Thursday, 20 June 2013

Are 'consultations' what the term promises?

Following the local news, it seems Winchester City Council and Winchester residents are quite disconnected; here are just a few example articles from Hampshire Chronicle from the last months (for more see the Media tab):

14/06/13: Fears for children's safety surround new housing plans for Weeke

05/06/13: Hundreds protest against plans to build homes on Winchester parkland

12/04/13: Outgoing campaign leader attacks Winchester City Council for 'capitulation' over Barton Farm

11/04/13: Stanmore residents anger over housing plans

There are also other developments that cause disagreements:

13/05/13: Opposition building to River Cottage Winchester restaurant

10/06/13: Silver Hill plans could hit fresh snag

One of the connecting themes seems to be that residents don't feel like they have been consulted properly and the Council is just 'steam rolling' over them. We understand there is a formal process for the Council to go through - but maybe this process needs changing.

Presenting us with an article in Hampshire Chronicle that informed us that Councillor Tait intended to build 60 new houses on the parkland in Abbotts Barton wasn't a good start as it implied that there was no choice for residents and it set the tone in the following discussion with the council in a rather unpleasant way.

The Council held two consultations events - but despite many, many comments for changes and improvements (also for items that were not related to new houses, see a summary of the findings from the first consultation event that WCC ran in the marquee last October), from one event to the next one the plans stayed more or less unchanged or only changed in ways that were insignificant for what the residents of Abbotts Barton want (we have over 500 signatures requesting no houses in certain areas). Houses are still planned for all of the areas earmarked by the Council, none of them has been ruled out at all - the Council even wants to build first on the empty areas instead of starting where it wouldn't affect most of the community so much. Steps are being taken to start the appropriation process for these areas.

The general feeling is that this was more a 'presentation' rather than a 'consultation'.

Yes, agreed, it is very hard to get a big number of people to these consultation events, in some cases even to make people take notice at all, but to present a map at the consultation event and to say "stick red dots where you don't want any houses, yellow dots where you wouldn't mind so much" and then to present this as a community vote is really not fair, especially as the yellow dots all of a sudden seemed to become votes for "yes, please build here". Nobody stopped people who plastered whole parts of the map with dots, instead of only putting one of each as requested verbally (was there a sign saying so?) by one of the consultation helpers - how is that representative? On the map there were also areas included that later turned out to be unsuitable for new houses for different reasons, the "Cadet site" in particular was favoured by a lot or residents. It seemed like we were given a choice but after the second event it felt more like it was a smoke screen that became thin air very quickly so that Council could build on its favourite areas as picked from the start.

If the Council would take the label 'consultation' seriously, it would be more careful in finding out whether what they want to implement is supported by a majority of residents.