Posted by: The Prince of Whales | April 12, 2010

Before The Big Plan, We Need a Big Idea

For me there’s what some folks might see as an odd paradox needed to get democracy working well and that’s strong leadership.

Letting the people have their say is a great principle but it can be so disappointing. Disenchantment and apathy can also creep in. When combined with a lack of leadership, this can create a democratic vacuum;  a gap that allows relatively small, well organised groups to position themselves as being representative of the community when they actually represent nothing more than their own self interest.

Take Moseley’s Big Plan, the exercise currently underway to get the local community to come up with ideas that will shape the Planning Policy for Moseley in year’s to come. The City Council are devolving responsibility and a whole series of consultation exercises are underway to get the good folk of Moseley to shape the built environment for future generations.

Here there is certainly no leadership. Well kind of difficult when Moseley has no leader!

Of greater concern is the major influence some local “self interest groups” have had in framing the debate so far.

Take the Moseley Business Association, a key member of the Moseley Regeneration Group. This organisation has no constitution, no meetings, no formal members. Its seems to be the “personal property” of one of our local independent retailers. Yet it is seeking to shape the planning environment in  a way that will impact all of us.

The Moseley Society has very few members from ethnic minorities, very few young members and almost no members from “blue collar” or working class backgrounds. Of course its done some great work preserving our historic architecture but it has a vision of Moseley which is not shared with the majority of the residents.

Perhaps none of this would matter, if there was a Big Idea to go with the Big Plan. There isn’t. Instead most (but not all) of the feedback we can see on websites and forums is bogged down in the minutiae of daily life. Public meetings are packed with petty prejudices … Tesco never, but a Waitrose would be nice!

So here are some bigger ideas:

  1. Moseley should have its own elected Mayor – Birmingham City Councils (the biggest local authority in Europe) is simply too big. Lets adopt the London system of Boroughs. Let a smaller central city authority do the infracture type stuff and then truly devolve power to communities. If we had a strong mayor, we could really get stuff done in Moseley.
  2. Lets make Moseley Birmingham’s Cultural and Creative Heart. Not in a high culture sense, but more in a populist and perhaps alternative sense. So not Stratford or Covent Garden but closer to Camden, Brighton or perhaps even Nashville?
  3. Play to our strengths and build our Entertainment Economy. There’s real community benefits from some amazing things that already happen in Moseley: The Moseley Festival, The Folk Festival, our restuarants, pubs and bars. Our modern musical heritage both in terms of venues and bands. There’s the new MAC, Tolkien’s connection and a whole community of people working away in creative and media industries even now.
  4. Use our success with the night-time economy to drive day- time growth. Focus on Leisure and Tourism as two industry secors that could grow our day-time economy. Instead of building shops or posh appartments on the few available big sites, lets look at building some tourism based projects. Lets ask the English Tourist Board and Advantage West Midlands what leisure and tourism projects could we attract to the village. Lets grow things like the Farmer’s Market, lets add more craft and creative aspects.
  5. Let’s target higher education – the City’s universities are expanding yet there isn’t a single Moseley campus. Students can add a great deal to a community so perhaps Halls of Residence are another thing the community should consider.

So there’s a few ideas. Not all perfect; not all achieveable. Hopefully other people will now challenge these, dismiss them, improve them and offer alternatives. Without the Big Idea, there can be no Big Plan.

Come Back Ken

Finally my suggestion for Mayor – a very experienced, ex Moseley resident and one time customer of this pub… Ken Clarke!


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