Few things are as important to people as their own identity, and for many, identity is intrinsically wrapped up in where they live – especially the name of where they live. In Birmingham, that identity-attached-to-place has extra resonances for the people of Bournville, due to the historic and cultural place of the village in Birmingham’s life and development. And the people of Bournville (some of them, at least) are up in arms after the licensing committee has granted permission for a newsagent’s shop in the village to sell alcohol.
Only the problem is, the shop in question isn’t actually in the village; more problematically for the argument, as a defined locality with borders marked out on a map, the village itself – like most localities in the UK – doesn’t actually exist.
What’s that? Of course it exists!
Well yes, in one sense like all traditional localities it exists a a label on a map and as signs attached to lampposts, but as far as the boundaries which separate one locality in a city from another are concerned, there actually aren’t any. The only boundaries which formally exists which separate one place from another place are the ones which separate local and central government administrative areas – wards, constituencies, and councils. Regions only exist as those defined by the Department for Trade and Industry (or whatever it’s called this year) for economic planning reasons, or as European Parliamentary constituencies. But when you see a sign on the road separating, say, Cotteridge from Stirchley from Bournville from Selly Park from Bournbrook from Selly Oak from Bournville from Cotteridge, in all probability the sign has been put there rather than anywhere else because the person from the council highways department had nothing more official to go on than ‘erm, yeah, I reckon it should go here’.
In Birmingham there are actually complications to this rule of thumb in some areas – as well as the area which is called Bournville ward which is formally defined by the ward boundaries, which also encompasses the areas called Cotteridge and Stirchley, and the fuzzy area with the nice houses culturally called Bournville village, there’s an additional area which is formally defined with a land ownership boundary as the Bournville Estate, the land being owned and managed by the Bournville Village Trust, on which restrictive covenants exist which (amongst other things) say no pubs or off-licences are allowed to be established. There’s a similar area which straddles Edgbaston and Harborne, the land of which is owned by the Calthorpe Estate, who very tightly restrict and control development in the area. But these are land ownership boundaries, not boundaries separating place from place.
So in the case which has got (some of) the people of Bournville all riled up, a newsagent being granted a licence to sell alcohol, the actual fact of the matter is that the shop in question is well outside the restricted area anyway. And whether it’s outside or within the locality of the Bournville village? Well that’s just a matter of opinion!