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SUBURBS FOR SALE

06-02-2010

Martineau Centre

Residents in Harborne and Quinton fear that a much valued community resource, the Martineau Centre, is being secretly run down by the City Council in preparation for a sale. Ruth Hunt and Pete Millington say facilities in the suburbs shouldn’t be sacrificed for flagship inner city developments.

Harborne residents have formed a Community Group called the Martineau Ten to challenge local City Councillors to be transparent on the future of the Martineau Centre.

We have learnt that Birmingham City Councillors need to identify parcels of land to be sold to fund new building and refurbishment work in the city centre.

It is common opinion that the inner chambers of the Council seem bent on depriving the suburbs of valuable and beautiful properties with multiple uses to load up the value of inner city public works.

These include the New Street Station development, the refurbishing of Lancaster House (on Lancaster Circus) and the building of an enormous office block (are there not enough already?) in Woodcock Street in Gosta Green.

Then there is the 50 metre Olympic Pool near the Convention Centre and of course the new Library.

The Council has borrowed the money for their more prestigious projects on the strength of these smaller parcels of “unidentified building land” ... when actually in most cases they have buildings on this land already, probably more worthy to survive than the above fripperies.

One of these is the Martineau Centre in Balden Road Harborne, the playing field behind it and the allotments beyond that, 14 acres in all.

The Martineau Centre is a historic building but one in reasonable repair which has extremely accessible learning, leisure and conferencing facilities which have in the past and we believe continue to benefit the whole community.

Since 1984, the Martineau Centre has provided a swimming pool resource to teach children from many schools across the city to swim, and the Centre has housed an educational administrative centre and a local educational institute for the community.

However, recently it has ceased to do most of these things, and maintenance has been ceased except for unavoidable health and safety functions.

The availability of the complex for families has been curtailed, for no really good reason except that without the facility of the swimming pool, closed for safety reasons in 2006, the whole centre has been declared unviable, though revenue from the other activities could still be very valuable.

If the swimming pool was refurbished all the better and the cost of this repair compares very favourably with costs of refurbishment elsewhere in the City. It would be nice to see just a relatively small amount of suburban expenditure sent in this direction.

The future of the Martineau Centre has become a source of anxiety to local residents and at many Neighbourhood Forum meetings.

Ever since the bookings stopped being accepted, they were told by local councillors in answer to their frequent questions that: “The decision has not yet been made”, yet local rumours – (mostly new residents and those seeking planning permission) abound to the effect that the decision has been made – with no consultation or publicity.

It makes us all feel that there has been a marked lack of transparency.

A member of the Martineau Ten wrote to Mike Whitby at the Birmingham City Council leader’s office two months ago requesting a Public Meeting on the future of the Martineau Centre for the stakeholders of Harborne, but to date has received no answer in writing or any contact from any other local officials.

Public information has been accessed to reveal that the demographic in the area, far from ageing even more is actually becoming younger. Older people are moving out of the area and being replaced by younger ones with, or planning to have children, so the centre could provide a facility for these children.

The Martineau Ten have a lot of knowledge and motivation, perhaps passion which coalesced in a recent Neighbourhood Forum meeting, in which an enthusiasm for protecting the Martineau Education Centre became manifest and this sub-group arose.

They are keen to operate under the ethos of that group but derive our funding independently.

Ideally, they would like the Martineau Complex to be one of the Lord Mayor’s “special interests” (they all have them) where various charities or local issues become attached to the Office of Lord Mayor and he/she attends functions.

Depending on the degree of protection available, the danger of losing the allotments behind Wolverhampton Road South, Norman Avenue, and behind the Centre is always present where there are hungry developers prowling in search of building land for housing.

But what use is housing without entertainment and good facilities? Do the locals really need more supermarkets?

Hard questions need to be asked why the inner city circle is selling off the suburbs to support the city’s big prestigious projects.

Sports England are concerned that the local community are to lose the facilities in the future.

There is evidence that the “office” use of the buildings will come to an end in the near future and the 500 or so staff that are currently employed in the Centre’s offices will be moved to the new offices being built for completion in August 2011 in Woodcock Street near the University of Aston close to where Gem Street was.

Birmingham City Council has recently announced that 1300 job cuts are being considered in children’s services, which is the area in which the Martineau Centre is heavily involved.

It would be reassuring for people living in the vicinity, if some future social and community uses can be identified for the Centre before the present users have finished with the buildings.

In our opinion the Martineau Centre has been cynically and silently run down to promote its sale to private developers but we believe that local people have an absolute right to be consulted.

Local leisure and adult education resources are currently insufficient in the substantial area on the Harborne and Quinton border, sometimes referred to by locals as the Quinborne area which, contrary to the popular image of the wider Edgbaston constituency as a comfortable and leafy suburb, actually has many working class areas and estates with as many social issues as the inner city.

Martineau Centre sits in the centre of the triangle of three big local secondary comprehensive schools which include Lordswood, Harborne Hill and Four Dwellings, with dozens of primary schools across the area.

We therefore find the slide towards the irreversible loss to the local community of the potential benefits and accessible facilities of the Martineau Centre, being orchestrated behind closed doors, extremely difficult to justify.

In answer to the key question asked many times during the past year, ”what is going to happen to the Martineau Centre ?”, the standard reply from Councillors and Senior Officers has been “No decision has yet been made”

If this is true, why has building maintenance been reduced to a minimum? Why has community use of facilities been withdrawn? Who decided to shut down adult evening classes 3 years ago? Why are rooms no longer available to hire at the Centre?

Why are local schools or community groups no longer able to use the playing fields? Why has no consultation with the local community ever taken place?

These and many other questions need to be answered for they indicate that the decision to close down the Martineau Centre was made surreptitiously some time ago.

To support the campaign, put your comment on Facebook at “Save the Martineau Centre” . Our next meeting is Tuesday 9th February 7:30pm.

If you are planning to attend, please contact the “Martineau 10 by e-mail on: bojangles1053668@aol.com

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