Walsall Arboretum becomes a recognised Ancient Tree Site

On the year of its 150th anniversary, the Walsall Arboretum and country park has been officially designated as an Ancient Tree Site, the first of its kind in the West Midlands.

Walsall Arboretum

The accolade was issued by the Woodland Trust based on the huge number of ancient and veteran trees. While the area boasts approximately 130 veteran trees, 17 of them are considered ancient, between 150 and 800 years old.

“This designation is timely as the Arboretum celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2024,” said Gary Flint, Portfolio Holder for Wellbeing, Leisure and Public Spaces at Walsall Council

“It is wonderful news for Walsall and its wildlife. This designation places the Arboretum in the same company as Chatsworth, Richmond Park and Windsor Great Park. We thank the Woodland Trust for recognising the quality and importance of our premier green space, but also want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of local resident and Woodland Trust volunteer Mike Glasson, who has tirelessly surveyed the trees in the park over a number of years. “

Walsall Council plans to celebrate the Arboretum’s 150th anniversary in style with events taking place across the May bank holiday weekend.

 

Walsall Council Enforces Public Ban on Council Meetings Following Pro-Palestine Protest

Walsall Council has announced a ban on public attendance at its council meetings, following a recent Pro-Palestine protest at a full council meeting last week.

walsall council office
Walsall Council House

The council’s decision came in the wake of a demonstration where Pro-Palestine activists interrupted a council session to demand action with shouts of “ceasefire now” causing significant disruption that led the meeting to being abandoned.

Walsall Council stated that the ban is a temporary measure, aimed at ensuring the safety of both council members and the public, citing vulnerabilities in their security protocols and raising concerns over the potential for future incidents that could compromise the council’s ability to conduct its business effectively.

The ban has implications for how Walsall residents engage with their local government. For some, attending council meetings is a direct way to stay informed, express opinions, and hold elected officials accountable. The decision to exclude the public from meetings has left some residents feeling disenfranchised and disconnected from the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

In response to the backlash, the council is reportedly considering alternative approaches to address security concerns without completely shutting out the public. This includes stricter security checks for attendees, rather than an outright ban.

Public disorder interrupts Walsall Council Chamber meeting

A meeting held at Walsall Council was interrupted this evening (22 February 2024) following a “public disturbance” from the gallery.

walsall council house

Following prayers by St. Martin’s vicar Jenny Mayo-Lythall, the meeting, hosted by Walsall mayor Chris Towe, was disrupted by multiple members of the public shouting out “ceasefire now” and other inaudible remarks. 

The mayor called for a temporary adjournment to clear the gallery as elected members swiftly left the chamber.

Pioneer Magazines contacted Walsall Council for comment. A spokesperson stated: “The meeting of Full Council on Thursday 22 February 2024 was adjourned shortly after 6pm due to a protest in the public gallery. The meeting will be rescheduled for another date.”

Pupil attendance in Walsall “significantly” improving

Following concerns of persistent absence of pupils in schools since the Covid pandemic, latest figures show that attendance is improving in Walsall.

Due to a sharp rise in absentees post-pandemic, the Department for Education issued non-statutory guidance to schools in 2022 to help improve attendance.

This required schools to track attendance data and devise a strategic approach for improvement.

Absentee figures peaked in the 2021/2022 academic year to 29% of children who were considered as persistent absentees (missing 10% or more sessions). The latest confirmed figure shows that the percentage has now decreased to 23.10% for the 2022/23 Autumn/Spring term.

Unpublished figures for the 2023/24 Autumn terms show that the level of persistent absentees stands at 22.49%, a further decrease year-on-year.*

A national government campaign was launched earlier this year with the strapline “moments matter, attendance counts” to further increase awareness to parents and children about the importance of attending school.

*This is currently an estimated figure until officially published.

Source: Education and Overview Scrutiny Committee minutes

Youth unemployment in Walsall almost twice the national average

At a Walsall Council meeting held yesterday by the Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the latest figures show that youth unemployment in Walsall is almost twice the national average.

Though it was noted that progress had been made between 2000 and 2020, recent statistics show that youngsters not in education, employment and training (NEET) are rising.

The current UK average is 5%, while the rate in the borough of Walsall stands at 9.2% (2,060 aged between 18-24). The highest area of youth unemployment in the West Midlands is in Wolverhampton (10.9%).

The figure for Walsall is up 11.4% compared to the previous year.

From the minutes:

“In addition, recent increases in economic inactivity have been driven largely by young people, many of whom are inactive because of health-related reasons. The picture is even more stark for young people in our most deprived wards, and furthermore for those with particular characteristics, including care leavers, young offenders, young people with disabilities and some ethnic minorities.

On skills levels, 16,400 of the working age population have no qualifications in Walsall requiring 5,693 to be upskilled to meet regional averages. At a higher level, only 27.2% or 46,900 of Walsall residents possess a NVQ Level 4+.”

Walsall Council plans to work alongside the WMCA as well as training providers, employers and partners to help develop solutions.

Full Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee minutes

Walsall Council improving on EHC assessment deadlines

In a cabinet meeting this week, Walsall Council praised the work of its inclusion team dealing with education, health and care (EHC) assessments as demand rises across the borough.

walsall council house

The council confirmed that 82 percent of assessments and plans are now completed (data from July-September 2023) within the statutory 20-week time frame compared to just 8.5 percent in 2022.

“Timely completion of EHC plans has been a tricky and challenging predicament over many, many years, and this is against a backdrop of a 14 percent increase of demand and a backlog of requests,” said Councillor Mark Statham, Porfolio Holder for Educations and Skills at Walsall Council.

“Now, having improved the timeliness so significantly, we find ourselves in a really good position, which would not only put us in the top 5 percent in the country, but will have such positive and direct impacts upon children and young people in Walsall.

“EHC plans are there to ensure that those children who need more support are getting it, at the right time from the right people and organisations, to support their learning and development.

The inclusion team who have worked so hard to deliver these successes deserve all the commendations we can give them in terms of their robustness, professionalism and dedication, and we’re now moving forward positively to maintain these figures.”

Walsall Council moves to ban balloons and sky lanterns

As part of a wider nationwide initiative, the release of balloons and sky lanterns are set to be banned on Walsall council-owned or maintained grounds.

A new policy, which will be released on the Walsall Council website soon, will also encourage private landowners and event organisers to look at more eco-friendly options , including the planting of trees and digital fireworks as an alternative.

In a meeting held on 7 February, the council said that the releasing of balloons or sky lanterns is often a chosen way to mark an event, commemoration, or celebration. However, while these tributes are carried out with good intent, they can be damaging to the environment and present a fire hazard with ignited lanterns causing potential harm to open spaces and residential areas.

“Our priority is to create a cleaner, greener borough, where nature is respected and protected, and our parks and open spaces support the health and wellbeing of our residents and visitors,” said Councillor Gary Flint, Portfolio Holder for Wellbeing, Leisure and Public Spaces.

“This ban may have some small impacts upon third-party events which intend to generate income, but the council feels that the benefits of safeguarding our environment and preserving the natural beauty of our borough far outweigh the costs.

“As a council, we recognise the cultural significance and emotional value that balloon and lantern releases hold for various communities. To address this, accessible and affordable alternatives such as memorial walks, candles in jam jars, and community tree planting initiatives will be promoted, ensuring that diverse groups can continue to express themselves in environmentally friendly ways.”

160 councils across Britain have now banned the release of balloon and sky lanterns.

 

 

Walsall town centre lockout for hostile vehicles includes gates and bollards

Walsall Council is installing a series of gates, barges and bollards in sections of the town centre to protect visitors and businesses from terrorism.

Example of mitigation measure

A series of hostile vehicle mitigation measures will be implemented on Monday and Tuesday night (12-13 February) in Park Street, Bridge Street, Bradford Street and Digbeth Square.

The measures, which have been funded by income generated by parking charges, will be temporary while the council considers permanent measures, which include anti-terrorism plans for the Park Street and Gallery Square regeneration scheme.

“The terror threat in Walsall is low but real, and I fully support this action to secure the town centre. Community safety must always be a priority and anything that mitigates any potential threats posed by vehicles is to be welcomed, “ said Councillor Garry Perry, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Resilient Communities, Walsall Council.

“The installation of new HVM measures in Walsall is not due to any increased threat to the town centre, however the overall threat to the UK from terrorism remains substantial. This is a good opportunity for us to follow advice from expert colleagues in our counter Terrorism Unit, and work with Walsall Council to ensure that the town centre is safe and secure for residents and visitors,” said Chief Superintendent Phil Dolby from West Midlands Police.

Walsall Mayor wishes King Charles a swift recovery

Walsall’s Mayor has issued a public statement wishing King Charles a “swift and full recovery” following news that he was diagnosed with cancer early this week.

Buckingham Palace confirmed the diagnosis on 6 February stating that the King remains positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.

“It is with great sadness that I heard the news and I commend him for being so open about his recent cancer diagnosis. I’m sure this will help promote greater public understanding for all those who are affected by cancer,” said Councillor Chris Towe.

“On behalf of Walsall Council and our residents, I extend all our best wishes to the King. Our thoughts are with his family at such a worrying time. Wishing you a speedy recovery Your Majesty.”

 

Feedback wanted on proposed Walsall boundary changes

The Local Government Boundary Commission is embarking on a mission to redefine council wards in Walsall, and they want your input. A comprehensive 10-week consultation on these proposals is now underway and will continue until April 8, 2024.

The objective of the commission is to ensure equitable representation of electors by redistributing the wards effectively. The Commission has put forth proposals for Walsall, advocating for the establishment of 20 three-councillor wards, heralding a significant shift in the ward landscape.

Notable changes include:

  • The renaming of Willenhall North ward to New Invention based on local input.
  • A substantial redesign of wards in Walsall town centre.

“ We want people in Walsall to help us,” said Professor Colin Mellors, Chair of the Commission.

“We have drawn up proposals for new wards in Walsall. We want to make sure these new electoral arrangements reflect communities.

“We also want them to be easy to understand and convenient for local people. Residents and local organisations can help us do that. We would like them to let us know whether they agree with our proposals before we take final decisions. It’s easy to get involved. Go to our website. Or you can e-mail or write to us.

“Just tell us what you think and give us some details why you think that. It’s really simple, so do get involved.”

The Commission has dedicated a section on its website where you can delve into the proposal details and offer feedback on ward names and boundaries: https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/walsall

Additionally, a high-resolution map is available on the Local Government Boundary Commission website.

Your views can also be shared via email at reviews@lgbce.org.uk.