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Stirrer Summit

DIGBETH NEEDS TO KEEP ITS CHARACTER

28-09-2007

The Stirrer summit at the Spotted Dog

"We welcome new developments in Digbeth - but not at the expense of its special character". That was the message to come out of last night's inaugural Stirrer Summit at the Spotted Dog pub.

Around 50 people turned up for the public meeting to discuss the future of the area, which was chaired by Stirrer editor Adrian Goldberg.

He was accompanied on the "top table" by Cllr Peter Douglas Osborn who sits on Birmingham Council's Planning Committee, Cllr Nigel Dawkins (Licensing), Karen Leach from Eastside Sustainability Advisory Group and Kent Barker, licensee of the Rainbow pub.

The Spotted Dog is fighting a Noise Abatement Order issued after a small number of residents at the nearby Abacus Apartments complained about late night parties in the garden.

Landlord John Tighe has warned that if he loses his fight, it could sound the death knell for an area renowned for its late night vibrancy.

As the beer and wine flowed, Cllr Douglas Osborn spelt out the reality of government housing targets, which meant that 362,000 new homes would have to be built in the West Midlands by 2020, of which more than 50,000 are scheduled for Birmingham.

This meant that areas like Digbeth are likely to come under intense pressure from developers - and that the Council could not reject their plans without reason.

Cllr Dawkins explained that when it came to noise nuisance from existing pubs and clubs, the key legislation is the Licensing Act 2003, which he argued was poorly drafted and put the rights of the individual above those of any business.

The upshot, he said, is that "residents have the right not to be plagued by noise or nuisance, and those rights over-ride everything else."

Kent Barker from the Rainbow argued that in other parts of the country - London's Soho and Shoreditch for example - the Licensing Act seems to be more liberally interpreted than in Birmingham, allowing bars and pubs to flourish in the midst of residential developments.

He said that Digbeth, "is the best possible place in this city" for interesting nightlife and that shouldn't be allowed to die.

ESAG's Karen Leach supported that view, pointing out that much of the existing Eastside development had already robbed the area of much of its character, with the loss of one of Birmingham's oldest Spanish restaurants Los Canarios and Rosa's café - the last Italian owned business in what used to be the city's Italian Quarter.

Her verdict: "We've had developers saying Eastside needs to be more like Barcelona or Bath. No. Eastside should be more like Digbeth, actually".

There was more than an hour of boisterous and largely good-humoured debate, with contributions from Stirrer regulars Barnard Hobbit and Cllr Martin Mullaney.

Another councillor, Yvonne Mosquito, also chipped in along with local music mogul John Mostyn and Adam Crossley, an Abacus resident, who launched the online petition to Keep Digbeth Vibrant.

At the end of the night, the meeting unanimously passed a motion which emphasised that while development is welcome, that care should be taken to preserve the uniqueness of the area.

It said: "This meeting agrees that Birmingham City Council should set up a working group of councillors and citizens to explore how the interests of Digbeth's existing nightlife and businesses and community can be protected, in light of the likely number of new developments in the area - which we welcome.

"And also to ensure that the special character of the area is kept."

To see The Stirrer's photo gallery of the event taken by webmaster Andy Goff, click here.

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