An historic Longbridge workers’ village is under threat as Birmingham City Council look to remove its conservation status.
The Austin Village is a unique collection of red cedarwood prefabricated bungalows, imported from Michigan, USA by Lord Herbert Austin during the First World War.
The village was constructed in 1917 – interspersed with occasional brick built homes as fire breaks – to house Austin Motor Company workers who were supporting the war effort, making munitions and vehicles at Longbridge.
Originally intended to be temporary, the homes were recognised by Birmingham City Council as permanent structures in the 1960s and still stand over 100 years after construction, being proudly and lovingly cared for by residents.
In the centenary year of the village in 2017, residents worked with photographer Stephen Burke and artists Ampersand Projects on a Heritage Lottery funded project to examine the stories and history of the village, building an archive on a website theaustinvillage.com
Conservation status and Article 4
The homes are protected by conservation status which The Austin Village Preservation Society (AVPS) won in 1997, supported by English Heritage (now Historic England).
An add on directive to the conservation status –Article 4 – caused some disagreement over the years between residents, who currently have to seek planning permission for any alterations to the front of their properties. Removal or modification of Article 4 would allow for some modifications to the homes with more modern materials – for example: double glazing, cladding etc. This would mean that residents could better, and more affordably, preserve the buildings.
To this end, the AVPS had asked the council to examine the possibility of a removal or modification to Article 4.
However, the council has proposed that, after removing Article 4, the village will also be stripped of its conservation status.
This is causing concern for the future of the heritage site, which is on the Historic England Heritage At Risk register
The AVPS chair Chris Pollard said: “The Austin Village Preservation Society promoted keeping the conservation status whilst modifying Article 4, for this area, to allow residents to maintain their homes to an acceptable standard at a suitable cost. This would mean that the status would highlight the historical significance of the area, whilst making it an appropriately affordable place to reside.
“This Village is an epitaph for The Great War, a pivotal moment in our country’s history that should not be forgotten. It is for this reason that the conservation status was awarded.”
Northfield Cllr Olly Armstrong (Labour) said: “I am really sad to hear the Austin Village may lose its listed heritage status. It’s a beautiful area and community, and I truly hope this doesn’t lead to the gorgeous homes and land being pulled down and broken up.”
Cllr Debbie Clancy (Cons, Longbridge and West Heath) said: “Austin Village is well known in our Community not only for its historical value but for the residents who have lived there for many years.
“Residents old and new may hold different views on whether they are in favour of retaining the Conservation status with Article 4 Directive or consider it is no longer needed. On whichever side of the debate it has always been clear that Austin Village is a really special place to live.
“Whilst the necessity for modern materials may have been used to upgrade properties, my concerns have always been for the protection of the sense of community in the village and I would want to avoid any relaxation of planning rules leading to major developments that threaten that.
“Birmingham City Council has for some time been reviewing this Conservation status and it will be no surprise to many residents that the City’s proposal to remove its status has still not been concluded and a reflection on the City Council’s previous lack of meaningful engagement with the residents.”
Have Your Say
A petition has been started against the removal of the conservation status and you can read more information from Chris Pollard (AVPS) and SIGN THE PETITION ONLINE
Alternatively, you can send your views in writing to Julie Shaduwa, Principal Conservation Officer, Directorate of Inclusive Growth, Planning and Development, PO Box 28, Birmingham, B1 1TU no later than 20th of June 2019