed, the proposal appears to be designed with the aim of forcing travellers into neighbouring boroughs.
c) The proposed development takes no account of the existing Local Plans for the Black Patch area, for example, the Smethwick Area Action Plan (2008). It is the view of the Friends that such a transit site would undermine the priority for housing development in the area surrounding Black Patch Park and therefore contribute further to a piecemeal approach that is not sustainable in the long term.
d) There is no evidence that other alternative sites within the borough have been given due consideration to ensure that the best site is chosen. This would include a consideration of the needs of the traveller community as well as the resident community adjacent to such sites and embrace such matters as the access of travellers to adequate education, health and welfare services.
2. The proposed transit site will have a detrimental impact on local amenities and environment for residents living next to the site. This includes resident living immediately adjacent to the site on Murdock and Avery Roads and residents living in the wider area who use Black Patch Park. 
The presumption made by SMBC is that the site will not be used owing to the up-front fee and weekly rent. However, this does not exempt SMBC from following relevant planning law or guidance, and is based on an assumption that may prove incorrect. What if some or all the proposed 34 pitches are taken and there is no plan for managing the development as required by DCLG?  How will this proposal help with the development of a long term sustainable plan for the Black Patch area?
We would request that the Council take our objections into consideration when deciding this application. We would be happy to meet with representatives of SMBC on site to discuss our objections in person.  Yours sincerely etc FoBPP
**** **** ****
Last May I got an email from Gill, the apiarist, who keeps bees on Plot 14.
I now have a nucleus colony which can go to your allotment. They are Buckfast bees, specially bred to be both docile and prolific.
So they were - a source of quiet satisfaction through the seasons, a presence on the plot, peered at carefully now and then; seen individually in flowers on the allotment and beyond. Sometimes I imagined them before I went to sleep.

In September 2016 we had our first honey off the plot. For winter Gill insulated the hive. This February I emailed her
Dear Gill. Do you have any idea how the colony on Plot 14 has weathered the winter? Last year was such a good surprise.  X Simon 
28th Feb: Simon. Unfortunately, it has not survived. Varroa depleted the colony and the cold weather put paid to the rest. I shall be getting another colony in the spring, though. Gill
Winnie and I wonder if the siting of the hive backing onto the to park fence, next to the plot shed, trees and brambles, confines the bees to a space that holds damp. We wonder about moving it to a different place on the plot - possibly a chamber inside the fruit cage open to the sky - placing any new colony in the centre of the plot. Now looking at the hive what I thought was sleep and winter quiet, is an emptied hive. Oliver has been curious about the malign work of the Varroa mite. We sat in the kitchen and I called up an animated youtube clip...
I guess fear adds to my feelings. I hate this 'thing' whose reproductive cycle parallels the bee's; that east its way into the bee's young, sucks their blood, breeds in their chambers, excretes on them, uses the bees to spread - vampires. It's not the insect that does the harm, but the diseases it carries in its parasitic life. I know that Buddhism could calm me, show how all is part of the great cycle, and even Christianity would strive to teach me that 'they know not what they do'. A test of love. Before he went to sleep - staying our house tonight - I said "Sleep tight, don't..." He completed "...let the Varroa bugs bite". 
Varroa destructor on its honeybee host





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