Another One Bites the Dust: Edinburgh’s Old Town Community Council Resign en-Masse

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6201355006_cff1d70248_z_optRecently we heard that the Old Town Community Council (OTCC) have resigned en masse after years of struggling with a planning system that, they concluded, consistently fails to take account of local priorities.

Three former members of the OTCC: Julie Logan (Chair); John Thomson (Secretary) and Simon Byrom told Planning Democracy about their experience of working with the planning system. They expressed frustration, saying working within the local planning system was like “banging your head off a brick wall.” No matter what they did, they had come to feel that the system had little concern for the views expressed by the community, whilst the commercial interests of private developers simply carried too much weight.

Simon Byrom has produced a statement which you can read here. A powerful piece that details the reasons for his resignation.

It is clear that, despite working extremely hard to engage local residents in planning matters that affected their lives, the former community councillors felt that it had become increasingly difficult to break through public apathy, with more and more people taking a “what’s the point?” approach to community involvement when local concerns had apparently been ignored over and over again.

They also talked about the extreme stress levels they had been working under, with the huge workload associated with assessing large planning applications, and representing their communities viewpoints, with no extra resources or assistance. This is a story not unfamiliar to us at Planning Democracy as we often hear this view from community councils and organizations involved in planning.

The collapse of the Old Town Community Council follows a similar mass resignation by Grangemouth Community Councillors – who came to very similar conclusions about the planning system after struggling to cope with a major planning application in their neighbourhood. Walter Inglis spoke at our AGM about his journey towards resignation.

If this is the opinion of individuals who have devoted years of their lives to influencing planning decisions in the interest of community concerns we truly do have reason to be campaigning for change. It is a worrying pattern and one we hope that the Government will address. The Improvement Service have been tasked with “enhancing the role of community councils” This project we understand will include training and development opportunities for community councillors, improved communications through a ‘communities of practice’ website, a number of networking events to help share good practice and a national register of community councils and Councillors.

We feel that there is a greater, more significant job to be done to support and recognise community councillors and the pressures they face. For our local democracy to thrive we need to tackle the underlying issues and promote a culture change that really values participation.

photo credit, some rights reserved: Xevi V/flikr

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Clare Symonds

Clare Symonds is the Chair of Planning Democracy.

3 Responses

  1. Avatar Ann Coleman says:

    What an eloquent description from Symon Byrom of the contradiction between political rhetoric and actual political decision making, it also demonstrates very effectively how the public voice is excluded, particularly in relation to their own environment. Once again the centuries old attitude of land ownership and money undermines our heritage, our principles, our lives, our voice and the legacy that is handed to future generations. The public are the majority stakeholder with local knowledge and an inclusive and sustainable approach to development rather than being driven by profit alone.
    Developers don’t vote politicians into power – we do!! – and it’s time they started representing our interest at least on an equal basis with equal respect and equal influence. The community empowerment bill will be subject to the same outcome as the planning reforms and so many other public interest issues, it will play “lip service” to the public voice while attempting to manipulate the outcome to secure the power of the few over the many.

  2. Avatar iainpd says:

    Thanks Ann, powerful statement!

    Alison Johnstone has lodged a motion on this:

    Motion S4M-08605: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 13/12/2013. Support Community Councils: That the Parliament notes with sadness and regret the mass resignations from, and subsequent collapse of, the Old Town Community Council in Edinburgh; commends the former community councillors’ efforts to create a community in which people and families can enjoy living, playing and working affordably and their desire to see the Caltongate brownfield site deliver development in line with the community vision; understands that, despite years of hard work, stress and dedication, the community councillors felt ignored and excluded from the decisions that mattered to them and their fellow residents; believes that all who try to participate in good faith in the decisions that affect them should be heard and valued; understands that responding to planning applications is a time-consuming, complex and often stressful task that requires greater support than is currently available to community councils, and hopes that the proposed community empowerment legislation will lead a culture change in valuing and supporting people and their participation in decision-making.

    Aslo on the Paliament’s website here.

  3. Avatar anne wimberley says:

    I would like an email address for Simon Byrom please, if he is willing to share this information.
    I hope to persuade my CLP to take up the issue of planning and green belt protection as a campaign, and if they agree, I would also like to propose that we invite Simon to speak to us.
    I am also involved with Juniper Green CC, and have done work on Green belt issues before, but feel the whole topic has now become not only more urgent, but something we need to address at Scottish Government level.
    Anne Wimberley Edinburgh Pentlands CLP

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