Leo Nation: Edgbaston’s neighbours are cricket fans too
Edgbaston cricket ground can still be improved without alienating residents, argues Leo Nation.
The first time I walked into the Edgbaston Ground, I stood open-mouthed as I took in the stunning view.
I saw a forest of trees, many from Cannon Hill Park, the steeples of two listed churches poking above the trees, an expanse of sky with a few white clouds. It felt like a village cricket ground – which seats 20,000.
A planning inspector described it as “a sylvan urban landscape” with an “intimacy of scale” due to its low-rise nature and unique location. Edgbaston has one of the finest settings of any ground.
The proposed redevelopment would block most of this view for spectators by a structure as high as an eight-storey building replacing all of the 10ft brick wall on Edgbaston Road. Five permanent floodlights as high as a 20-storey building with light panels as big as the side of a house, plus hotels and offices, will not improve the view. The artist’s impressions are misleading. Have you noticed how one of the standard pictures make Edgbaston Road invisible?
I have lived 500 metres from the ground for about 17 years. When we bought our home we knew about and accepted “our” Test ground and the occasional inconvenience of day-time cricket – which can be managed. Most residents moved into or were born into the area well before night-time cricket was imagined. So the “what do you expect living next to a stadium” argument is like saying “you bought a house on a road, so you can’t object to it being upgraded to a motorway”.
Many residents are keen on cricket and are proud of “their” ground, wanting it be successful. They welcome improvements to the grounds. But they vigorously oppose this application. Why? Because of more night-time cricket and the excessive scale of this development.
What is night-time cricket like for residents and commuters?
It is not just a handful of nimbys who oppose this. There have been about 500 letters, a 1,200-signature petition and more than a dozen residents’ organisations in four wards opposing the plans.
The area is residential and parkland – offices, hotels and permanent floodlights are out of keeping. If we over-exploit an environment or attraction we will destroy the thing we hope to enjoy.
Unlike daytime cricket, night-time cricket attracts spectators after work, adding to the existing evening commuter peak. Anyone driving near the Edgbaston Road/Pershore Road/Russell Road area at the evening peak knows it is congested. Tests have shown that emergency vehicles cannot pass quickly to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital during better-attended night-time matches. This affects a large area of Birmingham.
Matches get louder as it gets later in the night. Cricket lasts longer than football. Noise at night is very different to daytime noise and is the biggest source of environmental stress.
Try putting a crying toddler to sleep when it is so noisy – I have, especially when the public address system blares “another one bites the dust” whenever someone is out and other baseball-style tunes. Try studying or even getting an early night to be fresh for an exam, with a floodlit match going on until 11pm with spectators and cars leaving even later.
According to the census, within a 500-metre radius of the ground live 600 children under 11, of whom 300 are under five. The noise can be heard from Highgate to Kings Heath.
But what outrages me most is the compulsory purchase of 12 Victorian houses to build the hotels etc. One of these homes belongs to Mrs Evers, a retired schoolmistress, who bought her home more than 30 years ago and just wants a quiet life. She does not want to have to start house-hunting in her 80s. If this application is granted she will eventually be forced to sell her own property, and if she refuses to leave her home, she will be forcibly evicted by the club. She will be evicted, not for some overriding public good, but for the sake of more night-time cricket.
The end of international cricket? – they tried this scare before.
In 2000, the-then chief executive said that if four permanent floodlights were not allowed then it would be the end of Test cricket at Edgbaston and they would move elsewhere. The council refused permission and a planning inspector also refused an appeal.
But nine years later Test cricket still thrives at Edgbaston. Why? Floodlights are not used for Test cricket, so how does not having them threaten Test status? Temporary lights are used a few times a year, mainly for Twenty20 cricket. Most significantly, any tour by India, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh is guaranteed a full house because of the diverse population of the West Midlands.
Once there were only five Test grounds, now there are nine. From 2012, even Lords is guaranteed only two Test tours every five years. The English Cricket Board (ECB) gets a lot of money – grounds have to pay the ECB to host matches. Maybe this is why the ECB wants more Test grounds and a bidding war between them.
The ECB’s National Facilities Strategy specifies the requirements for different grades of grounds but does not require floodlights for any class of ground.
Warwickshire’s unique selling point is the beauty and setting of the ground.
A lender does no favours by irresponsibly lending £20million.
Warwickshire County Cricket Club chief executive Colin Povey wants to borrow £20million of our money from the council. The repayments are more than current income. The fact that the club cannot borrow from private sources should sound alarm bells for council taxpayers and friends of the club.
The repayments are supposed to come from new income from hotels, offices etc. The hotel and office space would be competing with other places in Birmingham – no new jobs for the city. Once those tenants realise that they would be marooned by the extra traffic from night-time cricket, it would be less attractive.
Warwickshire would have a possibly crippling debt and would have to think about ‘diversifying’ with night-time pop concerts or ask for the council to write off the debt, otherwise “it will be the end of international cricket in Birmingham”.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show two years of confidential discussion between senior city officials and the club. It seems too cosy. The scrutiny committee has demanded that city council leader Coun Mike Whitby and the Cabinet look at this £20million again – properly.
In a time of public spending cuts, how would you spend £20million of council money? Answers to Coun Whitby.
The planning committee has been put under enormous pressure. Many members seemed subdued during their short discussion before they approved this plan 9-4. Because this breaks Birmingham’s planning rules and previous precedents, it will have to be decided by the Secretary of State, who can either ‘rubber stamp’ approval or ask an independent planning inspector to look at this decision again.
There are alternatives: If the club had spoken to its neighbours during the two years of secret planning, things might have been different.
We want the club to be a successful and considerate neighbour. Many of us love cricket and this ground more than career managers and well paid-consultants, who are here today and gone tomorrow. There are alternative sustainable improvements which will not be as costly or financially risky to the club or the city.
* Leo Nation chairs Cannon Hill Neighbourhood Forum.