Friday, 1 June 2012

Community Sports Project Survives Sabotage Attempt

By Roger Lynch of Kingsbridge Project

Local people in South Birmingham have been baffled by a sudden U-Turn by the Council a year ago, when an innovative community asset transfer initiative appeared to have been shelved. Events which followed almost succeeded in de-railing years of work by the Kingsbridge Project- who were looking to redevelop the run-down sports facilities at Holders Lane for the benefit of the local community. No one could understand why the Council would change its mind so dramatically? Now we can reveal the reason why! University College Birmingham (UCB) formerly known as Birmingham College of Food, Tourism & Creative Studies, appear to have deliberately tried to sabotage Birmingham City Council's Asset Transfer plans for the Holders Lane Playing Fields in Birmingham, in a desperate attempt to expand their fast-growing £multi-million property empire.

UCB’s £60 Million Property Portfolio

In the past few years, UCB have announced ambitious plans to expand its student campus, with its fixed assets increasing to a value of almost £60 million. These recently acquired assets, which are in addition to its premises in Summer Row include a £2 million site in Newhall Square and a £400,000 site in Lionel Street. UCB have also announced the £20 million development of the James Cond & Camden House site which was purchased in April 2010 for £4 million. Principle Ray Linforth claimed this development would be “the largest capital project in the Jewellery Quarter in the next few years.” UCB's audacious property acquisition plans also included the green-field site known as Holders Lane & Pebble Mill Playing Fields, the freehold of which UCB had proposed to buy at market value" in February 2010. The acquisition may well have completed by now, had local community groups and residents in the area not stood in their way.

Local Residents Voice Concerns

Over 1,000 local people have now signing an e-petition to stop the sale of the site going ahead and members of the local community have expressed “great concern” and a “general opposition” to UCB’s proposals for the development of the site. In contrast local residents have looked "more favourably” on the Kingsbridge proposals. One particular residents group in the area agrees with Kingsbridge that the “local communities should be major stakeholders in deciding the future of the playing fields,” and they have offered to host a public meeting on 26th June to decide on the best way forward for local people.

Kingsbridge and its partners have been in dialogue with the Council since January 2008 and have invested more than £80,000 of time and money in developing its proposals in line with the Councils requirements for the Community Asset Transfer Protocol.

Council’s Asset Transfer Intentions Challenged

UCB’s Vice Principal was clearly aware of the situation, confirming at the Board Meeting in March 2011 that the “Asset Transfer process” for Holders Lane had already “commenced.” And yet, rather than working with Kingsbridge and the local community, UCB decided to mount a rival bid to take over the site. Two months later they wrote to Birmingham City Council, suggesting that, "it would not be right for the City to consider 'gifting' these playing fields to Kingsbridge, no matter how well intentioned they are, when there is the prospect of the Council receiving funding..." A prominent spokesperson for Birmingham City Council later commented "UCB would legally challenge us if we went straight to an asset transfer to Kingsbridge." The same spokesperson went on to say that "the way UCB has acted is not ethical".

Time will tell whether Birmingham’s new Labour Administration will be able to find an appropriate solution to the Holders Lane dilemma. Will the Council now show moral strength and deliver the outcome wanted by the local people, or will the much loved playing fields become just another part of UCB’s fast expanding property empire?

Kingsbridge Project is a community based consortium, aiming to develop a vibrant and exciting new venue in South Birmingham. Our aim is to enhance the provision of sport and leisure activities for the benefit of a wide variety of local user groups, in an area where facilities are currently sorely lacking.

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