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Birmingham’s new Cabinet Member for Leisure Martin Mullaney has vowed that the Muhammed Ali Centre in Hockley will be closed only as a “last resort”. In February, his predecessor Ray Hassall approved demolition of the building.

Mullaney made his announcement on Saturday night at the Hockley Flyover event organised by local sax legend Soweto Kinch.

Posting on The Stirrer Forum, Mullaney gave details of his speech, in which he said: “Firstly, let me reassure you that I do know the history of the Muhammad Ali Centre and I am acutely aware of the depth and strength of feeling about it by many in this community.

"Secondly, I would like to reiterate that demolition has always been a last resort and there’ll be none more delighted than me if a workable case can be made to return the centre to local people.

“I can also tell you that we have received interest from a community group and will now evaluate their proposals.

“However, and I think you’d agree, that whatever plans and proposals do come forward, they must be robust, viable and sustainable.

“In the weeks ahead I’ll be looking to work with the group and will examine the proposals in details, so that the Muhammed Ali centre can be returned to the community.”

The statement marks a remarkable U-turn for the Council, who just four months were planning to send in the bulldozers, claiming the Centre was a focus for anti-social behaviour..

In fairness to Hassall and other Liberal Democrat colleagues like Perry Barr councillor Karen Hamilton, there have been more positive discussions with the community groups in the months since then.

Even so, Mullaney’s statement is a belated acknowledgement of the importance of the Centre to the African Caribbean community.

Activist Maxie Hayles told The Stirrer last year that “tanks would be pointed at the Town Hall” if councillors pressed ahead with plans to knock it down, and he called for it to be “returned” to black ownership.


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