Good news in the Faversham Times today (14 March): the Neighbourhood Plan steering group has noticed that “a lot of people are saying they aren’t being consulted” – and so the whole process is to be delayed and there will be further consultation.
Bad news: this will consist of an exhibition at which the public will be invited to give feedback on artists’ impressions of plans for various sites.
Why is that bad news?
1. If there are artists’ impressions, then a plan must have already been drawn up –so we are not to be asked what we want, or offered a range of genuine alternatives, we are to be invited to comment on what the landowners and developers want us to have.
2. An exhibition like this will be designed to show development proposals in the rosiest possible light – the sunny summer Sunday vision, not the wet Wednesday in winter. This is not consultation, this is marketing.
“The purpose of undertaking community engagement is to inform the content of the plan. If the outcomes have already been determined, then community engagement is tokenistic (marketing).”
3. We’ll be asked to judge the plan on the basis of what it looks like, not what it does – how much business it will bring to Faversham, how many jobs it will create, what it will contribute to the Creek as a working waterway. That’s the sort of thing people care about.
4. In a discussion of the Neighbourhood Plan by the Faversham Creek Consortium on 15 November 2012, it is noted that “It would be important to remember that the Plan would not specify design so, in that sense, it was irrelevant whether people liked or disliked particular planning applications … the issues would revolve mainly around the use or uses of the site.” If this is the case, then artists’ impressions are equally irrelevant – pretty promises that the Neighbourhood Plan will be unable to keep, so an exhibition on this basis seems pretty pointless.
If the Neighbourhood Plan and referendum are to be delayed, this is an ideal opportunity to go back to basics, listen to the people of Faversham – we’re stakeholders too! – to find out what we really want, and then support us and work with us to find ways to deliver it.