Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Are you engaged yet?

Back in 2005 Scottish Government endorsed the National Standards of Community Consultation this, along with new rules in Planning to for pre-application consultation, was intended to ensure fairness in the delivery and planning of services but is it being used?

Last week Edinburgh Council held a Charrette (the new jargon for stakeholder workshop) to engage with community and council about how to improve the Royal Mile.

These issues and many other urgent issues (lack of affordable and family housing, access to public land and parks, absence of community space closed off roads, management of city centre events, enforcement of planning and licencing policies, temporary uses for gapsites and empty property) have all been raised and discussed at previous charrettes and focus groups but to date there has been little real action taken.

Whilst the previous charrette led to a Area Development Framework (ADF) to guide action and development (which includes a proposal to 'develop the Royal Mile Project' as a big project for community engagement and improvements the area)  
This ADF framework is still out to formal consultation until 23rd Jan!

The existing consultation process is not meaningful, democratic or productive so it was no surprise then that a number of residents, SOOT supporters and the local Community Council decided to boycott the event 

Although some who attended claim that the event was a success the outcomes dont appear to be anything very inspired.
The Neighbourhood team will undertake a 'spring clean' to improve the appearance of particular hotspots (an annual event has been happening since they were established) and a new Royal Mile manager will be recruited to manage day to day management (surely the existing City Centre Town Centre Coordinator and Neighbourhood Managers jobs already cover this although clearly not being very effective at implementing improvements)

Although the charette and planning teams state support for the reuse of vacant property and use of rent controls to encourage better mix of shops, the councils own economic development and property teams are continuing to sell off assets for demolition, increase rents to long established local shops and encourage any tenant which will generate higher rents!

It would seem that others in the city are also feel that councils Charrettes and consultation are no more than a tick box exercise to distract from the bigger issues which people DO want an opportunity to comment on (like privatisation of services). Local Blogger Peter Matthews has also decided NOT to engage in the most recent consultation exercise for the Local Plan and development of the Leith Docks.

Maybe its time for communities to take control of the consultation process. Networks of common cause and concern are already gathering to see how Councillors and others can be held to account regarding how the whole city moves forward.

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