Keri Davies Q and A

I recently did a Q and A for the newsletter run by Charlot King. Charlot is the author of the Cambridge Murder Mysteries, and the owner of a quite extraordinary looking dog, Moobear often appears in the photographs which Charlot shares on Twitter.

She has kindly agreed that I can reproduce the interview here. It goes into some detail about my path to the astonishing privilege of being allowed to write for The Archers, and into even more detail about how I do it.

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Can you tell us more about your journey as a writer – where did you start and how is that journey progressing? 

I’m not a very academic or introspective person; I tend to just get on with things. So I might not have very enlightening answers to these questions. In fact, the idea of my having a ‘journey’ as a writer sounds absurdly pretentious to me. I may have a very specialised, very limited celebrity, but inside I still feel like little Keri Davies who grew up in a dull Wiltshire town. Sorry Trowbridge, but you have to admit you’ll never be Prague…

I have always had some facility with words, which has bubbled up in all of the rag bag of jobs that comprise my ‘career’ (not so much chequered as houndstoothed): bank clerk, RAF officer, PR, advertising, presentation training… I was in my thirties when I joined the BBC as a press officer, and I only moved over to The Archers temporarily, to fill an emergency vacancy. That was in 1992, and sometimes I still can’t believe that I work on the programme that I began to listen to in my well-ordered room at RAF College Cranwell.

Surprisingly, my time in the RAF was a direct step on the road to where I am now. While a recruiting officer, I suggested and wrote the script for an audio-visual package about officer life. And off-duty I wrote and directed plays and pantomimes. These amateur efforts were a long way from professional drama; when I started work on The Archers, I had a massive learning curve. But it all helped, as does having a wide range of life experiences to enlighten my writing.

I suppose we are drawn to things we are good at, and this is the one thing I’m really good at. I’ve just been so lucky that by a catalogue of accidents I’ve found a niche where I’ve been able to earn a living at it for so long.

 

How do you write? What is your process?

I don’t really have a process. I have deadlines. Ninety percent of my writing is scripts for The Archers, so the requirements of the programme dictate my approach (about which more below).


Do you remember the first radio play, tv or film that stuck with you? And the library in your formative years that you remember fondly?

I’m going to swerve this slightly, because one of my greatest influences is the fact that my parents were active in the local musical theatre scene. In fact, before I was born they were members of the Welsh National Opera Company, in the days when it had an amateur chorus. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in rehearsals of The Mikado or South Pacific, and it infected me with a lifelong love of music and drama.

And the library… oh yes. Scratch any writer (or any decent writer) and you’ll find a reader. Precocious little swot that I was, at primary school I remember asking if I could use the upper school library, because all the books I was meant to be reading were too ‘babyish’. And later, I’d cycle regularly to Trowbridge Library. Four books every week for years. Science fiction and PG Wodehouse were particular favourites (Wodehouse still is – perhaps the nicest compliment I was ever paid as a writer was that I was a cross between PG Wodehouse and Hunter S Thompson).


You are known for the writing The Archers, can you tell us about that? 

A caveat: my answers to this question reflect the ‘usual’ Archers, which from May 2020 will be replaced by a simpler format until things return to whatever normality will then be in place.

One of the great things about writing The Archers is that it’s a blend of team and individual working. As writers, we work hand in glove with the production team, who in fact are responsible for a lot of research, story creation and early drafting.

The whole team gets together twice a year to brainstorm long term stories, but the detailed planning is done in script meetings every five weeks. At this stage we are working with ‘storylines’ – short stories written in the present tense, which outline in some detail what will happen to our characters approximately three months hence.

Individual writers are each responsible for a week on air – six episodes Sunday to Friday. So five out of the dozen or so on the team then return to their lonely writers’ garrets. They each have to turn their week, containing seven or so storylines, into six episodes of drama that also works as one 75 minute play.

This is the moment where artistic ambition bashes heads with budgets and logistics. We need actors to tell our stories. Actors (quite rightly) cost money, so there is a limit to how many we can use in a week: actually 39 appearances, from around 25 or so individual characters. To make it even more interesting, not all the actors are available for all recording sessions. So at this stage, it’s like doing a jigsaw when you’ve lost the lid with the picture on.

We have to decide which parts of which story we will tell on each day, and how; which characters we need to hear; and which bits we can hear ‘by report’. And where possible, we try to find ways to link stories, so the listener isn’t simply jumping back and forth between isolated strands.

All Archers writers work differently, but the way I do it is to take a sheet of A3 paper and rule it into six columns, one for each day. Then I work through the storylines, jotting major plot segments – ‘beats’ as we call them – onto little sticky notes, using a different colour for each storyline. Ah, the glamour of showbiz…

You can see my most recent plan here:

the archers week plan

The scribblings are quite cryptic: “Lee to Lynda. Lynda furious with Robert”, “Ben bumps into Chloe. Josh – hilar”. But it’s enough to trigger in my mind the full content of the scene in question. Within the constraints, I distribute these beats through the week to form an interlocking web of dramatic arcs. I try to get a good balance of big and small, drama and comedy, domestic and farming, with ‘hooks’ to keep the listener tuning in, and of course an extra-large hook on the Friday.

It’s a case of trial and error – or ‘trial and improvement’ as children are now taught. Once I’ve added up all my actor bookings, I frequently have to revise my initial thoughts. For example, I might decide that we’ll hear the run up and aftermath of a meeting using two characters, rather than dramatising the full thing with three.

Once the maths is done, it’s time for the English again. I use my chart as the basis of a scene-by-scene synopsis. For the week we’re looking at, mine started:

1. INT, HOSPITAL WARD. 1400 HRS
LYNDA, CHLOE, ROY
Chloe is attending to Lynda [I’ll research something appropriate for Lynda’s condition and Chloe’s likely experience level]. Chloe is encouraging about Lynda’s progress but it falls on stony ground…

And so on over 18 pages or so, until the final moment of Friday’s episode:

7A. INT. HOSPITAL, CORRIDOR. CONTINUOUS
GAVIN
The door closes behind Gavin. Dad, it’s me, he says darkly. We might have a problem.

How long do we have to do all this? A long weekend. Archers deadlines are pretty brutal.

At this point, we pause. All five writers send their synopses to the Archers editor Jeremy Howe, the agricultural advisor Sarah Swadling, and two producers who as part of their jobs also work as script editors. You won’t hear their names unless they happen to direct episodes, but the script editors are the unsung heroes of The Archers. They compare our synopses with the storylines, to make sure we stay on-piste, and that everything hangs together across the five weeks. And they often give insightful comments that tighten and improve the drama.

After a detailed conversation with our individual script editor, we can finally start to write the actual scripts. We don’t have long for this; usually about 11 days. It would be impossible from a standing start and a blank screen. But as you can see, a vast amount of work has already been done, so now it’s a case of making the outline live and breathe. At this stage I am writing as fast as I can type, taking dictation from the characters in my head. In any other walk of life, hearing voices might be worrying. For us, it’s a positive advantage.

Again, the script editors work through the five weeks of scripts, and we have a weekend to do any rewriting that’s requested. Then pretty soon the pack for the next scriptmeeting will arrive in our email: ninety or so pages of research, briefings, archive references and draft storylines.

And it all starts again…


The Archers has responded to the Covid-19 crisis in a very creative and laudable way. What can you tell us about what’s been happening behind the scenes, and how that will play out in the programmes to come? 

My production colleagues have worked minor and largely unseen miracles. Our response has been twofold. First, the challenge of recording episodes which were already written and scheduled for transmission. This usually requires a large and changing cast flowing into and out of the BBC’s studios at The Mailbox in Birmingham, many of whom are well past normal retirement age. One (June Spencer who plays Peggy Woolley) is over 100 years old. I can’t begin to imagine how they managed it, but I understand a great deal of disinfectant was involved.

That gave us a buffer of episodes, which at the time of writing we are eking out to early May, at five transmissions a week rather than our usual six. We’re then going to broadcast a few weeks of archive episodes before we start broadcasting in our new format. Because the existing episodes were written before the realities of Covid-19 became apparent, for a while Ambridge has had to remain unaffected by the virus. I know it would have been nice if we could have reflected the national situation in real time. But that would have meant ditching practically every storyline, because almost all of them involved people meeting in some way, or refer to activities that were now not happening (mass VE Day celebrations, to take just one example). We’d then have to invent all-new stories, and then write completely new scripts. From my answer above, I hope people realise how impossible that would be. So it was a case of temporarily virus-free Archers or none at all.

The second challenge was to conceive and then create a drama which could carry the torch of The Archers, but which could be made under lockdown conditions. So for a while, the format of the programme will change significantly. We will hear single voices – several in each episode, but not directly conversing with each other. And we’ll use all the techniques available to us to tell stories about Ambridge getting on with life despite the restrictions. These include telephone calls, voicemail messages, even the occasional video blog – and we’ll hear our characters’ thoughts as they go about their daily work, reflecting their actions and their interactions with their fellow villagers.

Covid-19 will be present, but it will not be central to our stories. We feel people are hearing quite enough about that on the news, and indeed in their own lives.

We have equipped our actors with audio gear and training so they can record their scenes at home. And our talented sound engineers will use all the magic of the radio studio to conjure up the familiar Ambridge, which our listeners know almost as well as their own neighbourhoods.

I was in the first wave of writers to take on the new format, and I don’t mind telling you it was a bit of a white-knuckle ride for all involved. But now I’m through the other side and looking forward to my next episodes, I’m confident that it’s going to work. It’s still The Archers, with its conflict and comedy, countryside and character; just told in a different way.

 
Are there any other projects you are involved with that you can speak about?

Are you kidding? No, seriously The Archers keeps me pretty busy. But in 2019 I was lucky enough to be asked to write a spin-off book: The Archers Year of Food and Farming. It takes a month-by-month look at what happens in the farms, gardens and kitchens of
Ambridge, with recipes, archive memories, and newly imagined stories, exclusive to the book. It was a new style of writing for me, but I’m pleased to say it’s been very well received.

And I recently trained with Humanists UK to conduct non-religious funerals. It uses my writing and presentation skills in a very direct way, to help families at a crucial time. People can read more about my approach and practice on my celebrant webpage

 

Whether writing, performance, music, painting, sculpture and more – I think the arts have never been more vital. What is your take on the arts and their role in society?

Given that what we call civilization spans five thousand years or more, I’d hesitate to say ‘never more vital’. ‘Seldom more at threat’ seems more the mark, as market fundamentalism has denigrated anything that doesn’t increase shareholder value. If the only way you can access high quality art, in any medium, is through a high-priced ticket, we have failed art and we have failed society.

I think of my parents in the 1950s. A carpenter and a sewing machinist jumping on the train after work and rushing down to Cardiff, not just to consume but to participate in grand opera. We need more of that inclusivity.

 

Finally, three albums you’d take to a desert island and one book? 

I mentioned how important music was to me, so this is torture. Very quickly, then: Blue by Joni Mitchell, so I can have a good cry. Settle by Disclosure, so I can have a good dance. And something I’ve never heard before, washed up at random on the shore. I’m a great believer in the importance of new experiences to keep you alive.

For the book… let’s have a PG Wodehouse omnibus, so I can immerse myself in that beautifully crafted world-that-never-was.

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Charlot King on Twitter

Charlot King’s website

Stephen Fry’s “L” competition – and the little voice

When I started following Stephen Fry on Twitter (and was stupidly chuffed that he followed me back), I was one of just a thousand(ish) who did so.

Unsurprisingly, this figure has grown hugely.  As I write, he’s being followed by over 63,000 Twitterers, and to mark passing the 50,000 mark, he set a competition for his fawning accolytes (one of whom I cheerfully admit to being).

You had to write a tweet (a Twitter message) which contained exactly 50 “L”s – L being the Roman numeral for 50.  Quite a challenge, given that tweets have a rigid 140-character limit.  Even more so, when spaces count as characters.

And you had to mark the message with a hashtag: #L  so that it could be identified as a competition entry.  So that’s two characters gone already, I thought (fatal mistake, as you will see).

What I wrote

A quick look at the entries as they enthusiastically rolled in showed a lot like this:

gavski82: #L illegal llamas loll, a ball?hells bell!all call a folly.a hill will roll,willy nilly.bill fell ill, all still.a pull will lilt,will fall.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense, really.  Nor did most of the others.

I thought the only way to stand a chance of gaining Mr Fry’s approbation was for it to be about something, and ideally to have a bit of rhythm to it, like a poem.

So after a bit of scratching about, this is what I submitted:

Ill,dull lull. Poll-all well,lol! All hail jolly poll!All roll pell-mell,all ululate,all lalala!Hail BHO!Hail Michelle!Tell world,allswell#L

BHO, I hoped, was recognisable as Barrack Hussein Obama, whose inauguration had just taken place.  And I used as much punctuation and spaces as I could spare to indicate the rhythm of the piece (piece?  tut, pretentious, moi?), which should read like this:

Ill, dull lull.
Poll – all well, lol!
All hail jolly poll!
All roll pell-mell, all ululate, all lalala!
Hail BHO! Hail Michelle!
Tell world, all swell

I was quite pleased with it.  At least it wasn’t total nonsense.

But I messed up the hashtag.  I didn’t leave a space before it, so the hashtag engine didn’t pick it up, which means it wasn’t considered for the competition.

Boo, hoo, so what?

Why am I telling you this?  It’s because of the little voice.

I thought, to protect my idea of doing an Obama tribute, I’d leave it until close to the deadline to post my tweet.

I was writing scripts for The Archers at the time, which takes total concentration.

As I sat at my desk at 9.30 on the Saturday morning of the (noon) deadline, I read my “note to self” to post the tweet at 11.30.  A tiny fleeting thought passed through my mind: “shall I set an alarm?”  No, I thought. It’ll be fine.  I need to get on with writing this script.

Next thing I knew, it was ten to midday. Sudden panic. I grabbed my draft, carefully typed it into Twitter, and sent it.

When I came to the end of a scene about twenty minutes later, I went hunting for my entry in the hashtags.

It wasn’t there.

And then I realised that the #L wasn’t two characters.  It was three, because it needed a space to separate it out from the other text.  A space that I has used in search of my precious rhythm, but could have sacrificed.

God, I was annoyed.  With myself, which is the worst sort of annoyance there is, of course. I’d worked quite hard in my limited free time to come up with this offering, and I might just as well have not bothered, as I told myself, my wife, my nearest son, my Twitter buddies, and would have told the milkman if he’d been around.

Listen, you idiot (me, I mean)

So to make myself feel a tiny bit better, I tried to think what I might learn from this.  And, not for the first time, it was a lesson about that little voice.

My subconscious knew what the right thing to do was, and it told me.  If I’d posted the tweet a bit earlier, my error might well have dawned on me in time to put it right.

But the subconscious is so easily shouted down by the noisy, busy forefront of the mind.

I’ve told the little voice “no, it’ll be fine” before.  And I’ve almost always regretted it later.

So when you get that little whisper, remember me banging about the house at 12.30 on a Saturday lunchtime, ridiculously annoyed about a little word game.

And PAY ATTENTION TO IT!

(And I’ll try to, as well)

MP’s expenses – they vote tomorrow

Today’s the last day to write to your MP insisting that s/he votes against the moves by the government to keep MPs’ expenses secret.

How they can justify this is completely beyond me.  There was a suggestion that MPs’ security might be compromised, but that has been dealt with – their home addresses cannot now be revealed.  Another claim that the record-keeping would be too onerous can be seen as facile by anyone who’s self employed and therefore has to keep all their receipts so they can put them through their books.

President Obama has just promised to make his administration the most open and transparent ever.  Our government seems set on the opposite course, in a move that can only make the average person despise polititians even more than they already do.

If you agree, tell your own MP.

To contact mine, I used the Write to Them website – very quick and easy to use, and it suggests the sort of thing you might say, with links for further information.

Update – later the same day

Looks like the campaign had an effect.  There is decency (all right, shame) in politics, after all.

Stephen Fry is following me

For some reason, this made me irrationally pleased:

Google Mail - Stephen Fry is now following you on Twitter! - keri.davies@googlemail.com
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

I know he won’t really be hanging on my every utterance.  How can he, when he was already following over a thousand people at this point, and it’s over 3000 as I write.  But I don’t care.  Stephen Fry is following me on Twitter.

I’ve never met him, but my wife and youngest son Dominic have, at a party at St James’s Palace, hosted by Prince Charles for The Archers’ 50th birthday.  While I was somewhere else in the room, no doubt making small talk with the BBC’s deputy controller of napkin rings, Stephen (he’s following me on Twitter, you know) discovered that Dominic plays Daniel Hebden Lloyd.

He lifted Dom up in the air and cried “Dominic!  I’m your biggest fan!”

What a nice man.

Did I mention that he’s following me on Twitter?

Overheard in New York City

(Madison Avenue guy) “…she had a smokin’ body…”

(Girl in pink hotpants) “…and he was like, ‘yeah’…”

(Wall St type) “…the whole world has gone topsy-turvy in the last two weeks…”

(Waiter, when asked for a Calvados):  “…a what?  Oh, a Cal-VA-dose.  Tomahto, tomayto…”

(Guy outside brownstone in shorts, 10pm):  “I swear the last four tenants never cleaned.  Ever…”

(Middle-aged lady at Metroplitan Opera House): “They’re screwing the middle classes!  They’ve been screwing us for years!”

(Driver):  “…the fuck you doin’?!…”

(Black sneaker store salesman, to white, middle-aged, besuited customer): “Hey pimp, whassup?” (followed by a ghetto handshake)

(Young hipster, of a band): “They’re totally righteous.”

Fresh(food)er’s week

I’ve just done the weekly grocery shop at Sainsbury’s in Selly Oak.  As usual, the main clientele on a Tuesday evening consisted of students from Birmingham University, which is very close.

Being that time of year again, they’re either self-catering freshers, or second years who have moved out of catered halls into their own accommodation.  But the real division is into:

  • slightly lost souls wandering round with a near empty basket and no idea what to put into it,
  • and cheerful pairs and trios wheeling piled up trolleys, squealing with delight at the adventure of cooking their own food.

They certainly brighten up the weekly chore.  But I can’t help wanting to borrow the tannoy microphone when Customer Services isn’t looking, for a public service announcement along the lines of:  “Sainsburys?  Are you mad? Aren’t you on a really tight budget?  There’s an Aldi down the road for goodness sake!  And why aren’t you buying your fruit and veg at the market?”

I haven’t so far. But if you ever hear of a madman being expelled from a supermarket after a public address incident, that’ll be me.

The unexpected in the Peak District

high edge and dowel dale

This weekend I was meant to be learning to paraglide, but the weather (strong winds) had other ideas, so the two-day course was aborted after the first morning.

As I was in the Peak District and wearing boots, I made the best of it and spent the rest of the day walking.  It was a day for the unexpected:

arms stash at harpur hill

More things I saw on my impromptu walk

Buxton

The next day I wandered round the spa town of Buxton:

buxton baths

the crescent, buxton

More shots of Buxton

It wasn’t the weekend I’d expected, but I had a great time. And I’ve still got a day and a half of paragliding to look forward to.

An insult to coffee and to me

I had a meal last night, with my wife and youngest son, in a gastropub near Stratford-upon-Avon.  Nice meal, friendly staff, pleasant place, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth – in both the metaphorical and literal senses.

To finish, I asked if they could do me a decaff double espresso.  I love the taste of strong coffee, but cut caffeine out a few years ago to help cure an insomnia problem, so decaff is my default mode nowadays.

The waitress took the order without remark and soon re-appeared with a demi-tasse cup containing a slightly sludgy-looking brown liquid.  I took it outside to the garden to enjoy with the last dregs of the sunset.

One sip told me this coffee had never seen the inside of an espresso machine.  They had just made a very strong decaff instant.  That perfect end to the meal was snatched away in a moment.  (I know I’m being precious here, and that there are far more important things in the world, but this was their business and they’d let a customer down).

I challenged them, and although a little evasive at first, they admitted what I knew already:  “We were just trying to make you happy, sir.

I’d have been happy if they’d served what I’d asked for.

But given that they didn’t have decaff ground coffee, I’d have much preferred to be treated like a grown-up and told that.  I’d rather have had no coffee than a poor substitute – I often do, as a lot of restaurants still don’t stock it. So I’d have been OK about it.

But they assumed I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between espresso and instant and thought they could get away with it. So now I feel insulted.

If they had a dish with Parma ham on the menu but had run out, would they have tried to get away with a bit of ordinary cooked ham instead?  It doesn’t show much respect for the people who pay their wages.

And we all know how many places there are to eat in the world.  I’m very unlikely ever to go back there now.

What a shame.

Starter jobs for would-be drama writers

This article was originally commissioned by 4Talent as part of their “How to get ahead in” series.

It’s mainly about the sort of jobs that people interested in writing (radio) drama might get as a step on the way. But it also gives an insight into the odd route that has brought me to being a writer on the world’s finest – well, certainly longest running – radio drama series.

As the shoulder-padded 80s turned into the unstructured 90s, I was working as a presentation and media trainer.  After a day of being nasty on-camera to a group of senior managers in the breakfast cereal business – and teaching them how to fight back – one of them asked for a private word.

He wanted my advice about a senior public relations post they were thinking of creating.  I did my best to help, but in the end he had to reveal his true purpose – he was sounding me out for the job.  Inwardly I kicked myself for not latching on to his real agenda.  Not the level of sensitivity they’d expect from a savvy PR operator.  But I promised myself that if I was ever in the same situation again, I wouldn’t be so slow.

Two years later, my conversation with Mr Oaty Puffs (some names have been changed) returned in a blaze of neon, accompanied by screaming klaxons and flashing arrows.

Archers producer

By now, I was a BBC press officer, promoting, among other things, BBC Radio 4’s long-running radio drama serial The Archers.  And I was being told that The Archers had a short-notice vacancy for a producer.  I wasn’t actually being sounded out for the job, but I didn’t let that stop me.

Thanks to the amazing open-mindedness of the managers involved, I was given the temporary job.  A few months later I applied for the post proper.  And got it.  I served eleven years as a producer (later senior producer) and five years ago became an Archers scriptwriter.

So, what was my starter job that got me on the ladder to scriptwriting?  None of the ones I’ve mentioned so far.  Before the training company I’d worked for an ad agency – but that wasn’t it.  I’d actually done my first scriptwriting when I was an officer in the RAF, for a video presentation used in recruiting, and later writing and directing comedy and panto for station shows.

So it was that then?  Actually, no.

My starter job

The starter job for my career as a writer was the very first job I did, at the age of 13:  a paper round.  In fact every single job I’ve done (and I’ve done plenty) contributes to my writing.

As a drama writer, you have to create character, settings, plot.  You have to tell your story through the technical constraints and possibilities of the medium.  And in radio especially, dialogue is your main tool.

Many would-be writers are told:  write what you know.  It follows that the more you know, the more you can write.  The more people you’ve come into contact with, the more varied the settings, then the more you have that you can draw on.

And if you want your characters to talk like real people, you’d better start listening to real people, from as many different backgrounds as possible.

Characters I’ve met

Because of the many years it took me to find my writing niche, I’ve worked with hundreds of characters, some ordinary, some more colourful. A rapacious gay milkman. The puffed-up bank manager (yes, I worked in a bank), who told me I ‘wasn’t officer material’ – just before I became an RAF officer.  An ultra-competitive angling maniac.  The driven, alcohol-fuelled, two-Jags socialist (not that one).

I’ve worked in a greasy, macho garage, a dreary supermarket, a rough estate pub.  I’ve communed with senior civil servants and committees of accountants.  As a semi-pro DJ and drummer I’ve been backstage in ratty clubs, fancy hotels and posh marquees on country house lawns.

And every one of those experiences makes me a better writer.

In the business

Of course, there are jobs ‘in the business’ that can help.  Any way you can get near the actual production process should educate you about the technical side of storytelling.  One fellow Archers writer started as a production secretary on the programme.  Another did a couple of weeks’ work experience.  Script editor jobs are great for the nuts and bolts of story creation and what will and won’t work.

Two Archers writers are former actors.  Acting and writing can be a good combination.  Most actors, sadly, have plenty of spare time to work on scripts.  But I’d only recommend entering that bruising profession if you want to act as much as you want to write.

Just don’t be in too much of a hurry to get a job ‘in the media’.  It can be great fun, but it’s very much its own little world.

Go and discover other worlds first.

Stop Tesco in Stirchley – please write an urgent letter


The Another Stirchley campaign has asked the everyone opposed to Tesco’s plans to build a superstore in Stirchley write a letter of objection – but it has to be done very quickly.
 

At their recent public meeting, they found that a lot of the local residents assumed that because Birmingham City Council is minded to approve the application, that it was definitely going to go ahead.  

That’s not so!  

The council has referred the application to the Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. She will then decide to call in the application for further inspection, or allow the council to approve it.  If she doesn’t call it in then Tesco will go ahead. She will take this decision in the next week or so.

As this is the last chance to stop Tesco, they  are asking for letters to be sent to Hazel Blears, with a copy to the local MP,  Lynne Jones MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA (or email her at jonesl@parliament.uk )

Here’s a draft letter.  Use it, or write your own – just send one!  Many thanks.

 

 

 

Rt Hon Hazel Blears,
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government,
Eland House,
Bressenden Place,
London
SW1E 5DU
 


Dear Ms Blears,

Application S/0372707/OUT (Renewal of application S/0175202/OUT)
Proposed Tesco superstore on land at Hazelwell/Pershore/Hunts Road,
Stirchley, Birmingham


I am writing to object to the proposed development of a Tesco
superstore in Stirchley, Birmingham. I believe the city council have overlooked, ignored or openly contradicted a plethora of planning policies. You are now in receipt of the application. I would ask that you call it in.

  • Planning Policy Statement 6 asks that the impact of the proposed development will not be too great. Tesco wish to provide 567 parking spaces. This is considerably more than would be required for local provision and implies drawing custom away from surrounding shopping centres. At the moment nearby Cotteridge and Bournville have a rich selection of local, independent shops in this sector. The proposed superstore would put them in extreme jeopardy.    

  • PPS6 asks that the size of the development be appropriate. The proposed development is opposite a 120,000 square foot Co-op supermarket. The addition of another 150,000 square feet of supermarket space is far beyond what is appropriate or necessary. It should be noted that supermarkets are also available in nearby Cotteridge, Kings Heath and Selly Oak.    

  • PPS6 states that location should be acceptable. The site is on the Pershore Road, an already highly congested arterial route. As previously stated the development depends upon drawing in custom from outside the area. Tesco’s Arup report estimate an increase in traffic volume of 30% on some roads. The added pressure on the surrounding road network will become intolerable.    

  • PPS6 also states that there must be proven need for the development, if outside the town centre. It has been an area of contention as to whether the site sits within the town centre. What isn’t in contention is that there is little need for a large supermarket opposite a large supermarket.

The decision of Birmingham City Council to put this application forward for approval also contravenes their own development brief of 2002 which states that the development be ‘appropriate to the role of the centre and not of a scale to threaten the role of other centres in this sector in Birmingham’.


It also neglects Policy T1 of the Regional Spatial Strategy ( 2008 )
which states that developments must reduce the need for travel, tackle congestion and protect the environment. In the Local Area Agreement the council commit to growing small businesses, reducing CO2 emissions and tackling congestion. The proposed development contravenes all of these policy aims


It is true that Stirchley is in decline and needs regeneration. However
this decline is largely due to the huge level of traffic passing down the narrow high street. The development would only exacerbate this underlying problem. In the meantime the pressure put on the surrounding shopping centre would spread the decline up into Cotteridge and beyond.


If surrounding shops close it will mean more travel and less choice.
This looks even more dubious in light of the white paper on sustainability.


I believe that the people of Stirchley have been very poorly served by
Birmingham City Council’s planning committee. I hope you agree that the application needs further inspection and I would urge you to call it in.


Yours sincerely,