RTPI President, Janet Askew, visited Balsall Heath in Birmingham during her visit to the West Midlands last week. Whilst this area is well known to thousands as the ‘Balti Triangle’ and one of the best places to eat in Birmingham, it is also home to some very interesting neighbourhood initiatives, which have seen real improvements to the district.
Janet Askew met Abdullah Rehman, the chairman of the Balsall Heath Forum, who, along with Planning Aid England (PAE) volunteer planner, Richard Hammersley and local residents, Joe Holyoak and Dick Atkinson, explained how this once troubled inner city area has pulled together to produce a new neighbourhood plan.
Balsall Heath, a mixed and diverse area, home to about 15,000 people, was one of the first seventeen places selected in 2011 as a pilot for neighbourhood plans. There are already 10 residents’ associations in the small area, within which are high streets, one of which is part of the famous Balti Triangle of over 100 restaurants. The plan has taken 33 months to complete, which the community thought was longer than they had anticipated, but they are looking forward now to examination of the plan after the general election.
Janet was briefed on the main issues for the plan, which included the provision of a new station to create better links with Birmingham New Street; the improvement of the seven parks in the area; and regeneration of the two high streets. But the real news is the bringing together of people from diverse backgrounds to create a united neighbourhood, which cares for and invests in its own social and economic environment. There is still some way to go to finalise the plan, including the holding of a referendum, and if adopted, there are issues of monitoring and implementation. For this, the Balsall Heath Forum was firmly of the view that it will be important that the community remains united, and the planning authority works with them to provide a better environment for all.
The story of Balsall Heath and neighbourhood renewal in general has been recorded in a book by Dick Atkinson (2012) called ‘Nourishing Social Renewal’, and details of the plan can be found at Birmingham City Council’s website at http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/balsallheathndp