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The Stirrer Review of the Year

DIGBETH - THE BATTLE CONTINUES

31-12-2009

We continue our look back on the events of 2009 by recalling the ongoing debate over the future of Digbeth. As Dave Woodhall ponders, should it be the symbol of a bright new city or a reflection of our past?

For several years now there has been conflict in the area, predominantly between the owners of local pubs, who naturally want to do all they can to stay in business during difficult times, and new residents, who have recently moved into the area and have complained about noise disturbance.

Add to this argument new proposals to make the area into Birmingham’s cultural quarter and there were all the ingredients for a long-running clash about the future of one of the city’s oldest and most unspoilt areas.

There had already been a long-running dispute between John Tigue, landlord of Digbeth’s famous Spotted Dog, and Birmingham City Council after the pub was warned about noise.

The council then threatened another Digbeth institution, the Rainbow, with a noise abatement order jeopardising the venue’s ability to promote live music and therefore its future.

In particular, The Stirrer found it incredible that a city regularly criticised for not punching its weight in relation to its live music scene could see venues closed on the say-so of a single council official.

Advantage West Midlands were drawn into the debate, with a report on the conflict between existing business and new, which seemed to criticise everyone – local publicans for their unwillingness to compromise and the builders of the flats from where the complaints emanated.

Indeed, the one thing that often seemed apparent throughout the year is that all concerned needed their heads banging together. Cllr Martin Mullaney, a previous critic of Digbeth’s nightlife on The Stirrer forum, often seemed at war with John Tigue, as allegations, insults and counter-claims flew. It was all very entertaining for the rest of us, but perhaps things might have been settled a lot more amicably had the protagonists met across a table (in the Spotted Dog perhaps) rather than via the internet,

The inevitable noise abatement order was finally served on the Rainbow in June 14,000 people signed an online petition, 300 attended a protest meeting but it seemed one complaint carried more weight with the council – shades of the mid-eighties wrangle when a solitary noise complaint was enough to close the popular Peacocks venue where future chart act Fuzzbox had made their debut.

Digbeth continues to stage important events, some more popular than others – St Patrick’s Day saw 80,000 peoples lining its streets, while the Anchor beer festival was not quite so busy but still enhanced the area’s reputation.

The Raise the Roof event held at the Rainbow in August to funds for soundproofing work was not only cleverly titled, it was also a fine example of compromise. 3,000 revellers enjoyed themselves, not one complaint was made despite the festivities going on until 6am. If only all events could be so successful.

And of course, with all this news it was only fair that The Stirrer should see what the fuss was about in the time-honoured tradition.

UB40 also gave their support to the Rainbow, which led to an excellent article from another doyen of the local music scene, Robin Valk.

The furore over the noise problem seems to have ended, or at least gone quiet (I know - sorry). Digbeth’s next battle seems to be its role in the city’s future. Slap bang in the middle of the council’s plans for a modernised Eastside, Digbeth seems a bit like the little old lady who refuses to move from the house where she’s lived all her life and holds up plans for a new ‘executive development’.

A bit scruffy, down at heel and at first glance unappealing maybe, but the business folk and those who visit on a regular basis like it that way. It’s been mooted that Digbeth High Street becomes the focal point for large gatherings that have previously taken place in the city centre while the City of Culture bid will have a massive impact on the area.

And The Spotted Dog celebrated the end of the year with inclusion in the 2010 Good Beer Guide.

The last word went to The Stirrer’s new signing, Dave Woodhall, who thought it might be better just to leave things as they are. But you can bet that won’t happen. 2010 promises to be the most controversial and incident-packed year Digbeth has seen since at least 2009.

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