January 2009 Archives
It came as absolutely no surprise to me to learn that Birmingham City Council's decision to refuse planning permission for a 30ft high digital advertising screen at the entrance to the Bullring shopping centre had been overturned at appeal.
Barely seven months after the planning committee unwisely rejected Scottish Widows' application to place the screen on the side of City Centre House, the Planning Inspectorate decided that approval must be given after all.
But that's not what Sparkbrook councillor and wannabe MP candidate Salma Yaqoob is trying to make everyone believe.
And she's saying this shows up the failings of Birmingham - as a city and as a local authority - in dealing with diversity.
A major announcement which could be important for the West Midlands is expected tomorrow (as I write this - ie Thursday).
Ministers are apparently going to give the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow, sparking a major row with Labour London MPs who have been campaigning against the planned expansion.
Potential good news for us is that the scheme involves a new high speed rail line, initially linking Heathrow with London's St Pancras station, where the Eurostar departs.
The long term plan may be to extend high speed rail northwards - possibly to Birmingham, relieving pressure on the West Coast Main Line.
I doubt everything will be entirely clear even once the announcement is made this week, but it's definitely something to watch in the long term.
Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary, is to unveil a package of measures to provide credit for small and medium-sized businesses.
This is likely to be a loan guarantee scheme, reducing the potential risk to banks which lend money. This should encourage banks to make credit available.
But there is still no sign of agreement over a large business which has been asking for support, namely Jaguar Land Rover.
Apparently, talks earlier this week ended with the Treasury still unconvinced the Government should make credit available to the carmaker. But the situation could change very rapidly.
I'm told the loan guarantees announced by Lord Mandelson will benefit the automotive industry, but this may mean just the suppliers rather than the major manufacturers.
Suppliers are crucial - and employ more people between them than the actual carmakers - but they will only survive if they have someone to supply to.
The next stop on my week-long visit to the Crimea with shoe box appeal Operation Christmas Child takes me to the coastal city of Feodosia.
After a somewhat bumpy two-hour drive through the snow, we pull up outside the Feodosia Republican orphanage, which is home to 50 children aged between four and 15.
A local church group are also on hand to help distribute present-filled shoe boxes to the children who live and are educated at the orphanage.
We are led up the stairs to a classroom where a group of children are patiently sat waiting for their presents.
It was of course never remotely likely that Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby would apologise for the Big Screen debacle.
You'll remember the fiasco: council teams up with the BBC to pay for a giant television screen in Victoria Square, grants itself planning permission in the face of opposition from conservation groups worried about the impact on listed Victorian buildings, fails to conduct noise assessment tests, finds itself in court after an injunction is granted to owners of nearby office block, and ends up facing a ÃÂ£1 million bill in order to get the thing switched on.
A bitter internal Labour Party row may be resolved soon.
Shabana Mahmood is about to learn whether or not she is Labour's candidate for Birmingham's Ladywood constituency.
Ms Mahmood, who is the daughter of Mahmood Ahmed, the chairman of Birmingham Labour Party, won the selection contest last June.
But the result was challenged by supporters of Birmingham city councillor Yvonne Mosquito, who had also applied to become the Labour candidate.
They claimed that as many as 30 people were prevented from voting for Coun Mosquito by officials, on the grounds that they had not been members of the local Labour Party for long enough.
Labour's head office in London set up an inquiry chaired by Amicus official Mike Griffiths, to try to work out if the rules had been broken or not.
It's taken six months for him to come to a conclusion. We should learn what it is this week.
But this may not be the end of it. One possibility is that Mr Griffiths suggests the contest is run all over again, leading potentially to a fresh round of feuding.
Ladywood is currently represented by Clare Short, the former Labour MP who is now an independent and will leave the Commons at the next election.
Whoever becomes Labour candidate is almost certain to be the constituency's next MP.
Today we are taken to a tower block on the outskirts of Crimea's capital Simferopol to deliver the next batch of boxes with Operation Christmas Child.
Children play outside in the snow as we are led up a stairwell into a cramped, two-room apartment that is home to a family of seven.
Inside the flat, crouched in the corner of a bed, is six-year-old Eva.
Rostislav was just like another other six-year-old boy.
But when he started limping, his mother Svetlana knew something was wrong.
A visit to the doctor confirmed that Rostislav had contracted TB in his hip, so mother and son made the 1,200 km journey from their Chernobyl home for treatment at the Bobrov Children's Sanitorium in the Crimea.
At last, a major national transportation project that the West Midlands can win.
Until recently talk of the government approving a multi-billion pound high speed rail link between London and Birmingham would have been dismissed as wishful thinking
But the ground is changing quickly, with both Labour and the Conservatives now battling each other to take credit for pushing forward with what would be the largest and most expensive rail project in the UK for more than a century.