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Byline: By Lee Kenny, Mark Cowan and Will Oliphant

JUSTICE Minister Jack Straw's department has promised an investigation into why a probation office was allowed to open less than a mile from three Kitts Green schools.

His department will hold an inquiry into the Mackadown Road centre which has caused a storm of protest from neighbours.

Government chiefs will now examine how the controversial building was able to open in May without the need for planning permission, and why families were not told what it would be used for.

The news came last night as protesters and probation officials met face-to-face at the Birmingham Mail's Big Debate.

The talks at The Pump, in Kitts Green Road, followed months of unrest in the area over the decision to place the signing-on centre near to three junior and infant schools.

Parents have organised numerous demonstrations and collected an 8,500-name petition against the centre in a bid to get it closed.

And although the prospect of the Home Office relocating the newly refurbished pounds 2 million building seems unlikely, news that the issue is being investigated was welcomed by protesters.

The pledge came as Jack Straw, who is responsible for the probation service, met Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne to discuss the centre.

And Labour councillor Ian Ward said the discussion was good news as any decision to move the centre would have to come from the Home Office.

Coun Ward said: "Liam had a meeting yesterday and Jack Straw has given an undertaking that he is going to look into the process that was undergone in deciding to locate the office in Kitts Green."

"There will be a subsequent meeting and we will see what comes out of that.

"We are quite clear that if there is to be any subsequent decision to reverse that decision it will have to be a political decision made by Jack Straw.

"The people who have taken the decision to put this centre here are not here in Birmingham, they will work and live in London, they will not be accountable to the people of Kitts Green."

Hilary Thompson, chief officer of Probation West Midlands, said she was unaware of the investigation but said the findings could help with new probation office plans in the future.

During the often heated debate last night, members of the public criticised how the area was policed.

Parents claimed officers had taken more than an hour to respond to reports of a suspicious looking man seen hanging around outside a school.

But one of the West Midlands top cops vowed to look at where things had gone wrong.

Asst Chief Const David Shaw said public confidence in the police had to be improved in Kitts Green and he would be speaking to officers about patrols and response times.


HEATED...members of the public who joined the Mail's Big Debate (from left) a point is discussed, Wayne Platt's shirt tells it all, John McMahon voices his concern and Sally Godber has a say.; MAKING A POINT...Lorraine Owen speaks up, Stan Smith listens carefully to a reply, Christine Tabb raises an issue and a disgruntled message pinpoints residents' frustrations. Pictures: Neil Pugh; WE'RE LISTENING...Jack Straw.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jul 20, 2007
Previous Article:Sending out wrong signal.
Next Article:Families grill officials over fear of an increase in crime; KITTS GREEN PROBATION CENTRE.

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