Cricket club on sticky wicket over ÃÂ£32m Edgbaston improvement plan
Warwickshire County Cricket club's attempt to get planning permission for a ÃÂ£32 million refurbishment and expansion of the Edgbaston test match ground represents a text book example of how not to go about selling a controversial scheme to the local community.
All too often over the past year club officials have appeared completely removed from the fears of people living close to the ground, intent only on hammering home the message that preserving Birmingham's status as a test match venue, and the money this will trigger for the local economy, trumps all concerns about traffic, noise and the glare from the five huge floodlight towers that are being proposed.
The club, in the person of chief executive Colin Povey, won't recognise that criticism, of course.
But allegations from local people of remoteness and arrogance ran through this week's well-attended council planning committee, when members made it pretty clear that they are unlikely to approve the club's proposals in their present form. Whenever Mr :Povey insisted the club had a proud record of communicating with the community, peals of ironic laughter echoed around the room.
Councillors urged Mr Povey to talk to residents groups and seek a compromise, broadly hinting that if some of the ancillary development proposed - the housing, flats and hotels - were pared back, the scheme might get approval.
This seems unlikely, given the club's bullish response to the committee.
Here's what Mr Povey had to say: "Whilst we understand the concerns of some local residents we would have hoped that the wider benefits of the scheme to the city would have been clear.
"If Birmingham is serious about being an international city this sort of scheme is exactly what is required. ÃÂ£12 million of annual benefit to the local economy and thousands of jobs that would have been created by the scheme are at risk if this doesn't go ahead.
"We are particularly disappointed that the council chose to ignore the officers recommendations. This is an outline application with a significant number of conditions attached which we feel would have allowed us to resolve any remaining concerns.
"The longer the council prevaricate on this Edgbaston and Birmingham fall further behind the competition for the staging International Cricket in the future.
"There is no doubt that several other cities, including Manchester, will see this as Birmingham shooting itself in the foot.
" All grounds need to meet the criteria for staging major international matches by 2011 and there is no doubt time is running out for us whilst others are already moving ahead with their plans.
"I am sure none of the councillors who voted for deferral want to see Edgbaston and the City lose its status as an internationally renowned venue and we will be urging them to reconsider the application as soon as possible whilst addressing the issues they have highlighted."
Sadly, language of this sort will only harden the resolve of a growing political alliance seemingly determined to get the Edgbaston project scaled back.
And this is precisely the aspect that Mr Povey and his band of planning consultants really don't seem to grasp.
Having obtained wholehearted support for the ground improvements from the city cabinet, with council leader Mike Whitby personally approving a ÃÂ£20 million council loan to help pay for the work, WCC no doubt felt that planning approval would automatically follow. But the cabinet's gung-ho approach and decision to approve the loan, made public two days before the planning committee met, annoyed local councillors in south Birmingham who felt they were being railroaded into dropping their objections.
The fact of the matter is that the Edgbaston ground and its immediate catchment area lies smack bang in the middle of some of the most fiercely fought over political territory in Birmingham. Moseley & Kings Heath, Selly Oak and Sparkbrook wards are subject to a battle royal between Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Respect party, which helps to explain why so many councillors, and would-be councillors, have come out against the cricket club's plan as it stands.
Councillors who have taken a close interest in the club's intentions, and attended the planning committee meeting, included Emily Cox (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath), Jerry Evans (Lib Dem Springfield), Salma Yaqoob (Resp Sparkbrook), Alistair Dow (Lib Dem Selly Oak), James Hutchings (Con Edgbaston) and Deirdre Alden (Con Edgbaston).
Coun Alden, the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Edgbaston, summed up the objectors' broad concerns.
She said: "Like many people, I want to see Edgbaston retain Test Cricket. I also accept that improvements to the ground are necessary, though I do not believe its present condition is as bad as one member of the planning committee made out.
"Where I was concerned was what Warwickshire County Cricket Club proposed alongside their ground improvements.
"They wanted to increase the ground capacity by 4,000 and at the same time build two hotels, shops, a large office building suitable for the head office of a company, and 250 flats and houses on the current car park and grassed areas.
"There would have been very little extra parking for all of this new development, and the extra number of people accessing the area would surely have caused great congestion and parking problems.
"They also wanted to install permanent floodlights even though a previous attempt to do this was turned down on appeal."
I get the distinct feeling that, unless the club is prepared to compromise, this application will be turned down.
An appeal will inevitably follow, leaving the final decision in the hands of the Planning Inspectorate and ultimately the government.
Unless, of course, leaders of the council's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition can excert enough pressure behind the scenes to "persuade" planning committee members that securing the future of test cricket in Birmingham overrides quality-of-life concerns by residents.
The truth is, at the moment, most planning committee members don't believe the club's claim that Edgbaston's test match status is at risk.
And even if they were to accept such a claim, they are unlikely to approve the vast array of flats, houses, leisure facilities and hotels being proposed by WCC.