Message from Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council, 9 October 2020

The news on Covid-19 across the borough is now very worrying.  We are seeing a significant increase in transmission of the virus in Solihull, with 114 cases per 100,000 reported from 28 September to 4 October. The average across England was 62.

The virus transmits most easily in households and through close contacts. The more contact we have with other people, the more chance there is for the virus to spread. It’s absolutely essential we keep observing social distancing, avoid mixing with other households in private homes and gardens and wear face coverings when we’re out and about.

I am afraid that it can be human nature to drop one’s guard on a work-break with colleagues, or indoors with other people, giving the virus the opportunity to spread. But we must constantly be on our guard. Many people may only have mild symptoms – but for some, particularly older people, or those with certain health conditions, this is a dangerous disease.

I understand there is a feeling that the restrictions and rules are confusing and contradictory.  If you have any doubts visit the Council’s website or go to GOV.UK for the definitive answers.

But one rule is simple – and it is the most important one – it is space, face and hands- that has to be our mantra. We are really at risk of significant further restrictions in this situation. We all must act on this, personal behaviour counts.

We continue to work with local businesses and retailers to ensure they are operating in a Covid-19 secure manner. And this week we launched the next phase of our Support Local campaign. 

We have developed a series of videos which showcase the physical changes in different high street locations. The changes have been put in place to welcome you back to your local town centres and high streets so you can visit them safely.

We’re also helping retailers and businesses promote themselves so that they can show you what they have to offer and encourage you to ‘Support Local’.

We all want to help our local businesses to emerge from the pandemic as strong as possible and offer the jobs we need, so please keep doing the right thing for Solihull.

There has been better news for some people who face not being paid, if they have been told by the NHS to self-isolate on or after Monday 28 September 2020 – either because they have tested positive for Covid-19, or they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.  You may be entitled to some financial support from the latest Government scheme during your self-isolation period. If you are eligible you will receive a one-off payment of £500. Information about the scheme is on the Council’s Here2Help Money Advice page here.

As I mentioned in last week’s Message, October was Black History Month. I was struck when reading the experiences of our Chief Executive, talking about the people and communities he has come to understand, as he made his personal journey from teacher, to Director of Education to Chief Executive in Solihull.  Black History Month is an opportunity to learn, to understand and to find ways to tackle discrimination. To quote Nick:    

Inequality is next to us, right now, here today. Our purpose, as public servants is to confront discrimination and inequality in all its forms. By being open to learning, finding common ground, we nurture and help build people’s lives.”

Our Core Library is marking Black History Month (BHM) with a display of a selection of titles by Black and Asian writers, including poetry, fiction and Black history.

Although the Solihull & Birmingham Caribbean Family History Group isn’t able to have its usual monthly meetings in the library, or offer workshops for BHM, it is continuing to meet online via Zoom and is sharing useful resources via its website here

Further information on BHM will be posted on the Council’s website, Twitter and Facebook from next week.  You can also find out about online events and workshops being held across the UK by clicking here.  This year, I have also noticed a wide range of television programmes offering knowledge and awareness of black history, and the contributions black people have made in society.

Finally, at Tuesday’s Council meeting, members spent long hours poring over our Draft Local Plan, which will guide the development of the borough for the next decade and beyond.

Many councillors and invited speakers made important points and I applaud those who spoke so passionately in support of their local areas and the Green Belt.  It was heartening to see so many having the environment at the centre of their thoughts. As Leader now, and beforehand as a cabinet member, it has frankly been agonising about what is the right thing to do with all this.

We have carried out three consultation exercises over five years.  At some point we have to take action, if we are to provide the homes that everyone agrees we need, and indeed that was the subject of equally lengthy debate at the previous Full Council.

We cannot keep making excuses and pushing a decision into the long grass, or those decisions will be taken for us. We have to act now, especially as potentially the whole system could change.  We need to put a marker down now on how we want to move forward.  

Our housing need grows by 800 homes per annum.  We have concentrated more development at our UKC Hub and on the land that HS2 will remove from the Green Belt. We have looked at using brownfield first to relieve the pressure on Green Belt. In fact, 50% of the land where our new homes can be built in this Plan is on previously developed land.

With any new large development, we are promoting the development of masterplans that will emphasise the importance of new green infrastructure, and recognise the value of any existing features such as trees, hedgerow and informal green space.

The current stage will be about legal compliance and soundness, but in due course, everything that we are proposing will be submitted for an examination in public, where there will be more questions and scrutiny. This is a very long process.

Please keep doing the right thing for Solihull, wash your hands, cover your face and keep your distance.