The Plastic Hippo

April 20, 2010

Living on the fault line

Filed under: History,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 9:22 am

When a couple of divergent tectonic plates decide to have a falling out, you know there will be trouble. As a no-fly zone Europe basks in warm sunshine under an allegedly impenetrable cloud of ash, a great big lump of pumice called Iceland is being torn apart by both continental drift and some rather shoddy banking. The North Atlantic might have its faults, but Walsall has a spectacular fault of its own. This fault, however, is more geo-political than geological. The result, though, is the same. Walsall is being torn apart.

The schism starts very close to where some gold was recently found, then runs west and to the south of Brownhills. It arcs around Pelsall and then heads toward the town centre. At the accident-waiting-to-happen ring road junction, it turns left up the Broadway between Chuckery and the Arboretum. At the Boundary, it hangs a left and goes up the Birmingham road and terminates to the south of Park Hall near Merrions Wood. Like all complex faults, there are many rifts, fissures and fractures, all of which lead back to a large, ornate building on Lichfield Street.

About 450 million years ago, the area we now call Walsall was part of a huge super continent that geologists have named Pangaea. In that epoch, the present day Black Country was a near neighbour of New York and Greenland and populated by the most primitive life forms ever to be discovered using fossil evidence. Trilobites, brachiopods, crinoids and corals clung to life in the shallow seas that covered the area. These simple organisms went about their business, desperately trying to evolve into something better. Walsall Council should really try and emulate their endeavour.

The line that divides Walsall is more than a geographical divide. Those fortunate enough to live east of the fault line are likely to be more affluent, better educated and have better opportunities to access health and social care. Those to the west, who also pay council tax, will experience higher levels of crime, illness, failing schools and will actually die at a younger age than those who reside in the affluent east.

One might expect a responsible administration to make some effort to balance this disparity but the current council seem intent on making the chasm between the haves and the have-nots even wider. Brownhills, Darlaston and Willenhall have been allowed to decay into ghost towns even as our political masters talk of regeneration. Okay, Brownhills got a tin miner sculpture, Darlaston is having its park taken away to build a Christian evangelical school and Willenhall got some new signs pointing to a leisure centre that is about to close along with all the other leisure centres which, interestingly, are mostly west of the great divide. Any regeneration that is planned in those communities is coming from property developers who intend to build “executive” dwellings that local people cannot afford because they have lost their jobs.

Walsall operates a cabinet system of local government and it is worth taking a look at the councillors who make the important decisions and which wards they represent.

Leader of the council, Mike Bird, deputy leader and portfolio holder for regeneration, Adrian Andrew and Christopher Towe, the guy in cabinet who looks after finance and personnel, represent Pheasey Park Farm. This is a Birmingham suburb reserved for the ruling Tory Walsall elite. None of the three councillors live in the ward.

Former mayor and cabinet member for transport, Tom Ansell represents Aldridge Central and South. So does current mayor and former leader of the council, John O`Hare.

In Aldridge North and Walsall Wood we have Anthony Harris for Leisure and Culture and Mike Flower for Environment.

In Pelsall we have Garry Perry who is charge of Communities and in Rushall Shelfield we have Rachel Walker in charge of Children`s Services.

St Matthews is very interesting. The town centre is part of the ward and is one of the most crime ridden and poorest wards in the borough. Boundary changes made some years back lumped mansions together with dreadfully inadequate housing which resulted in a skewed electoral result. Barbara McCracken is cabinet member for Social Care, Health and Housing. Mohammed Arif looks after Business Support Services in cabinet but did not manage to look after a warehouse he co-owns. He was duped by some entrepreneurs that turned his empty building into a cannabis factory.

Having 10 members of cabinet and the mayor coming from 6 wards in the well-off east is not exactly a true reflection of the Walsall electorate . If you live way out west you can forget about having your health, education, safety and quality of life cared about by the executive, they are more concerned with good old fashioned profit.

After May 6 this cabinet will certainly change. One hopes that too many sphericals have been dropped for this lot to remain in place but there is always the danger that Tweedle dee will be replaced by Tweedle dum. As the east and the west in Walsall continue to separate with seismic consequence, we can only hope that Walsall can survive not only the recession, but the mismanagement of our council. The choice is yours, brachiopods, crinoids or simple bi-valves?

The volcanic ash cloud that seems to be hanging over us has produced some amusing moments that will not be appreciated by those who are grounded at airports. British Airways claimed that a one-day cabin crew strike would ruin the airline. No BA flights have flown for five days. Other mischievous wags suggest the earth goddess Gaea is demanding the sacrifice of the Pope because he is, after all, a virgin.

But the funniest moments for me is hearing the tremble in the voice of radio news readers and the panic in the eyes of television correspondents when they realise that the word “Eyjafjallajökull” is about to appear in the script or on the autocue.

That same tremble and panic might just be replicated by cabinet members when the Audit Commission comes to town to ask about the missing millions and cuts to services. We will have to wait a long time for the dust to settle.

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