There’s a power struggle going on in Stirchley, the up-and-coming suburb of South Birmingham that many people are touting as ‘the new Kings Heath’.
Stirchley is in the long-time conservative-controlled ward of Bournville and has a cabinet member amongst its three councillors; it has two major supermarkets fighting for land to build superstores and it has a strong grassroots food and arts scene that is being threatened by both the council and the supermarkets, and it is starting to fight back.
The Tesco development at Hazelwell Lane, although having had planning permission since 2004, is still being delayed by legal wranglings with the council and The Cooperative. Meanwhile the northern end of Stirchley is becoming a ghost town due to boarded up shops and houses that Tesco own. This development has been welcomed by the local councillors who in a recent newsletter claimed that getting Tesco to Stirchley is something they have “ceaselessly been working towards for the last 10 years”.
At the southern end of Stirchley the battle is raging even fiercer with a controversial ASDA development currently going through the planning process. In their most recent newsletter the local councillors seem to be swaying against ASDA with concerns about “whether Stirchley can sustain 3 supermarkets and whether the traffic levels will simply overwhelm the road system”. Councillor Nigel Dawkins even went as far as publicly attacking ASDA in the Birmingham Mail for manipulating a survey they recently commissioned.
The proposed ASDA development is on a site that has been vacant for almost a decade, and the local pressure group Super-Stirchley is furious that the councillors have shown no vision for this site, when they could have turned it into much-needed community facilities for Stirchley such as a swimming pool, indoor bowls centre (which is being lost to the Tesco development), photography gallery, village square and community orchard.
Super-Stirchley have been assisted by student in MA Architecture at Birmingham City University Shani Gabbidon, in drawing up an example of what the site could be used for as an alternative to the ASDA development. Local social enterprise baker Tom Baker who is moving his shop to Stirchley high street later in the year and commissioned Shani to do the example sketches said: “I am furious that the councillors have let the proposed ASDA site sit empty for so long, and rather than spending the last 10 years helping support independent business in Stirchley, they have spent it rolling out the red carpet for Tesco. Birmingham desperately needs more swimming and leisure provision and a council with any vision could see that a site such as this is perfect for such new facilities – it would act as a true destination for Stirchley and would lead to much-needed regeneration of the area and boost the local economy, whereas the supermarkets are sucking money out of the local economy”.
Super-Stirchley are calling on the council to dig deep and use this important site to provide facilities that Birmingham is crying out for, instead of letting a 3rd supermarket move into the area, which they claim is exactly what Stirchley doesn’t need. Birmingham is the only major city without a photography gallery and the group claim that along with a swimming pool and other leisure facilities, the council could make Stirchley a destination by pioneering the scheme that they are putting forward. The development would also give the successful Stirchley Community Market a permanent home, as it will become homeless and may face closure once the work on the Tesco development begins.
In another recent twist, a group of young activists have taken up residence in an abandoned factory adjacent to the proposed ASDA site and opened the building as ‘Birmingham Social Centre’, offering a tea room, popular community garden, guerilla art exhibitions, free school tuition and a free shop amongst other things.