Solihull estates still waiting for a better life
Jan 8 2010 By Sophie Cross
Nearly fifty years ago people were moved from inner-city Birmingham to begin a new life on the green outskirts of the region, but it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for this post-war generation as Sophie Cross reports.
Streets with pleasant-sounding names reflected their rural setting – Kingfisher Drive, Ash Crescent, Greenfinch Road – as Chelmsley Wood and the parishes of Kingshurst, Fordbridge and Smith’s Wood took on the shape they retain today.
Yet a decline in industry, a lack of investment and poor quality infrastructure over the years meant the area and its inhabitants suffered, gaining a downtrodden reputation which many say they are still struggling to shake off.
Last month the multi-million pound regeneration scheme planned for north Solihull hit setbacks at the hands of the recession, sparking fears among locals over their now tight-knit communities.
Maxine Greenwood, 51, moved with her family into the Craig Croft area of Chelmsley Wood in 1970.
She lives in a block of three flats – three of which have since been boarded up – a stone’s throw away from her father, Gordon Rogers, 80. Both are due to be rehomed under the proposed scheme of North Solihull Regeneration Partnership and are waiting to hear whether they will live near each other.
“It’s going to be quite strange,” Maxine said. “Where we are it’s quite a settled area. I was 11 when we moved here and I’ve known everyone for most of my life. I moved away to the inner city for ten years when I was married but I came back when I had my family.
“You find people tend to come back to the area. It’s like a second generation of people who move away, get married and then return. There’s people here who I used to babysit when I was a teenager.”
She said there were strong bonds among the estate’s inhabitants.
“The older people have been through this once. They’ve been denied access to services and consequently they rely on each other. For years and years no money was spent. The old community halls were closed down so people here banded together and have made the best of a bad job. They’ve formed their own community groups, which are often not widely publicised.”
Millions of pounds are being ploughed back into the area under the regeneration scheme in a bid to even out stark inequalities in the borough, meaning northern residents are more likely to die younger than their southern neighbours. Funding is sourced through Solihull Council selling vacant land to developers Bellway Homes, who plough the profit gained from its increased value into the project to provide primary schools, ‘village centres’, green spaces and infrastructure.
But falling land values during the recession meant the Partnership had to revise its business plan.
Last month the organisation wrote to more than 500 residents, who would have seen their houses demolished or improved, informing them their properties would either no longer be developed or that demolition would be delayed. The scheme’s completion date has been extended to 20 years, from an initial 15.
Residents’ complaints over a lack of consultation regarding changes meant plans were called in by the council’s scrutiny committee and will be discussed in a meeting this month.
People are cynical over this second regeneration, said Chelmsley Wood resident Ronnie Cashmore, 56.