Castle Vale is an area of the City of Birmingham originally created as an overspill estate in the 1960s.
The area was a flat plain when it became Castle Bromwich Playing Fields. It was then used as the Castle Bromwich private aerodrome, when the first aeroplane in the Birmingham area flew here in 1909. It became a stopping place during early air races. The War Office requisitioned it for use by the Royal Flying Corps and flying schools in 1914, when proper roads and buildings were established. The British Industries Fair (the pre-runner to the National Exhibition Centre) was a large complex of buildings built on land between the airfield and the railway in 1920. In the inter war years, the aerodrome had a dual military and civilian function. In these early days, it was the busiest airport in the area due to its passenger, post and railway air business.
In 1937, more hangars and a Squadron Headquarters were built for the Royal Air Force. In 1939, it was extended further to become a fighter station, a base for other units and a dispatch site for aeroplanes built at Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory on the other side of the Chester Road. Various units used the airfield following the war and there was a famous annual display to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Civilian flights returned, including the first scheduled helicopter service from London. The airfield closed in 1958 and in 1960 the site, the BIF site and nearby farmland was sold for construction of the overspill estate which started in 1964. The last hangars were demolished in 1992 for an industrial site.
All that remains now from these times is a memorial, a stained glass window in the church, streets and housing with aviation names, a row of ex-RAF houses along the Chester Road, and the Sentinel Spitfire Memorial.
In 1900, John Dunlop opened a tyre factory on the opposite side of the Chester Road to where the Castle Vale housing estate now stands. It gradually expanded over the next few decades and is now one of the largest and most recognisable tyre factories in the world.
The estate was the largest tower block estate in the city with 34 tower blocks. Being built on the site of an airfield, it seemed fitting when many of the streets and blocks of flats took their names from aircraft and airfields. Birmingham City Council owned around 5,000 homes on the estate and they included 34 multi-storey blocks of flats, although there was a substantial amount of privately owned homes in the area - mostly in the north-east of the estate around Turnhouse Road. By the end of the 1960s, Castle Vale was completed with a population of more than 11,000.
The first residents moved onto the estate in 1964, and all of the homes had been completed within five years. The 34 tower blocks were complimented by 27 blocks of maisonettes, more than 100 bungalows, as well as numerous two-storey houses and three-storey blocks of flats. Virtually all of the people living in these homes had come from decaying inner city slums in areas like Aston and Nechells. The new properties had so many things that their predecessors didn't - electricity, running water, bathrooms, indoor toilets, central heating and (in the two-storey houses) gardens. Most of the tower block flats came with secure and private balconies which gave residents spectacular views for miles around.
Castle Vale Secondary School opened in new premises in 1967. The buildings were completed and officially opened in 1969.
However, Castle Vale began to decline during the late 1970s under Thatcher and by the 1980s it was one of the most troubled housing estates in the country. More than 40% of people living on the estate were unemployed, the local bank had closed (leaving many people on the estate with no resort but loan sharks), homes were falling into disrepair and crime levels were soaring. Joyriding was one of the biggest problems on the estate - the wide roads on Castle Vale were popular with thieves driving stolen cars. Teenagers would stand on the top of the estate's tallest block of flats - 20-storey Concorde Tower - to watch joyriders speed through the estate.
The 'Centre 8' tower blocks (Shawbury Tower, Kemble Tower, Northolt Tower, Lyneham Tower, Cosford Tower, Abingdon Tower, Bovingdon Tower and Cranwell Tower) in the centre of the estate between Tangmere Drive and Yatesbury Avenue were probably the most troubled grouping of high-rise flats in Birmingham. They were riddled with damp, vandalism and graffiti and many of their occupants were known to the police for criminal activities.
In 1994, the tenants of the Castle Vale estate voted for a breakaway from Birmingham City Council and their homes were controlled by a Housing Action Trust, known locally as "The Hat", with a twelve-year plan for regeneration.
The Housing Action Trust's initial plans were to demolish 17 of the 34 tower blocks and renovate the other 17. 24 of the estate's 27 maisonette blocks were earmarked for demolition. But a change of plan resulted in 32 of the estate's 34 tower blocks being demolished by the end of 2003, and there are now just two multi-storey blocks of flats in the area. All 27 maisonette blocks were demolished. New homes have been constructed on the site of the demolished properties, built for freehold and leasehold occupation.
The 'Centre 8' tower blocks were favourites for demolition when the redevelopment plans were first drawn up, as were nine smaller other blocks - Valiant House, Meteor House, Hermes House, Ensign House, Oakington House, Hercules House, Andover House, Ternhill House and Albert Shaw House. The 17 blocks earmarked for renovation were the 14 Farnborough Road blocks (Hawker House, Hampden House, Auster House, Trident House, Avro House, Comet House, Vulcan House, Pioneer House, Argosy House, Lysander House, Viscount House, Vanguard House, Javelin House and Kestrel House) as well as Concorde Tower, Chivenor House and Topcliffe House.
The first phase of the demolition began in 1995 with the clearance of the Centre 8 blocks. Valiant, Meteor, Hermes and Ensign Houses followed soon after.
By 1999, all 27 maisonette blocks and Albert Shaw House had been cleared, as had eight of the 14 Farnborough Road tower blocks which had been originally earmarked for renovation. The six remaining blocks on Farnborough Road were demolished the following year.
Concorde Tower, the tallest block on the estate, had been originally earmarked for refurbishment but this proved to be a costly business and the block was demolished in 2000 as an economy measure. Also in 2000, Sainsbury's and the new shopping centre opened.
2001 also saw the demolition of the estate's 114 one-bedroom bungalows which were replaced by newly constructed two-bedroom bungalows.,By 2002, only six tower blocks remained on Castle Vale. In 2003, four of these blocks - Oakington, Ternhill, Hercules and Andover Houses - were demolished, leaving just two high-rise blocks standing - these were Topcliffe and Chivenor Houses.
The Housing Action Trust refurbished the two remaining tower blocks and the era of high-rise living in Castle Vale was all but over. They had been earmarked for demolition, however, they had been built on top of schools and demolition of these tower blocks would have meant the demolition of the schools too. When the HAT was created, more than half of the homes of Castle Vale were high-rise flats.
The site of the 14 tower blocks on Farnborough Road has been redeveloped as a mixture of private and rented new housing, some of the roads in this area take their names from the old tower blocks - these include Avro Way, Lysander Boulevard and Trident Boulevard. The site of Concorde Tower was redeveloped as a cul-de-sac called Concorde Drive.
The Centre 8 site was partly developed for housing and a section of the land was converted into Centre Park - which opened in 2003 and was Birmingham's first new public park since the early 1990s.
In place of the badly insulated maisonettes, which were expensive to heat, low-rise flats, houses and bungalows were built for tenants to rent off the HAT.
In October 2003, tenants were balloted on whether administration of the estate should be returned to the City Council or be administered by a housing association. On a 78% turnout, 94% of tenants voted in favour of Castle Vale Community Housing Association.
As of 2006, Castle Vale is a large housing estate of quality private and rented homes in an area with a relatively low crime rate - a contrast to the crime ravaged estate littered with sub-standard housing that it was 15 years ago.
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