The Plastic Hippo

July 1, 2010

Swings and roundabouts

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 7:10 pm

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Buried deep in the woeful Walsall council web site is a report entitled “Resident Consultation Activity Findings”. The results of this survey gives a snapshot of how residents regard the borough and what needs to be done to improve our quality of life. You can find it in the folder that also contains details of councillor expenses, senior council officer salaries, the level of profit being amassed by private companies through “outsourcing” deals and probably the launch codes for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Surveys are wonderful things that can be used by those who control the purse strings to vindicate their sometimes eccentric behaviour and give our ruling elite the opportunity to tell us how much we love them. Walsall council is particularly adept at interpreting “consultations” to justify their misbegotten schemes of municipal vandalism and frequently quote the voice of the people when they decide to do something stupid. However, the picture painted by the Resident Consultation Activity Findings has been locked away in the attic to gather dust in perpetuity.

Interestingly, in these days of crime, the fear of crime and the misery of anti-social behaviour, the people of Walsall have said that activities for teenagers is the first priority that the council must address. Here we must pause as the tumble weed blows along Lichfield Street. Rather than complain vaguely about evil youth, the good people have identified both the cause and effect that seem beyond the understanding of the dunderheads that populate the civic centre and the council house. Instead of demonising young people, wise council tax payers realise that anti-social behaviour would decrease if youth facilities actually existed. Given this very clear message, the council have reacted by putting an extra padlock on the attic door and taking away the ladder.

A “news” item appeared on the front page of the council web site regarding the William Street play area near the ruin of the Mellish Road Methodist church in the picturesque ward of St Matthews. “Yobs”, it seems, have “targeted” play equipment and “blighted” the lives of residents. The council have come up with a “fresh initiative” to solve the problem; they have closed the play area down. No tumble weed in William Street then, just the roars of approval from cheering local residents. This guff was reprinted word for word by lazy journalists in the local press.

In the strange, parallel universe inhabited by our council rulers, young people are “yobs”, a play area is a problem and a solution is always negative. The “nightmare” of anti-social behaviour that residents are said to have endured will not be ended by shutting swings and a zip wire or increased police patrols. The alienation of bored, disaffected and demonised people not yet old enough to vote will only exasperate an already undervalued and dismissed generation.

Amazingly, shutting a playground is part of a council “working smarter” initiative aimed at cutting services in one of the most deprived wards in the country and our representatives are attempting to paint over this barbarism by insisting that it is what we are asking for. Cabinet are happy to bullishly bare their fangs at children, the elderly, those of us with disabilities, leisure centre users and the unemployed, but become uncharacteristically toothless when dealing with property developers and mega-rich corporate interests.

William Street (I am so sorry but it is impossible not to mention that it is in the Butts) is sometimes used as a rat-run by motorists of a nervous disposition wishing to avoid the anxiety attack of negotiating the Arboretum junction. The recent decision by Tesco to enforce road closures and some shoddy work by BT on ring road traffic light control will exacerbate the woes of residents so the closure of a playground might be a good thing if it saves a child from becoming a bull-bar trophy on the 4×4 of a much more important commuter en route to a leafy, affluent suburb.

Literally a stones throw from William Street is a Grade II listed former place of worship which has been allowed to rot until demolition is the only available option. Rumours that the secretive owners are in some way linked both politically and financially to senior public figures in Walsall are, of course, entirely unfounded and such tittle-tattle only serves to damage the unimpeachable reputation of our diligent and law-abiding executive.

Councillor Mohammed Arif, who represents the area and happens to be cabinet member for business support services, talks of removing “slack and waste in the system” and gives ominous warnings of “serving customers differently”. It will certainly be different for the children in William Street now that their playground has been closed and different too for anyone who does not carry the clout of Tesco, Serco, BT, Amey or Norwest Holst.

Sadly, the track record of cabinet in terms of youth provision makes Fabio Capello look like a master tactician. Sneyd, Darlaston, Bryntysilio, the massive opposition to the Playbuilder scheme and the howling own goal over the misjudged Chuckery Youth Centre indicates that slack and waste in the system is not confined to some hoodies desperate for something to do. As cabinet trolley around screaming “regenerate, regenerate” in Dalek staccato, it will not be long before there is nothing left to regenerate.

The Resident Consultation Activity Findings remain in the attic and the door has been bricked up by PFI contractors who have done rather well out of the recession and local government incompetence. The portrait is growing older; so too, are our teenagers.


  1. The locked door in my experience took the form of a consultation about traffic calming around here which took place, and then the page detailing it and the results got ‘lost’ in the website upgrade. Councillors have since ignored my requests for the results.

    Comment by stymaster — July 1, 2010 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  2. The council allowed itself to be outflanked by the owners of the church – I seem to recall officers saying the council had the power to carry out repairs and then charge the owner. Almost immediately after that appeared in the press a ‘mystery’ fire broke out. It then transpired that the building needed such extensive repairs that the council shied away from incuring such a large bill and the shell has deteriorated further.
    There is no way the council can even contemplate restoring the building to good order and recouping the costs from the owner; the only option appears to be to let it fall down and, oh I dunno, build posh flats on the site.
    Of course, the desirability of any such flats would be dubious – only round the corner from a closed-down play area, blighted by yobs…

    Comment by martin — July 3, 2010 @ 8:34 am | Reply

  3. […] were removing a facility put in place at no small expense only months earlier. This has also been covered by The Plastic Hippo in his usual, inimitable style. Only in Walsall could such a dismal performance be heralded as […]

    Pingback by The Walsall Council reality distortion field « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog — July 17, 2010 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

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