If it’s not a flood, then it must be Covid – and if it’s not the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing laws then it must be the new traffic measures being implemented in Kings Heath
Welcome to a rollercoaster year in the life of city shop owner Gabrielle Hardicker.
As the owner of A Painted Room it’s her mission in life to calmly help people to redecorate their homes and furniture with a winning mixture of style and good taste.
But for the past year it feels like her small business has been splattered with unforeseen challenges.
Having decided to leave Moseley following a flood at her previous site, she’s about to move into her new Kings Heath address.
But with bollards having just landed outside of her door as part of the area’s new Low Traffic Neighbourhood initiative she could be forgiven for thinking: ‘Oh, no!’.
The scheme currently being rolled out uses planters to limit access to and from many side roads in the area to stop ‘rat running’ drivers from cutting through.
The theory is that people will make fewer journeys and reduce pollution to improve quality of life for all – and once they get used to enjoying the freedom to walk about will actually shop more and spend more time with local hospitality businesses.
Opponents say lack of vehicular access will turn the shopping area into a ‘ghost town’ and that delivery drivers won’t be able to get through.
Until last summer, Gabrielle had a thriving Moseley business called A Painted Room.
In her retail and basement outlet next door to the Cafephilia coffee shop on Alcester Road, she ran workshops and sold everything from paints to lighting, crafts and painted or up-cycled furniture, too.
But at then of September, 2019 it rained so hard that water poured in through her landlord’s roof and threatened to ruin everything she had been building up for the past five years.
Building work dragged on for so long it was three months before she could move in again.
After reopening just before Christmas, Gabrielle decided to stay closed at the beginning of the New Year until the final week of the traditionally quiet month of January.
Sadly, the pandemic lockdown on March 23 was just weeks away – and that was the final straw.
“I didn’t have long left on the lease so I decided not to wait for the next flood but to try looking for somewhere else,” says Gabrielle who sold off her remaining stock on August 29.
She then heard that Maurice Robinson Sports – a fixture on York Road for seven decades and a supplier of rackets over the years to future Wimbledon champion Ann Jones and men’s top 30 star Dan Evans – was preparing to halve in size.
Gabrielle then decided to take on the shop at No 6 while owner Wendy contracts into No 4 following the death of her former England badminton star mother Cicely Robinson who also played county level tennis.
Gabrielle said: “I looked at York Road which has lots of independent businesses and thought I would fit in there very well and get more trade.”
Never mind the bollards here come the chalk paints
Workmen are currently preparing Gabrielle’s new unit at No 6 so that it will look like a shop where top class decorating comes as standard.
A “crafter and picture framer” by trade, Gabrielle is now hoping to open in the second week of November – but was aghast when she saw access-restricting bollards appearing in the street on Friday, October 16.
“i didn’t know about the closure of the road when I agreed to take on the place,” she said.
“Once they went up last Friday, Monday was like a ghost town.
“I didn’t expect to see York Road like that with nobody around in what had always appeared to be a thriving street.
“I can understand the council wanting to pedestrianise the road, but why not just do it in the evenings and on Sundays?
“I sell Annie Sloan chalk paints which are delivered by an articulated lorry – I don’t know they are going to get round to me.
“I also need to be able to get furniture in and out of my shop, too.
“This scheme seems to be taking trade away from small businesses when we are trying to make a go of it in hard times.
“All of these measures were just brought out so quickly with no consultation beforehand.
“But I’m not giving up. I hope my loyal customers will still come to find me – and new ones, too.”
Cllr Mike Leddy and Cllr Lisa Trickett (Lab, Brandwood and Kings Heath) have both been meeting local traders in recent weeks.
A former Lord Mayor, Cllr Leddy told BirminghamLive: “I want Kings Heath to be a destination area for shoppers with thriving independents.
“I am not here to close businesses. Quite the contrary.
“Kings Heath BID could be doing a lot more to publicise all of the existing eight car parks in the area – none of those have been closed.
“The council can’t do that because most of the car parks are privately owned and some are huge.
“The BID has been failing, in my opinion, to encourage people to use these facilities.
“Having good independents will increase footfall from a wider area.”
Over at the Busy Bears Nursery on the corner of Highbury Road and Vicarage Road, nursery manager Tom Bevington has noticed higher levels of traffic during the rush hour periods.
Tom said: “It’s been a bit of a nightmare – the council has blocked roads off rather than making them one way off Vicarage Road.
“There has been traffic all the way down Vicarage Road during rush hour.
“It all just suddenly happened overnight without any warning – we have 48 children here and we have stopped parking on our drive for social distancing so people have to find other places to park.
“Once rush hour has gone, Vicarage Road is clear again.”
Vicarage Road resident Tom Kightley has two young children and told BirminghamLive: “It feels to me that, whilst obviously beneficial to the people living within the LTN, the problem is now being pushed out onto already heavily polluted roads like Vicarage Road.
“I also fear that once fully-implemented, the road will become a car park outside our house with vehicles emitting fumes whilst idling, causing harm to my young children and making it a generally unpleasant place to live.
“I imagine that most people will be delighted because of the positive impact it will have on their own road, but they won’t be giving a second thought to the negative impact on the residents of Vicarage Road, Avenue Road, Valentine Road, etc.”
Fellow Kings Heath resident Jas Kaur said: “I live on a road which is seeing increased traffic and so increase in pollution and congestion.
“Spending money on poorly thought out measures without sufficient input from all members of the community is a waste of money.
“Involving everyone in how the situation can be improved and spending time on thorough research and community input before introducing measures is more likely to be accepted – there will be no solution that pleases everyone but it should satisfy the majority, rather than benefiting some and disadvantaging many.”