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Perspective: When the city's jobs just went Weston-wards.

Byline: Chris Upton

Last week, in the absence of much to say about Osama bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein, the media turned its attention on two boys from Weston-super-Mare. Lacking the training to be international terrorists, the two lads in question have concentrated on terrorising their housing estate instead.

Seeing pictures of this run-down 60s estate on TV, it was difficult to believe that it could possibly be in Westonsuper-Mare. Clearly there is more to this town than sea, sun and slot machines.

Even more surprising was the revelation that the estate is called Bournville, not a place one associates with deprivation, street crime and anti-social behaviour. What is the connection?

As far as I can see, the answer goes back to 1957. In those halcyon days, Birmingham could not have been more popular as a place to live and work. The population of the city was well in excess of one million and still growing. The demand for labour in the buoyant factories continued to outstrip supply and Birmingham was threatening to burst its seams.

It seems hard to credit it today but in this year. the corporation set up a body - the Joint Committee on Overspill - to encourage businesses to leave the city. If companies could be tempted to relocate to places with cheaper land, cleaner air and room to expand, then the workers would follow the jobs.

We tend to think of this overspill as local and indeed much of it was, diverting Birmingham's workers to new jobs in Cannock and Lichfield, Droitwich and Tamworth.

But arrangements were also made with local authorities much further away, with Daventry and Banbury, for example. And with Weston-superMare. Most Midlanders relocated to Weston only for a week, equipped with buckets and spades. This move was to be more permanent and the spades would be bigger.

In 1957, Weston borough council came to an agreement with Birmingham, allocating 130 acres of land at Oldmixon for overspill. This initial arrangement was followed up with exhibitions in Birmingham in 1959 and 1961, advertising 'excellent opportunities for the location of industries in a modern and progressive seaside resort'.

The campaign spoke of flexible planning rules, excellent road and rail links and (given that the first task was to persuade company bosses that a spot of sea air would be good for them) 'low density residential sites in pleasant surroundings for executives to build on'.

The campaign was remarkably successful. A number of firms - Harris Biological Supplies, Compression Joints, Philip Harris and Concargo among others - took the bait and went west. Of course, it was necessary to house the workers and Oldmixon and Bournville estates were built close to the new industrial quarter. By 1971, something like 500 new homes had been built for Birmingham families, as many as had been completed in Brownhills and Lichfield.

Of course, those who worked on the shopfloor would have to put up with exactly the same council maisonettes then being erected in Castle Vale and Shard End. It was just unfortunate (or perhaps deliberate) that the estate was labelled with the name Bournville, which was traditionally associated with just such low density housing.

I have no idea whether the two boys causing mayhem in Weston today are the children of overspillers (it would certainly be embarrassing if they were) but it serves to show that the problems of a rundown estate by the seaside are not just similar to those faced by estates in the inner city; they are exactly the same.

Dr Chris Upton is Senior Lecturer in History at Newman College of Higher Education in Birmingham.

Tomorrow is the deadline for bids to be submitted by those competing to become the UK's European Capital of Culture 2008.

Four of the leading contenders explain why they believe their cities deserve to beat Birmingham to the title
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 27, 2002
Words:639
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