Balloon modeller Julie Piras is used to putting smiles on faces at celebratory events like births and birthdays – and takes an equal pride in serving the public in a different way for funerals.
But she is fearful that city council plans to calm traffic off the side streets in Kings Heath will deflate her Waterloo Road business – and that she could be forced to shut up shop after 18 years if trade dips.
Other pessimistic traders recently predicted a “horror story” if the area becomes a “ghost town.”
On the far side of the nearby York Road, craft beer bar owner Thomas Mee and other nearby hospitality businesses have a totally different, much more upbeat view.
And you can watch our Facebook Live interviews with people in favour of the proposal on this BirminghamLive link here.
Thomas told BirminghamLive: “I think (York Road’s pedestrianisation) would be great for business I just don’t see a negative to it.
“A lot of people have complained about it, but it is only a trial period and if it doesn’t go well then we can reassess, but for the time being then I think it is great for Kings Heath.”
Kings Heath BID dilemma
Although Julie says her Balloon Away business is too small to be a BID member (she used to pay around £88 per year), such diverse views illustrate the dilemma for Kings Heath BID.
Founded in 2008 its website says it represents some 300 local businesses and has an annual budget of around £120,000.
The BID has a board of directors with ex-councillor Martin Mullaney as town centre manager implementing its wishes.
A meeting was recently held to decide where it stood in light of the city council publishing maps online on July 24 which illustrated plans to restrict access to many side streets from the end of August.
The plans themselves and the way they have been announced led the BID to decide it would have to use a PR company to issue a statement in order to try to keep its divided members on side.
Its official press statement said: “This has all happened very quickly, and we’re still in the process of discussing the matter with the businesses here in Kings Heath.
“There has been a very mixed response so far and nobody knows for certain how this experiment will pan out.
“From what we understand, this will be a trial experiment and the community will be invited to provide feedback to help modify the plans as the experiment goes along.
“If the results prove that this has had a negative affect on the area then it’s hard to see how this would become a permanent fixture.
“All we can do for our businesses is to help give them a voice; to help signpost where they can find all of the information, how they can consult and engage with the Council, and to make sure that their opinions are heard.”
But the following post on the BID’s own website Enjoy Kings Heath illustrates the real pressure the board is under.
It said: “Can I ask that you refrain from giving the Directors (and the Town Centre Manager) a hard time. The Directors have a thankless task in trying to manage all the opposing demands and views they receive, not only from BID members, but also from the Press, BCC and the Kings Heath Residents.
“They are neither the architects of these proposals, and nor will they be the implementers.
“They have had no input into the LTN proposals, and neither were they asked to.
“Please have some respect for the fact that they are just volunteers who run businesses in your community.
“The board, as always, would welcome new directors, and any help that any of you can give us as we try and manage not only these LTN proposals, but also the ongoing COVID-19 recovery planning.”
Birmingham City Council said the scheme was part of its new Places for People project, which aims to reduce traffic in residential neighbourhoods so that it is safer for people to walk and cycle, and nicer to be outside for children to play and neighbours to chat.
“In many parts of Birmingham, residents find their streets are busy with traffic, particularly when people are ‘rat running’ to avoid main roads,” says the council on its website comments page here
“When traffic is reduced the neighbourhood becomes quieter, the air is cleaner, and streets feel safer.”
The balloon modeller
Cut off slightly from the main ‘drag’ including Kings Heath High Street, Julie Piras’ shop Balloon Away trades from the Waterloo Street end of York Road which is set to be pedestrianised before the end of the month.
But while local hospitality businesses like The Juke are in favour of spreading out on to the York pavement while the weather is good enough to do so, she’s one of the retailers worried about deliveries and customer access.
Julie says: “We sell a lot of bulk stuff. It’s not heavy but awkward and our customers prefer coming here by car than by public transport.
“I’m worried that if these plans go through, Kings Heath will end up like a ghost town.
“I have a liveried van and you ask yourself if you could do more deliveries, but if they restrict access I don’t think that’s possible.
“From my understanding of the map I’d have to drive all the way towards Kings Heath Park just to be able to get to the other side of Kings Heath High Street in the opposite direction – so how is that cutting pollution?
“I live in Bearwood and also don’t like shutting the shop for long.
“The government gave us money to service but what are the council going to do now? They’re going to kill us by bringing this in.
“The way they have just dumped this on us, is like a bolt from the blue and it’s just mad that nobody has been informed.
“The best solutions would be to just have one-way systems that would keep the traffic flowing.”
Over on Poplar Road, Swift Laundrette owner Derek Read is fearful that his 50-year-old family business could suffer – when he can see there being a demand to keep family members going for another half century.
Derek says: “I reckon only four per cent of businesses are in favour.
“The ‘Kings Heath Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN)’ seems to have been planned with indecent haste and little thought for the effect it will have on local businesses and residents.
“It’s so undemocratic, it’s like the council are saying: ‘This is what you are having and you had better enjoy it.
“I have put much of my own savings into my business over the last five months in an attempt to ensure we can stay in business for another fifty years.
“If the LTN plans are carried out I doubt we will have a business very much longer.”
What are the plans?
The council’s proposals include the use of “modal filters” – these can be temporary measures such as giant plant holders which can restrict vehicular access while enabling pedestrians and cyclists to have freedom of movement.
The area has been divided up in to four cells called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).
The roads around their edges – including Kings Heath High Street – will continue as they are, while many sides within each cell will face having restricted access.
Phase one details were announced online on July 24 with the news that plans to install “modal filters” on many roads off or close to Kings Heath High Street would be implemented before the end of August because of the need to take advantage of government funding.
Details of phase two funding are expected soon.
The plan is a six-month trial that can be modified, removed or installed, but it’s going ahead even though it could be argued that the next six months will not be representative of a normal second half the year because of the impact of the coronavirus lockdown from March 23.
Local Labour councillor Lisa Trickett is very much in favour of the plans and defended the lack of consultation even though she lives on one of the roads that could be affected.
Cllr Trickett told BirminghamLive last week: “The historic way of local government was to introduce a plan and consult on opinion.
“That’s crap… ‘Like or dislike’.
“(This scheme) will be like a chess board, where you can move pieces around and see how we can make this work for the benefit of the community.”
Similar plans for the main roads through Lozells were also announced online on Friday, July 24 – an area that does not have a Business Improvement Board like Southside, Westside and Soho Road.
But when the city council’s cabinet member for transport and environment Cllr Waseem Zaffar published a video on YouTube on Tuesday, August 4, the plans on two featured maps were different to those originally published on July 24 – and which had been removed from an online site designed to attract comments.
Birmingham City Council said it would have to implement the plans before the end of August to secure government funds having been allocated £1 million from the first tranche of the Department of Transport’s (DfT) Emergency Active Travel Fund, with match-funding bringing the total to £1.6 million.
A second tranche of government funding had not yet been released as bids were being accepted up to August 7, 2020.