Cllr Rob Birch
- 17th March 2018
I would like to comment on the Local Plan Review consultation.
I am particularly concerned about the threat to the Green Belt that surrounds our towns and which are an under appreciated amenity for our already built up areas.
The Green Belt serves many roles but it primarily protects us from urban sprawl and maintains the boundaries of our towns, helping to preserve their discrete identity.
The Green Belt provides recreation, open space and havens for wildlife. It keeps our towns and villages safe from incursion by urbanisation and maintains their character.
Over the years we have seen our Green Belt being encroached upon systematically and insideously as developers have won the right to build on the countryside. Rarely, if ever are those developments accompanied by any commensurate investment in the infrastructure necessary to sustain such development and the population increase it brings.
Invariably we see developers take the quick and easy option to maximise their profits. Development takes place on the countryside because it is cheaper than decontaminating and repurposing brownfield sites, of which many remain still available, far more suitable but far less attractive to profiteers. When development does occur it is never with the future sustainability or social wellbeing of a community in mind.
We have a distinct lack of housing in Burntwood but this problem cannot be solved by making swathes of the countryside available for executive housing. The Green Belt is one of our local amenities and should be looked upon as a resource for food production, employment through agriculture and countryside management, a wildlife habitat and a leisure facility. It should not be a one off cash generating resource for development companies who remove this incredible asset from our future generations then walk away to count their profits.
Sustainability is the bedrock of our future and without sustainable development and efficient use of our resources our future is bleak. I speak to many people in Burntwood and like them, I remain convinced that there is still a long way to go with the use of proper town planning and the development of brownfield sites before we need to be even close to putting the Green Belt under threat.
Councillor Robert Birch
- 6th May 2018
So, our sitting Tory MP Michael Fabricant has sunk to a new low.Just when you thought he had disgraced himself beyond belief by saying he wanted to punch Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the throat. Just when you thought he had overcome the indignity of shouting “Bollocksl from the green benches during a Brexit debate. Just when you thought he’d embarrassed himself enough by “sharing saliva” on Chanel 4’s Celebrity First Dates. Well if you thought that was all inappropriate enough you hadn’t seen anything until he decided to call a 19 year old female constituent “a complete twat” in response to her asking why he showed so little interest in Burntwood. Not only did he make this abusive comment, he did it in true Donald Trump style on Twitter, or in his case it should perhaps be renamed Twatter? He then went a few steps further by defending his actions in the most incompetent and incoherent way imaginable and then further compounded it by playing the victim.
How disgraceful that a sitting MP can feel that to express himself in such a way is anything other than unacceptable.
There are number of problems with what he has done, which include, but are not limited to, his blatant offensive manner towards a ligitimate challenge from a constituent, his grossly self inflated self righteousness, his apparent lack of awareness of what his constituents will think of such an attack and worst of all, his unbending refusal to see anything wrong in what he has done.
Young people on all sides of the political spectrum should be encouraged to take an interest in politics. They should be free to learn the art of respectful debating, They should not be placed in fear of expressing themselves due to expectation of abuse as a result. Least of all not from someone who is meant to be their representative in Parliament
In this one tweet Michael Fabricant has summed up everything that is wrong with him as our MP. He has proved he cannot engage in meaningful debate without being offensive and attacking people personally, he has proved he cannot see how offensive he is in his response to a legitimate question. He has proved that he cannot even come up with a good reason why he behaves the way he does, making up utter nonsense when asked for an explanation. He has also demonstrated that he will engage in this behaviour time and time again with impunity, as no one in his party seems willing or able to hold him to account. Indeed some of the local Tories encourage him by festooning their homes in balloons and ribbons if he should ever visit. It’s a good job that his attendance here is so infrequent as I doubt his fans could cope with the excitement.
When further challenged on his latest outburst, he defended himself by blaming the young lady he had directed his abuse at, accusing her of being a snowflake, he even went so far as to say he didn’t know she was only a 19 year old female when he made the remarks claiming he thought it was a troll messaging from St Petersburg in Russia. It matters not how old the person was, it matters not what gender they are, it matters not where they originate from. He should either have ignored the challenge if he felt it was spurious or simply been courteous in his response.
If there is any humour to be found in this situation it is in his self delusional idea that he gives at the end of the same tweet, that he neglects no part of his constituency and he states “That’s why i’m loved”. If he even knows the way to Burntwood or many of the villages in his constituency then I would be amazed. If he ever was to find his way here of his own accord and actually stopped to talk to the average resident, rather than the specially selected ones his Tory colleagues hand pick, he might get a taste of reality and find it rather more bitter than he would expect. I doubt he will ever do that however, as he would have to explain why he didn’t support the building of our health centre, why he voted to cut Council funding and supported his Tory colleagues in closing the children’s centres, why we have so little investment in our transport infrastructure that instead of driving on the left of the road, we now have to drive on what’s left of it.
His Conservative group on Burntwood Town Council have even asked him to open the Burntwood Wakes Festival this year. I assume they will be providing him with a map so he can find his way there. Any parents attending might be wise to bring ear defenders for young children as I wouldn’t trust him to deliver an opening speech with a mouth like his. Let’s hope he doesn’t go round trying to kiss any babies with a mouth as filthy as that! As a Burntwood Town Councillor, I for one shall boycott the Wakes this year due to his attendance, I will now be encouraging others to do the same. I do not wish to be associated with any event where he is the guest of honour.
I would urge people to remember what he is like and who his supporters are when it next comes to casting an election ballot in Burntwood, Lichfield and the villages in this constituency. I can see their next election leaflets “Vote Conservative for a punch in the throat you Tw@t.”
- 7th April 2018
Recent social media posts by the Burntwood Action Group (BAG), who still can’t decide if they are Green Belt campaigners or the unelected voice of the masses on their Facebook page, have claimed things in Burntwood only get done when they take action and call for local people to write to the council “en-mass”. It’s a shame people don’t speak up “en-mass” about the pot holes that are causing so much damage to people’s cars or the empty grit bins and reduced gritting routes that leave whole streets impassable in bad weather. All of the can also be reported online through the Staffs County Council Highways reporting portal but few people take the time to bother, so it’s left to a few of us that do it all while they continue to claim the credit. It a shame they don’t take they opportunity “en-mass” to remove those they are moaning about from power at election time.People have always had the right to speak up and comment on planning issues such as one involving the Post Office at Sankeys Corner and a proposal to turn it into a dentist. Again it is unfortunate that people don’t bother taking much interest in local issues unless it affects them directly. Even then many prefer to moan about those involved in making the decisions rather than getting practically involved and putting themselves out to make a difference.There is a NIMBY attitude that sadly dominates this local activism in most communities and BAG is no exception. The hypocrisy of NIMBYISM makes for bad decisions. We have the situation in Burntwood where people living in homes built on former Green Belt land are complaining about proposed building on the Green Belt and calling for the town to be redesigned according to their “vision”. These same people are asking for industrial areas in Burntwood to be moved to Chasetown, away from the areas where they live. Let’s not worry about the people in Chasetown who then inherit the problems they moan about as it is sufficiently far away from Burntwood to no longer bother them. There are people complaining about the closure of the banks and Post Office who never use them. We complain about the demise of our local shops whilst driving past them to the superstores out of town. We have all done it and in this respect I am no less a hypocrite than the next person.
The Neighbourhood Plan Committee recently met and the majority of those on the committee didn’t even open their mouths to speak and many, it appeared, hadn’t bothered to read or even noticed the glaring errors in the plan we were meant to be approving. They included some BAG supporters who turn into keyboard warriors on social media, supporting the Tories and UKIP, deriding Labour but then complaining about pot holes, poor GP services, no local Police presence! The very same ones who are silent on the committee, make no effort in the community and seem unable to make the link between casting their votes and the very things they complain about, again hypocrisy prevails
By all means encourage people to exercise their democratic right to voice their opinions, but don’t claim to represent the people of Burntwood when you are unelected, self selected, unaccountable and have less support from the whole town than I got in a by-election for just one ward.
If people keep listening to the social media mouthpiece of the pressure groups and keep electing into power, decision makers who don’t listen, do nothing and don’t even speak at the meetings then they shouldn’t be surprised or outraged at the outcomes they get as a result.
In the mean time I will keep fighting for a Better Burntwood.
- 21st February 2018
Burntwood Labour Councillors respond to the Local Plan Focused Change consultation:
The Labour Group of Councillors on Burntwood Town Council would like to make the following comments with regards to the LDC Local Plan Allocations 2008-2029 Focused Changes.It would appear on the face of it that Lichfield District Council (LDC) are taking note of the concerns of the residents of Burntwood as highlighted during the recent consultations. It seems however that there are some views that are not being taken fully into consideration.Whilst many, including ourselves, will be delighted to see the removal of the proposals to develop the Green Belt on Coulter Lane and in nearby areas bordering the area around Chasetown, there is little reassurance that these areas will not be placed back in the firing line should the housing needs for the area increase further than already accounted for by LDC. Under the duty to co-operate it is quite feasible that there will be further pressures put on LDC in the coming years to provide housing over and above the 9% already planned. As such the allocations may require further revision. This begs the question of whether the Focussed Changes document is realistic in the impression it gives, that the areas of Green Belt no longer identified for future development will truly be safe from development in the coming years. With developments nearby in Curborough at the behest of the Secretary of State, we need to ensure we have a robust case when protecting the Green Belt and this is a missed opportunity to emphasise its importance to the wellbeing of Burntwood as a whole. The plan should recognise that the projected housing allocations are not set in stone and it should be realistic about the threat that remains should LDC’s forecasts prove to be wrong.Furthermore, the sustainability of the town, ensuring it is fit for purpose for future generations, is not fully protected without a clear commitment to ensuring that the areas of land allocated for future development will be developed in a way that provides an appropriate mix of affordable and social housing with all the associated infrastructure. Schools, shops, roads, transport, employment, leisure and health care provision are all essential aspects of a healthy community and must be provided to ensure a good standard of living and a healthy environment for the people and business that constitute the town. There needs to be a tangible commitment from LDC, documented in the plans, to ensuring any future housing development is matched by a commensurate development in the towns infrastructure and public services.When viewed in the context of the needs of the current population and the projected future population, it is not clear that the ethos of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is being fully taken into account. This states that “sustainable development should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-making.” Within the concept of sustainable development, it should be the aim to develop an area in a way which preserves the character of that area and it’s heritage. Burntwood is surrounded by areas under similar developmental pressures and the northern edge of the West Midlands conurbation is literally on the doorstep. There needs to be a commitment in the plan that Burntwood will be developed in a way which maintains its position as a discrete town with its own identity and clear open space Green Belt borders between it and the adjacent areas of Cannock, Lichfield, Norton Canes and Brownhills.
Burntwood Town has developed significantly over the last century from its origins as the four villages of Chasetown, Burntwood, Chase Terrace and Boney Hay, but it has retained its character and has a proud heritage as a home for generations of working people and families. It offers a safe and pleasant place to live and raise a family and there is no doubt that many young people in the Town are looking to remain as Burntwood residents. However, in the coming years many will face the struggle of finding affordable accommodation to either buy or rent. The local plan needs to ensure that there is adequate provision to ensure opportunities for local people to secure affordable housing, suitable for young, old and growing families in the town. Without this commitment being explicit in the plan, Burntwood faces the possibility of becoming a town with high property prices, executive homes and it could lose its character, becoming a commuter base joined seamlessly to and indiscernible from the West Midlands urban sprawl.
The formal recognition of a Town Centre is a welcome development and it is hoped that LDC will be supportive in providing support for local businesses to ensure that the Town Centre can be a vibrant and effective focus for shopping and leisure activities in Burntwood. The Labour Group of Councillors do however feel that consideration needs to be given to ensuring the Town Centre is properly serviced by good transport links, including public transport, well maintained roads, adequate parking facilities, safe access for cyclists and pedestrians to the surrounding areas and allowing integral, easy access, to leisure facilities and nearby areas like Chasewater.
In short, we have recognised the challenges facing the Town for some years and have made repeated representations, endeavouring to make progress on the above points on behalf of Burntwood’s residents. The themes highlighted by ourselves are all too often discussed but not acted upon by LDC. As we have stated before, we want to see a better Burntwood and not a bigger Burntwood and the Local Plan should be used as a tool to ensure Council’s, at all levels, deliver to the people of this Town.
We are well aware of the requirement for Burntwood to play its part in providing homes and services for an ever-growing population. We do however feel that the people of Burntwood require a commitment and assurance that they and their children will still be able to recognise the Town in years to come, as a place they can identify with, want to live in and can afford to live in. We would like to see assurance in the Local Plan that this will be the case.
- 10th February 2018
A copy of a letter I have sent to Michael Fabricant MP. Lets see what reply I get and then lets see how he votes.
Dear Mr Fabricant,
As you may recall, the private members Hospital Car Parking Charges (Abolition) Bill 2017-2019 went through its first reading on 14th November 2017 and is due to have its second reading on 16th March this year.
I’m sure that you will appreciate the contentious nature of parking charges at hospitals and understand the additional burden that they place on people who are ill and seeking medical assistance at the time when they are at their most vulnerable and in need.It is with this in mind that I am writing to you and asking you to give very careful consideration to the welfare of your constituents when you vote on this debate.A look at the website for the Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust explains the parking charges at their hospitals, the ones that predominantly serve your constituents. Their website makes the following statement. “Please note that all income raised from car parking charges is retained by the Trust. Once costs have been taken out, any residual income is used to fund front line health care.” Delving further into the website shows that the parking system is administered by the infamous profit-making company Parking Eye. This makes the claim above something of an oxymoron. The reality doesn’t seem to fit with the claim which would infer money is raised by the ticket machines to go back into patient care except for the costs. It would be more honest to state “Please note that once Parking Eye have taken their operating costs and shareholders profits from the parking charges, anything left will be used to fund front line health care.” I cannot believe that Parking Eye operate for altruistic purposes so I would assume that a significant amount of money is being taken in charges and fines. This is money taken from ill people and their families, to provide profits to a private business first and foremost and then any cash left over is donated back to the hospital. The same hospital that is meant to be funding healthcare free at the point of delivery. Clearly some of the care is not coming free if it is funded by those attending the hospitals.Many of those visiting a hospital will be dependent on using their own transport for a number of reasons.This could be because they have mobility problems making public transport difficult or they may live in areas that are no longer serviced by public transport due to the cuts to bus subsidies imposed as a result of your Government’s Austerity agenda. The issue is further compounded by the lack of funding and poor management of the NHS since 2010 meaning people now have to travel further for services which were once available on their doorstep. I will cite Stafford Hospital A+E department as an example.Fundamentally I believe that to charge people to attend a hospital is against the ethos of what the NHS should stand for. Hospital parking charges amount to nothing more than a tax on the ill and vulnerable, which is neither fair nor moral in a modern, caring society. Additionally, many of those being charged will be already facing difficult financial choices as with illness often comes a loss or lowering of income for many and these charges can discourage people from getting the medical help they need.I was further concerned to hear of issues one resident of Burntwood has recently experienced where, upon taking his wife to Samuel Johnson Hospital in Lichfield, found that there were not enough parking spaces in the car park to allow them to park in a marked space. Upon enquiring what would happen as he had to leave his car in an unmarked area, he found that many of the spaces were in fact taken up by hospital staff, who themselves have to pay a daily fee to park their cars at work. It seems that not only are Burton Hospitals NHS Trust and Parking Eye content to tax patients but they are also keen to charge those same people who dedicate their lives to providing first class care to your constituents.I ask that you give full consideration to this debate and vote in the best interests of those who need your help and support, namely the ill, vulnerable, disabled, poor and the dedicated staff of the NHS.
- 22nd December 2017It is that time of year again when we celebrate good times with family and friends. For many however, the festive period can seem like a time of extreme contrasts. For some life is full of the promise of good times spent with loved ones around a turkey dinner and the exchange of gifts as a token of our affection for one another. For others, the Christmas spirit can be the violence inducing bottle of gin which precipitates the exchange of insults and punches. Some will enjoy a restful holiday and some, like me, will be working throughout Christmas and the New a Year in our public service roles.Most of us will be fortunate to have a warm home, hot food and clean clothes to wear, but there are an increasing number who will be spending the winter months in a hostel, bed and breakfast or worse, on the streets. For these people the season of goodwill becomes an odd concept as they sit on their sheet of cardboard awaiting the next handout and wondering if tonight they will be hungry, beaten, cold and wet, whilst the rest of us walk by with the only thought on our minds being whether the turkey will be too big to fit in the oven.For the most part we all fall into the trap of spending money we don’t need to and can’t afford at Christmas and we waste much of the food we buy, as others go hungry and cold. Whenever I visit a major town where I see increasing numbers of street sleepers I make a point of buying food for one person on the streets. It need only be a hot sausage roll and a bottle of water or a supermarket £3 meal deal, but I always do it even if it is in a vain attempt to appease my own conscience. Often I hand over the meal and have a quick chat with the person. Invariably I find they are just ordinary people like you and I. This isn’t something to do because it’s Christmas. It’s something I do throughout the year.This year I walked around enjoying my Christmas shopping as the snow fell and moaned to myself that I’d forgotten my gloves as my hands were starting to hurt from the cold. As I thought about how stupid I was I noticed someone asleep in a doorway in far more need of a pair of gloves than me, so I bought the nearest pair I could find, they were £2 from a market stall, and left them next to him as he slept.These are not big gestures. They were not expensive items and I’m not stupid enough not see the vanity and self righteousness in the act, but I do hope that in doing this I can make someone else feel just a little bit better.As austerity continues to bite hard we are all feeling the pinch but there is so much more to our values than fighting the Tories. I laughed at the recent hypocrisy from the Chair of Burntwood Town Council in her Christmas message of “Thinking of those less fortunate”. They don’t think of the families unable to pay their rent due to Universal Credit. They don’t think of the workers on zero hours contracts with no income over the festive period and they certainly don’t think about the increasing numbers of people we see sleeping on the streets.Between all the frivolities, I think that people should ask themselves what the true meaning of Christmas is? I have no religious beliefs so for me it is just a time of family and fun, working and giving, a time to reflect on the past and plan for the coming year. Everyone should have the chance to enjoy Christmas but to get the best out of it consider visiting someone who you know will be lonely, feed someone who is hungry , say hello and smile at a stranger or buy a pair of gloves for someone with cold hands.
- 22nd November 2017A recent experiment saw members of the public being read passages from the Quran and then giving their views on what they heard. The responses were invariably negative and predictable with mutterings about this being a Christian country, Islam being violent, etc. The cover was then taken off the book revealing that the verses read were actually from the bible, leaving a few red faces and people eating their words.The same experiment was also conducted with political pledges. People were asked which party they supported and then were asked if they agreed with various statements, manifesto pledges and ethical dilemmas.Again the results displayed an enormous amount of cognitive bias with the majority of those surveyed supporting views and pledges and then finding out they were Labour ones. People, it turned out, were supportive of the Labour manifesto regardless of which party they aligned themselves to. As with the previous example, there were more than a few red faces when those who said they were “True Blue” were told they were actually “Closet Corbynistas“.This leads to some interesting points for discussion around why people vote the way they do and how much attention they actually pay to the consequences of their vote.I became a Labour member because I sought out people who’s views were the same as or similar to mine, I wanted to be a part of something which had an ethos and ideology I could believe in, so that I could lend my support to that cause. Most people don’t feel strongly enough about politics to pay to join a party, but many feel strongly enough about the world they live in to cast a vote on polling day. Why then would they not take more notice of what they are voting for and why do they demonstrably vote for people knowing that they don’t have their best interests at heart? The answer is complex and whoever has a full understanding of the reasons why will do well in the next election.Who is to blame? Is it the mainstream media? Is it lack of trust in politics and politicians?Or is it that people are often just to lazy to find out the facts for themselves, preferring to follow the same side blindly? We see people repeatedly voting in the same ineffective, inactive local councillors, when others come forward who are passionate and competent but get ignored because of their alignment to “the wrong party”.We see people voting for the likes of our MP Michael Fabricant who makes little if any effort to engage with or support his constituents on any level, unless of course there is a photo opportunity involved. He has had no involvement in the quest to get Burntwood a new health centre, he has remained silent on the building of the new Curborough housing development on Lichfield’s Green Belt. We see people cast a vote against policies they believe in, that will make a real positive and long term difference to them and their families and in favour of someone who u turns more than a taxi driver. The autumn budget of 2017 will no doubt see more people turning to food banks, more people on zero hours contracts, longer waits for hospital treatment, crime rates rising even further and council tax bills rising to get fewer services.All because they don’t want Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.