Introducing Daya Feldwick our New Community Network Co-ordinator
As a long term supporter of Planning Democracy I am proud to join their experienced team and I am extremely excited to be working towards developing the peer support network and contributing to campaigning for change in national policy. I am passionate about local democracy and peoples’ voices being heard and it is my firm belief that local communities must become more organised and more strategic when it comes to how we engage with the unequal planning system. There is far too much time and effort spent working on numerous plans and engaging in endless consultations only for communities to be completely ignored and the developers to get their own way. My experience and knowledge of other communities has led me to the conclusion that the planning system is loaded in the developers’ favour and the current con-insult-ations are not encouraging community engagement; if anything I have seen that the process stresses people out as their contributions are disregarded and sometimes whole communities are left feeling totally disempowered as a result.
My first experience of how this planning system works was when my family and I moved to Midlothian and rented a cottage which was in the middle of a planning dispute. The local residents wanted an old cemetery to be extended but were told that the ground was not stable enough. However, a planning application for 60 houses on the same site was submitted and despite the supposedly valid objections (the ground not being stable apparently!?) it was consequently passed on a repeat application for 56 houses. So I quickly learned that the ground is stable when it suits and when there is money to be made.
Through my various jobs as a Community Education worker I have been involved with a variety of community projects, from youth work to gardening. But my skills in community work have also been used in my involvement in a variety of environmental and social justice issues. No matter what the issue or campaign was about they all had one thing in common – the planning system. I have been involved with many groups and individuals fighting their causes such as the A701 road campaign, Stop Cauldhall Opencast and the latest and still ongoing Save Damhead’s Greenbelt & Save Jim’s Farm. This helped me acquire first-hand knowledge of the planning system and community engagement, especially the struggle and stress involved in responding to consultations and planning applications and also the frustration that arises from all of this effort being wasted.
For the past two years I have been involved in the development of Midlothian’s network of groups and individuals participating in the planning process that started to support each other when responding to the Local Development Plan and SES Plan consultations. In time I began to spend more energy on supporting the Damhead Neighbourhood Action Plan. This I saw as a way for the community not just to be reacting and objecting but trying to constructively engage with the process. But after this process I began to realise that they are still being ignored, despite their efforts to be proactive, collaborative and positive. It seems it is hard for communities to win.
Midlothian has been identified as an advanced area with 15 Neighbourhood Action Plans in various stages of development across its 16 Community Councils. However, these plans are only as good as any resulting action, which is not always forthcoming. At the last months’ workshop ‘Making Planning Work for Communities’ we heard disappointment from the people involved in their Neighbourhood Plans despite all the time, effort, and even the Council support in most cases, only results in a glossy brochure and crushed hopes and dreams. Now it has become clear that this ‘frontloading’ is not working and the system needs to change. At the very least the system needs serious improvement in order to recognise the communities’ aspirations as being equally legitimate as the developers’ and to reconcile both with the variety of national priorities. Planning Democracy is now looking at Midlothian as a case study to explore how this can be achieved so watch this space for some interesting updates.
In the meantime, I will be using my experience to develop and support the nationwide Community Peer Support Network. This will involve contacting people and building a database of volunteers who are willing to share their experiences of planning, so some of you will hear from me very soon. I will also be gathering examples from different community struggles and any experiences that we can learn from in order to help us campaign for a much needed change in national planning policy. In addition to this over the coming months I will be busy developing resources and helping with the online forum. One of the more challenging tasks being undertaken is the recruiting, training and supporting of the Equal Rights of Appeal champions across Scotland to take forward the ERA campaign in their local areas. After reading in the last PD blog about the great work that has already been started by Mike in Aberdeen I’m confident that it will be a great success. I am really looking forward to working with you all and coming together to build the network. Community power!
If you want to contact Daya to become a Planning Democracy Community Champion please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our facebook page and leave a message (planning democracy) or tweet her a message @plandemoc or you can write her a letter c/o Planning Democracy 5/1 Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2HE