Redevelopment approaches: Castle Vale, Attwood Green and Balsall Heath

I’m in a discussion looking at the Diversity of Place line of enquiry in room 4.

The framing question to attendees:

What are the underlying reasons why some neighbourhoods are more successful, connected and socially included than others, and what do we need to do to achieve positive change for the areas that need it?

Take three different neighbourhoods in Birmingham that have taken three different approaches to improving the area: Castle Vale, Attwood Green, Balsall Heath.

Castle Vale

Castle Vale had a stigma attached to it; a white, working class social housing estate. £100m invested. Look at the way the redevelopment has been managed. They completely transformed the social housing stock and codesigned the area with employers, residents and businesses. It’s now an attractive place to live.

One view on what made Castle Vale work – Castle Vale made their own housing action trust (HAT) [added 17/03/2012: succeeded by the community housing association] and Sainsbury’s were involved too.

Attwood Green

Very different approach, which was effectively gentrification. Moving the poor people out, reinventing it and selling the area to new people arriving.

Balsall Heath

Balsall Heath has continually reinvented itself. The area has not had the money invested that Castle Vale has but is thriving, successful and an interesting, vibrant neighbourhood.

Other notes…

When we do come into an area to redevelop it, we make promises about changing the residents’ life and values. We don’t always do the right thing to encourage those people back into the area after the area is redeveloped.

Problems mentioned specific to areas with poverty: how do you get people to use the services offered when there is investment in poorer areas? Discussion about an example in Kingstanding – the geography of the place affected whether young people would cross one side of Kingstanding where they live to the other side where the service is offered.

Prized modern developments in the city can be irrelevant to people living in neighbourhoods with high poverty, such as the architectural wonder of the new central library or High Speed 2.

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  1. The section about Attwood Green is slightly inaccurate in that poor people weren’t moved out to make way for gentrification.

    2,800 homes were transferred from Birmingham City Council across five estates. 1150 were refurbished. 1400 were demolished. 1122 new homes for social rent have been build.

    Two of the estates were built on the model of ‘towers in the park’ high rises surrounded by parkland which did not prove to be popular or sustainable. A significant proportion of the open space was utilised for homes during the regeneration of the estates. Private sector development will eventually deliver 2,560 homes. The figures speak for themselves about the balance between private and social rent.

    The perception of ‘poor people being moved out’ and gentrification could partly be because 400 households were temporarily moved to make way for redevelopment before returning to Attwood Green. We also adopted a policy of rebuilding and refurbishing to create ‘tenure blind’ estates. If you visit Woodview and Lee Bank, you won’t be able to tell the difference and hence the perception that it may all be outright sale properties, but in reality it isn’t.

    If you want, you can come and visit the residents who were involved in the regeneration process and still are active in the management of their estates. Then you can get the story from people who live here. There’s also more on our website:

    Georgette Wright – 0121 687 3163 or

  2. Hi Gavin – I know people who lived on Lee Bank and eventually moved back into homes in Attwood Green – it’s simply not right to say it was about ‘moving the poor people out’.

    The paragraph on Castle Vale is a bit misleading too. I think the HAT spent more like £200m public money on the estate during its lifetime. It wound up years ago and whilst CVCHA (your link) is a successor body, it isn’t the HAT. I’m really not sure the extent to which ’employers’ and ‘businesses’ were involved in ‘co-designing’ the estate. The HAT was voted for by tenants and the board was made up along the lines of the ‘1/3, 1/3, 1/3’ model with representation shared between residents, local authority and independents. It’s too simplistic to say an area either ‘works’ or it doesn’t, but there’s no doubt Castle Vale is a very much better place than it was. It’s a bit more than ‘one view’ that the HAT was the vehicle for this. I’m not sure anyone seriously would argue it was anything else that did it. BUT… the real point (which you’ve missed out entirely) isn’t anything to do with Sainsburys etc. it is ‘Why did the HAT work in Birmingham?’ Look at the history of the other HATs elsewhere in England – they didn’t all do so well.

    Balsall Heath is interesting as you say. But it isn’t a rich area. Part of the interest is how did a poor area with a lot of problems (drug dealing and prostitution to name two) turn itself around without much additional public money or interventions led by the public sector. As for ‘continually reinventing itself’… not sure what that means in practice? Lots of the ‘slums’ were knocked down ages ago, but I’m not sure that counts as an area ‘reinventing’ itself does it? Most of the current residents I meet involved in neighbourhood planning in Balsall Heath are quite keen it doesn’t get ‘reinvented’, at least, not as a version of Harborne or Kings Heath. I’d say it was a distinctive area that was determined to retain its distinctiveness.

    (By the way, had problems posting this comment using my normal email address – kept getting messages I needed to log into wordpress!)

    • trutha numba9

       /  23rd January 2013

      I believe if you ask the long term residents about Castle Vales regeneration you will get a different story. It was sold down the pan to conservatives. Th current housing C.V.C.H>A is in debt and are only acting landlords for money hungry shareholers. Sainsbury bought land and put there shop on it but prevent competition from other local businesses from working there so they now have the monopoly on the shopping habits, and a large some of the money given for regeneration was stolen to this day its not been mentioned or accounted for. The new park built and the ridings sits on top of toxic land. The G.Ps exploit people by throwing opium based pain killers and anti depressants at the. All the old problems still exist but have been brushed over with bullshit and the estate is most definately not resident led #fact want to know the truth speak to the people not the puppets kissing up to the housing and councilors

  3. Hi Paul. Thanks for the comment and the detailed feedback. I’ve corrected the line about the housing action trust (HAT) and its successor community housing association in Castle Vale.

    I should probably have made it clearer at the start of the post that I made these notes as a “social reporter” at the Be Birmingham Summit on 13th March. This post is paraphrased from the opinions, conversation and perception of 6-7 people at one particular table at the Be Birmingham Summit. Please don’t take these notes as my personal opinion (and for much of these developments, such as Castle Vale, I don’t have an opinion – they were taking place in Birmingham when I was still at school up north!).

    In the two comments so far, it’s interesting to me to read different perceptions on what happened in these neighbourhoods – and what made them better places to live as a result. It’s also interesting to read more in-depth detail here in the blog comments than there was in the discussion at the summit.

    (Will check out the login prompt issue – I get the same thing when trying to post using existing email address that’s already registered with WordPress.)

  4. richardbrowne

     /  29th March 2012

    “Distinctiveness” is a word that keeps surfacing in the early discussions that we are having about the process. We often talk about Birmingham being a “distinct” city when compared to other areas of the country – however im not 100% sure what this means in practice, and it would be great to hear what people think makes Birmingham distinct?! (maybe a blog post from someone?!)

    And one of the key pieces of feedback we have from the summit and our early work has been that the process cannot make assumptions about what people or communities want – as Paul says, not all people want to live in areas that “look” and “feel” or are “perceived” as “successful”. And i think one of the key issues is people from outside apparent deprived areas making judgements about the neighbourhoods without have experience of living there themselves.


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