Recently 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