Councillor Zoe Hopkins


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On the Move

After much messing about to get a working PC and working internet connection, I am transferring this site over to Blogger (home of most of Birmingham blogging Councillors) and leaving this site to be archived in perpituity by Google. From now on you can find me at
10.1.07 15:56

Since 20six have upgraded their features since I was last here, and I currently have no internet access at home, I'm putting the site on hold for a little longer, with a view to getting it up and running properly next month. If you have have any comments or questions, contact details are available via my Birmingham City Council page on the right (now updated to show three Labour Councillors in Kingstanding!)
5.9.06 22:42

I haven't had much time for this site for the last few weeks, and with the elections coming up I won't have any time until after May 4th, whatever the result may be. Best of luck to everyone who is putting themselves up for election this year and hopefully I will be back next month under the same banner.
11.4.06 15:20

The saga of the Tyburn Road Bus Lanes continues - we had another meeting this morning as we had requested a call in. Back in September 2004, an experimental Traffic Regulation Order was used to suspend the bus lanes on a length of the Tyburn Road. This order expired on 9th March 2006, meaning that the bus lanes should have been reinstated (as the experimental order has a maximum life of 18 months). However, as a spokesperson told the Birmingham Mail last week, and as we were told today, someone in the Highways Department has found that they have a one week 'grace' period, meaning that the new Order (which will be permanent) does not have to put in place until 17th March 2006.

The issue today was about what should have happened when the experimental order expired. The bus lanes will have to be suspended again in June, due to works on the M6, so the principal argument from Highways was that it would be confusing to drivers to open the bus lanes again only to suspend them in a few weeks. It has also been agreed that there will be a period of consultation after the roadworks end (in December 2006) about whether the suspension should be continued or not. Objections have already been received from Centro, Travel West Midlands, Transport 2000, and over 2000 residents, whereas comments in support of the suspension appear to be limited to private conversations which the Cabinet Member has had.

The argument today was that the bus lanes should be reinstated and we should take that opportunity to do a proper, independent evaluation of their use, effectiveness and the impact on journey times. We were presented last month with reams of figures relating to traffic flows after the suspension, but the only comparision figures provided were from 2001. During our discussions last month we talked about changing the bus lanes to cover peak times only - this would be an ideal time to experiment and start trying to live up to the commitments that the City has made regarding increasing bus patronage. However that opportunity has been denied because the Cabinet Member would rather ignore bus passengers than risk confusing motorists by taking an innovative step.

We lost the vote to call in, predictably enough. At last month's meeting we won a request for call in vote because one of the Liberal Democrat Councillors voted with us, saying he could not put his name to the removal of bus lanes. He then wrote this post which picks up on the argument that we need to gather more evidence and consider why bus lanes do or do not work. So why didn't Martin Mullaney attend or send apologies to today's meeting?

15.3.06 16:47

This is the first year that I will be going into an election as a Councillor, and the few weeks have been incredibly busy as we try to get everything dealt with before the election is officially called. In addition to all the usual work in the ward, trying to help out in other wards around the city, and preparing an election campaign, we have had the Council Budget meeting, plus various meetings about District Budgets. A group of us went to Portsmouth to look at their Highways PFI for a Transportation Scrutiny - a very interesting day, but 7 hours on a coach is not the best way to spend a Friday.

I believe our next visit with Transportation will be a trip on the No 11 bus to look at the showcase scheme - given the general antipathy towards buses and bus users from the Tories and Lib Dems, it seems unlikely that any of the other showcase schemes will be started anytime soon. We did manage to get a call-in on a decision on the Tyburn Road bus lanes (though only because one of the Tory Councillors failed to show up to the meeting, and one of the Lib Dems had a crisis of conscience and voted with us) but to no avail. Bizarrely the report on this issue states that cars 'lane hopping' between the inside and middle lanes would be a safety issue, but apparently if HGVs were to do this there are no safety concerns. So that's all right then.

I was interested to read the new report by Anne Power about Birmingham's housing. As Political Hack has pointed out, the Cabinet Member might wish to ignore the report, but it does highlight that community based housing organisations can work, and should be considered as real options. There are numerous groups across Birmingham doing Section 16 work to look at local management models, in addition to the Pathfinder projects in Hodge Hill and Northfield, but Birmingham has fallen behind in taking devolution and neighbourhood management of housing forward, and we have yet to hear any proposals on improving the service.

7.3.06 12:05

More words of wisdom from the Cabinet Member for Housing on Tuesday - I had submitted a written question asking for the number of homeless cases on a ward by ward basis. The answer I got was 'I don't have a crystal ball'. Given that I wasn't asking for any sort of psychic prediction, merely a breakdown of the current situation, it is just another example of the flippant response we receive to any serious question about the issues on Housing.

Housing is one of the biggest issues that I deal with as casework for a number of reasons. Kingstanding has a large number of council houses, many of which are not in particularly good condition. We have problems with private landlords who charge a fortune for sub-standard housing. And in an area where people maintain strong family connections, there is always a high demand for affordable housing in the locality. It seems to go in waves - one week I will pick up a lot of repairs cases, the next it will be homelessness and transfer requests. We have had some success in regenerating small areas of housing in the ward in the past, but we are now having to look at a long term, large scale plan for the rest. Finding the money to do it is another story, as is always the case..

I'm going up to Blackpool tomorrow for Local Government Conference - why this is being held in Blackpool this year, I do not know, as it has been held for the last few years in various cities making it a good opportunity to go to new places. I quite like Blackpool (and I suppose it's a chance to size up the competition on the casino issue) but February isn't the best time to go!

9.2.06 11:05

We did some 'tracking' this morning at Transportation scrutiny - i.e looking back at recommendations made in previous reports to see if they have been achieved. The report in question was on Rats and Rubbish, and does raise the question of how many rats there actually are in Birmingham. It's often said that you are never more than 6 or 10 or 20 feet away from a rat, wherever you are, but I have no way of knowing how true that is. The most recent estimate I could find for the British rat population is from 1995, when it was estimated to be 5 million - certainly less than I would have assumed. Apparently a hedgehog census is undertaken by counting the number of squashed ones on the side of the road per mile to give an indication of how many hedgehogs are available to be killed on the roads, but I have no methodology on the rat estimate. We quite often get reports of rats at Kingstanding Circle where there is a lot of shrubbery, and an unfortunate tendency of some people to drop food which attracts vermin - I've seen a couple of dead rats in the area, but no live ones in Kingstanding as yet.

Littering - particularly food waste - may be part of the problem, but rubbish storage and disposal is the major issue, particularly as the majority of 'problem' rat sightings are near people's homes. There are a number of arguments for and against wheelie bins for rubbish disposal in Birmingham, and certainly there are parts of Kingstanding where wheelie bins would be almost physically impossible for people to use; that said, I don't know why we aren't looking at some form of container for disposal, because just putting rubbish out in black bags on the street is ludicrous in this day and age.

17.1.06 14:30

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