Christmas approaches and we want to wish everyone the best for the festive period, especially those who are unfortunate enough to be spending their holidays responding to applications and consultations (and we know there are some). Folk are always asking us for positive stories, examples of cases where communities are well satisfied with the process of planning and its outcomes. We haven’t actually got any cheery examples to give for Christmas but our festive message is that we would welcome these so we can highlight some good examples in the New Year.
But for now here is a little piece of Good News from Sue, one of our trustees, who is a community councillor of over 30 years experience.
I’m not really sure what, if anything, I’d hoped might rise from the ashes of the Association of Scottish Community Councils. As a community councillor of many years it did feel like a kind of ‘safe’ place where there was some repository of knowledge and experience of what it means to be a Community Councillor – the occasional highs, the all too frequent lows, and the week by week frustrations in trying to represent one’s community in the face of increasingly distant and bureaucratic local authorities, and what feels like increasingly determined and calculating developers. But the Government saw fit to withdraw funding from the ASCC, and in 2012 the Association was forced to wind up, leaving a gaping hole in the support for community councils.
In 2011 the Scottish Government established a ‘Community Council Short Life Working Group’. There’s no doubt that this was a group of committed individuals who had a series of meetings, and, after a considerable delay, published a report. This report was circulated to Community Council Liaison Officers, who, as is their wont, forwarded it to Community Council Secretaries. There was no invitation to comment on its findings, and indeed no, nothing at all really. Perhaps there was hope that it could be filed away in a dark cupboard to be quietly forgotten – except that a few folk, like me, kept asking ‘what next?’
The next we heard of the Community Council ‘parcel’ was that it appeared to have landed in the remit of the ‘Improvement Service’. Planning Democracy had some communications with the IS, among other things telling them how difficult it was to make contact with community councils, there being no single database or website containing easily accessible contact information.
It seems that someone did get a bit of a grip on the thorny issue of ‘what next for Community Councils?’ ‘What next?’ suddenly appeared in early November – an early Christmas present perhaps? ‘What next?’ was a new web site http://www.communitycouncils.org.uk/community-councils.html.
The launch of this site was a quiet affair, but having discovered its existence we think it should be publicised, particularly as we know that not all community councils have heard about it because they were in the middle of elections for new Community Councils during the launch. The site is functional and informative, and, no doubt will be helpful to folk who come new to the ‘game’. It also contains contact information for community councils.
However, what is still lacking is the wherewithal to find other communities facing similar issues to one’s own. We think it needs some sort of ‘letters page’ where it is safe to express opinions and describe situations. The idea of posting achievements on the new web site, might be useful in the ideal world of a web site and Government proselytising, however more helpful is useful supportive advice from fellow councillors on the frustrations and difficulties facing community councillors who are likely to be tackling complex issues that threaten the amenity and well-being of their community. We need a forum that is a safe place to swap experiences, where people can learn and give friendly advice based on their own real life experiences.
Hang on – doesn’t this sound a lot like the Community Peer network that Planning Democracy is working to establish? More about this next year, but if you are a community councillor and would like to meet others who have experience of the planning system (good or bad!) you might want to put the 25th April, in your diary. This is the date of Planning Democracy’s conference to be held in Glasgow.
Meanwhile we hope that you all have a great festive period and we look forward to meeting up with you in 2015!