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Wednesday, August 10, 2022



It is 100 years this month since Birmingham took a giant leap south and annexed a large chunk of Worcestershire.

The Greater Birmingham Scheme received Royal Assent on June 3 1911, allowing the city to absorb, among other areas, Moseley, Kings Heath, Northfield and Kings Norton.

In that 100 years, large parts of what had been Worcestershire have been transformed into . . . well, places many of us wouldn’t really want to swap for, say, Alvechurch or Finstall, Burcot or Barnt Green.

We can see only too clearly, and depressingly, what can happen when a city gets its hands on what it views as open space, ripe for expansion.

Hop on a narrowboat at Alvechurch, chug a couple of miles north and through the Wasthills Tunnel at Hopwood; 10 minutes later you emerge from the twilight into what can feel like the heart of darkness.

Narrowboat users are well advised not to stop in these parts as they pass through the Hawkesley estate, one of the “3 Estates” developed by Bimingham on these annexed lands, miles from the city centre, between the 1950s and 1970s.

More than 10,000 people live here now, struggling in unenviable conditions. A 10-year “New Deal for Communities” for the 3 Estates has just ended and the city council is working on what it can do next to try to regenerate what is has created.

The development comes to an abrupt halt at the Bromsgrove border, so you get the jarring juxtaposition of deprivation suddenly turning into countryside, with desirable, rural homes only hundreds of yards to the protected south.

We describe this scene not to gloat over one community’s fortune or another’s misfortune, but to create a sense of perspective and an awareness of what we should constantly be striving to protect.

All cities will expand if they can; it is in their DNA. Given half a chance Birmingham would spread south to the next big boundary, the M42. It is forgotten already, but under the housing strategy being discussed only 18 months ago, there was a threat of bricks and concrete spilling down the A441 into Hopwood.

We will soon add 750 houses to our district on the former MG Rover works at Cofton Hackett (although these are, inexplicably, still in Birmingham’s housing total), giving more momentum to the city’s spread.

For all these reasons, then, and we make no apology for banging on about it, the field by Fiery Hill in Barnt Green should be seen as a last stand against an urbanisation that could swamp us all. Let’s try to hang on for another 100 years, at least.