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BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

13-12-2006

Laurence Inman on an intriguing tale of middle-class people power that suggests not everyone in Birmingham gets the same treatment.

It must be great living in Amesbury Road, Moseley.

You should go round and have a look some time. It's about 500 yards long. In that space there are twenty houses; they're all detached and they're all splendid, spacious and many-bedroomed.

I haven't seen the back gardens, but I bet they're lovely. It's obvious that you need to be fairly well-off to live there. I checked with a local estate agent and he told me that if you decided you were good enough to live in Amesbury Road, then buying a house there wouldn't leave you much change from £700,000.

The houses are on the western side of the road. On the other side there are no houses, only the lush green grounds of Moseley Hall Hospital, so all residents have a good open view and nobody overlooking them.

Each side of the road has a pavement. I know these pavements well, especially the eastern one, because Amesbury Road has been part of one of my running routes since 1980. In all that time I have never seen anyone walking along the length of that pavement.

Occasionally I have seen someone get out of a car and walk a few yards along it and then up the drive to the hospital. Not even the postman walks along that pavement because, as I said earlier, there are no houses there.

It could well be that I am the only person who ever uses that pavement. In fact, come to think of it, I don't remember ever seeing anyone walk along the western pavement either. The people living there might glance at the pavement as they sweep out of their drives in their Jaguars and 4 times 4's, I suppose, but they rarely walk on it.

You see, I'm trying to establish that pavements haven't been very important to the residents of Amesbury Road.

Until now, that is.

Last summer the council decided it was time to repair the eastern pavement. This was totally unnecessary, for reasons I've already given, but the council has an immutable rota for this sort of thing and so a gang of tarmackers appeared one morning to do the job, which should have taken a day, at most.

But they never even started work. Some of the residents saw what was about to happen, phone-calls were made to certain people and a new plan was made.

The residents of Amesbury Road are of such a delicate sensibility that common tarmac is not good enough for them, even though it's on the other side of the road and they never have to walk on it. I mean, would you like to have to glance at tarmac as you drive away from your £700,000 every day ? Of course you wouldn't.

Anyway, shortly afterwards a new gang of workers arrived. The pavement (the one nobody uses, remember) was closed off for over a week while it was dug up and re-surfaced with very smart white flagstones.

The result was so pleasing to the residents that more phone-calls were made and the western pavement was also re-laid with nice flags. Saplings were planted. The sunken kerbs to their driveways were re-cemented and the kerbs along the rest of the road repaired.

It really was an excellent job. You've only got to go and look at it to see the care that was taken to get it just right. The Lib-Dem councillors for the area were so pleased that they splashed it all over the front page of their newsletter. They took the line that it was a good example of people-power and of the powers-that-be responding to it.

They are a little more reticent on the subject of how much it all cost. In fact, I have received no reply at all to any of my enquiries on the matter. So I asked a couple of people to take a look and give me an estimate of how much extra the posh flags would have cost compared to the simple tarmac repairs. They reckon that with the cost of materials extra labour costs, the posher job cost anything between fifteen and thirty times as much.

And remember, this was for a job which was totally unnecessary to begin with, so it could have cost precisely nothing.

There is an extraordinary postscript to this story. I promise it is true; I have personally spoken to some of the people concerned.

The good people of Amesbury Road now think that the western pavement (on the side where the houses are) is too high and are upset by the excessive undulations caused by the dips where their drives join the road.

They are trying to get the whole 500 yards dug up and re-laid.

And who's to say that posh-people-power won't prevail yet again ?

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