North East Council deny launching consultation – How can we increase understanding?
Consultation is not always the answer. If we over-use consultation rather than exploring other dialogue methods that might be more appropriate for a scenario, consultees may suffer from consultation fatigue, which in turn is detrimental to the decision-making process. Consultation involves a commitment to ‘conscientiously consider’ what people say. Treat it like a social contract with the community which has legally-enforceable rules, such as the Gunning Principles. Ensuring communities, and in the case of the article below, opposition Councillors, are aware of when you are engaging and when you are consulting with them, is essential to maintaining your credibility and helps to minimise scepticism. This article demonstrates that perhaps more needs to be done to increase the understanding of when consultation is appropriate and when it is not. Could 2020 be the year that more is done to educate around the different dialogue methods?
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A row has erupted as a council denied launching a public consultation exercise over a controversial proposal to build a road through a park to improve access to a planned garden village.
A meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet heard numerous residents believed a public drop-in session at Whessoe Parish Hall on Thursday, from 3 pm to 6.30 pm, was inadequate to enable residents to understand the findings of a study showing how traffic patterns might change if the Springfield Park road to the Skerningham development was removed from the Local Plan.
Skerningham is one of a number of planned sites for housing in the borough and could see up to 1,800 houses built before 2036. There is also an aspiration to build thousands more houses in the area after 2036.
The study concluded while the Springfield Park access to the Skerningham estate was not critical to the development, initial findings showed it would be “very beneficial”, particularly before the new distributor road network is completed around 2030. It found by 2025, without the access road there would be “significant traffic numbers” added onto existing local roads.
The study found Whinbush Way alone would carry an extra 4,094 vehicles a day and Barmpton Lane North an extra 2,976 vehicles per day. Additional traffic on A1150 would make access from side streets more difficult in peak times, leading to significant queuing at Stockton Road and Whinbush Way junctions.
With the access road, the Springfield link road would carry 6,021 vehicles a day, Whinbush Way an extra 1,832 vehicles per day and Barmpton Lane North an extra 1,755 vehicles a day.
Opposition leader Councillor Stephen Harker said consultations needed to enable residents to respond and residents had been asked to state at the drop-in event and in an online survey if they were in favour of the link road and if it should run alongside the edge of the park, minimising its impact on the park.
The Labour councillor said by saying feedback from the event and online questionnaire would be considered when members make the decision the council had created a consultation.
The authority’s economy portfolio holder Councillor Alan Marshall replied: “This is not a consultation process. This is an information-sharing process. All the information they are going to see on Thursday is on the council’s website. There’s a total misunderstanding here. We have said all along we want to be as fair and open with our residents as we can. We didn’t have to do this.”
Cllr Harker then accused the Tory administration of being “disingenuous”. Cllr Marshall replied the council had described the exercise as “an engagement”. He said: “At no time in any of the information that has been sent out to residents, parish councils, members have we ever said ‘consultation’. The consultation on the Local Plan and about Springfield Park was done a long time ago.”
After the meeting, Cllr Harker said: “The obvious question is why for a council that keeps saying it will consult as much as possible, why are they only ‘information sharing’ on this matter? There is little if anything on the council website promoting this event. Why are the Tories being so secretive about the impact of not building the road across Springfield Park?”
Article originally appeared on The Northern Echo
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