Last week Look! St Albans was invited to join the Council’s ‘CCOS North Stakeholders Redevelopment Advisory Group’ the online meeting took place on Tuesday 15th December. We declined for the reasons set out below.
Please let your local councillors know if you think a ‘Stakeholders Redevelopment Advisory Group’ is the right approach for such an important site in the heart of our city being developed by your council.
Do you think a stakeholder group of unknown members should continue to hold more sway than the rest of us? Are you happy to be ‘consulted’ after others have had their say?
Dear Councillor Donald
Earlier this year we (Officers of Look! St Albans) held two cordial meetings with you attempting to put right misapprehensions you had about what Look! is, what we do and what we don’t do.
• We are not a stakeholder, we are a conduit for genuine community engagement.
• We do not claim to speak on behalf of anyone other than ourselves.
• Any information we receive must be considered as being likely to be in the public domain.
It is a great pity that we were unable to persuade you that communities now expect meaningful engagement (direct democracy) rather than consultation. The community in St Albans who are unaffiliated to groups have a wealth of knowledge and transferable skills that a ‘contact group’ will sadly leave untapped.
It is interesting only last week Tracy Harvey, Head of Planning and Building Control produced a report for the Community, Environment and Sport Scrutiny Committee detailing what Look! St Albans is within Item 9 paragraph 4.5. Including what we have produced and how we do it.
In addition to supporting our joint application for the RTPI Awards Ms Harvey wrote “The CCOS Charrette represented a new approach for an important and complex City centre development site. The site has multiple ownerships and has been the subject of failed planning applications due to the lack of a comprehensive scheme that delivers regeneration objectives in a historic City.
The Charrette offered direct community involvement in site layout and design, but within a practical framework that acknowledges the need for realism in respect of viable development options. Crucially it brought land owners / developers together with interested local organisations and individuals. A constructive dialogue emerged on a controversial and heavily contested set of proposals. The Charrette gave all concerned a much better understanding of the formal Supplementary Planning Guidance for the site, the various constraints and opportunities.
The positive outcomes from the Charrette process include:-
· a wider understanding of the existing Supplementary Planning Guidance for the site
· ‘raising the bar’ for future active community participation before pre-application advice or planning permission is sought from the Local Planning Authority.”
Most prophetic in places. Unfortunately the council has chosen, it appears, to lower ‘the bar’ in direct community participation.
We do not know what format your ‘contact group’ will adopt, as we had to agree to attend before any information is shared. By itself this requirement gives the perception any ‘consultation’ will be top down. Indeed the impression given, could appear to appeal to a very basic instinct to have information others do not have access to. This from our council I feel is misjudged and could be viewed as lacking in transparency. The council will be using taxpayer’s money on this major development and as much non-commercially sensitive information should be placed in the public domain.
Everyone who wants to have a voice within the district should be heard on this very important site within St Albans. Therefore as far as our remit allows us we will continue to campaign that our council adopts a far more inclusive and directly democratic engagement policy.
To emphasise the point in my recent presentation to University of Hertfordshire Master of Science students in their ‘Community Engagement and the Planning Process’ module I quoted this from a strategy document from a Chelmsford City Council “Community engagement activities provide a practical way of advancing democratic renewal, through a process of developing strong, active, and empowered communities.”
Look! St Albans will naturally inform our supporters of this email, the meeting and our response.
Currently Chair of Look! St Albans