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Thursday, 14 December 2017


I’d almost forgotten about snow; proper snow with sledging, snowballing, and inconvenience for people who want to go to work. The children rejoice. So far as I know, so does Oscar dog, even when, in the Highlands, there was little to be seen but his tail and a nose, surfacing now and then to check position. 

Birmingham, with the rest of the country south of the borders, gets taken by surprise. Snow comes so infrequently, the airwaves disperse hyperbole about 'weather', it can't be nostalgia that I recall such conditions as normal, to be taken in our stride. This weekend on to Monday, buses didn't run. Schools closed. No trains or trams for 48 hours, No gritting. When salting came, as befits services under 'austerity', only arterial roads got the treatment. 
Oliver was staying with us on Sunday. We ventured out on foot to the allotments. 
At the iron gates I brushed frosted snow off the lock's push buttons.
"We're the only ones to visit" 
"How do you know, grandpa?" 
"What do you notice about the snow, Oliver?"
To my surprise he couldn't work it out. 
We trudged through boot-depth snow to the plot. 

Pristine. From the parks came shouts and laughter. In the distance I could see the smudgy shapes of many Canada geese standing by the pond among the naked trees, oblivious to the stick people cantering about, snowballing, making snowmen, sledging.
"Help me, Oliver"
He'd already made sure to bring a carrot. The snow packed up sticky to make good lumps to pile up for our snowman's body. When he was nearly as high as me I used  a trowel to shape neck and shoulders. Oliver collected chunks with his gloved hands to fill in gaps in the body. 
"Charcoal for eyes! Veg nets for a scarf. Give us the carrot" 
I carved holes for nose and eyes.
"His mouth!"
I went in the greenhouse and found a dried runner bean pod, curved. Perfect. 
Amy rang "come home, Dad. We're all here now. Pasties and mince pies and...
"We'll go sledging in the park?"
"Of course"
I tarried to put out nuts, seeds, water and fat-balls for birds, Garlic stems were poking out through the snow in two beds; winter onions too. But for disturbance around our snowman, the plot lies under the snow, its soil teeming with dormant life. The burgeoning of summer is hardly imaginable. The bees are silent, clustered in winter around the queen; living off honey. The scene is black and white, but for Oliver's warm red coat and flags on the fruit cage.

** ** **
Our park has a special glamour under snow. Amy, Guy, Hannah, Oliver, Oscar dog and I walk over the rail bridge to the other side of the park with its bandstand, and steeper contours, good for sledging. 

We all have a go on our plastic sledges. I slide on my front, the better to steer with my toes. The children are fearless, sitting upright, veering into trees, tipping over. Up we stumble and down we go again - together and in turns dodging trees, the metal fence near the foot of the run, whooping, shouting, laughing with others sharing the slope,...
... until the sky tunes itself to dusk. We head home dragging the children on sledges. 
"I love seeing the street lights through the trees" I said to Amy. We're in a lovely city park remote from feral winter.
Dusk in Handsworth Park

** ** ** **
With many others, we've been helping Jan Kimber campaign against building houses over most of the Lea Hall Allotments. Jan and I evoked Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG) - the small group that I'd set up to campaign against building houses over all the old Victoria Jubilee Allotments, where I now have my plot.
Lea Hall Allotments on Google Maps 

The plan to build on Lea Hall Allotments

Planning application 2017/08883/PA was submitted, on 25th October 2017, by Countryside Properties to build 110 new homes at the Lea Hall allotments site on Wood Lane, in Handsworth Wood. 'A mixture of detached, semi-detached and terraced, 79 of these 3+4 bed homes will be for sale and the other 31 will be for private rent.' My objection sent, with others, to Birmingham City Council Planning Department:
I wish to express my objection to planning application 2017/08883/PA to build on Lea Hall Allotments.
Allotments have legal protection under the the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, unless it can be shown there is no demand for plots.
To suppress demand, Lea Hall Allotments Committee have been engaged in a ‘managed’ retreat from responsibility to look after these allotments, turning a statutorily protected green space into a profitable windfall site for housing.
This strategy, to empty allotment sites and suppress demand for plots,  in order to sell them, was criticised in the report of the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report ‘The Future For Allotments’ 11 June 1998, which described what’s been happening at Lea Hall Allotments as ‘constructive non-maintenance’.
Members of Lea Hall Allotments Committee have colluded with Countryside Properties (the second developer with whom they have had recent dealings), in ‘constructive non-maintenance’, by:
- not advertising plots and rejecting applications for them
- abandoning all but minimal maintenance, and failing to invest in site infrastructure,
- unnecessarily cutting down some of the site’s mature trees,
- repeatedly telling plot holders that plans to build on the site have already been agreed,
- excluding the contribution of women plot-holders to promoting the site by prohibiting them from committee deliberations, 
The applicant claims suitable substitute plots are available on other allotment sites. This is not a case that has been easy for them to make, as the Lea Hall Allotments site is, or would be if properly managed, uniquely attractive, facing open green space to the north (across a railway line which assists security), with woodlands on its edge, good drainage and an exceptionally well equipped clubhouse with bar, toilets, a bowling green and facilities for meetings and entertainment.
This application by Countryside Properties threatens to remove yet more green space from one of  our city’s finest Victorian suburbs, contrary to guidance in Birmingham City Council’s ‘Mature suburbs: Guidelines to control residential intensification - Feb 2008.
Properly managed  and advertised, Lea Hall Allotments, left as allotments and conservation area, open to the public, would be a most valuable community asset.
There is a significant deficit of open space in Lozells & East Handsworth Ward. The proximity of the application site to Perry Hall playing field, quoted by the applicant as an example of green space availability, is compromised by the railway line between New Street and Walsall that runs along the northern boundary of the neighbourhood.
The new allotments in the applicant’s proposal cover only 24% of the existing site and they are far smaller than the normal average of 200 square metres in other city allotments..
The woodland in the north east corner of the site provides screening and noise protection for residents of Lea Hall Road, serves as a visual amenity for users of Perry Hall Playing Fields, is a habitat for a rich variety of flora and fauna, and contributes to the area’s drainage.
It seems especially unwise to allow this development on greenfield land given the forthcoming analysis by West Midlands Combined Authority on the remediation and development of brownfield land (West Midlands Land Commission - Final Report to the West Midlands Combined Authority Board. 9th February 2017)
A tour around Lea Hall Allotments on 22nd November

Jan Kimber describes Countryside Properties' plans for Lea Hall Allotments at Birchfield Neighbourhood Forum - 30 Nov 2017

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Simon Baddeley