Democratic deficit ?

Dr Harold Goodwin has worked with communities on four continents. He says there’s a democratic deficit in Faversham. What do you think?

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23 thoughts on “Democratic deficit ?

  1. The Quay

    Please take a look at a very recent example of Swale council’s idea of democracy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcNk6tG6Jgg&feature=share

    At Standard Quay on Monday, planning officers and councillors announced – with no prior notice – that a public meeting would take place inside the developer’s building, rather than outside, on neutral ground. The puzzled public were then herded inside while a doorman employed by the developer searched their bags for cameras which were apparently banned. Then planning committee chairman Richard Barnicott refused to start the meeting if anyone filmed or recorded the meeting without a ‘permit’ from Swale Borough Council, professional videojournalists accredited by the British Association of Journalists apparently included.
    Is this seedy scenario your idea of open government, accountability, transparency or inclusion? Or does it just make you wonder what on earth these people are so afraid of?
    To help put things in a national context, Government minister Eric Pickles has been advising councils to actively encourage all meetings to be filmed, recorded and live-blogged since 2011. Most local authorities have done so and some even stream meetings on the web. Swale, for reasons known only to itself, has decided to remain in the dark ages by keeping us in the dark. This arrogant and archaic stance may prove ultimately self-defeating, since secrecy inevitably breeds suspicion. If voters don’t feel they can change the way their councillors behave, they might just decide to change their councillors.

    Reply
  2. Brian Caffarey

    It would hardly be surprising if people prefer to be on the ‘outside’ if being on the ‘inside’ – and having to face up to the practical limitations of what can be achieved – simply encourages others to want to ‘name and shame’ them.

    Reply
  3. Nathalie Banaigs

    Well Brian, I can’t speak for everyone, but as far as I am concerned, on two occasions I have offered to run a local project in the town to collect residents’ views to help shape the visions they have of the town, what they like, what they don’t like, what they want and don’t want etc… – using photography, a very democratic and simple way to engaging with people. The first time my offer was rejected by the Town Council because it would be too expensive (I quoted £300). I am still waiting to hear about the second offer.
    Now, we have another initiative by local residents (this very website we are writing on) set up by people who are concerned enough about Faversham to actively take part in making sure that the Neighbourhood Plan is being worked on as it should (engaging with local people), and this is not welcomed either.
    So I feel the problem is rather the opposite of what you are suggesting: quite a few people are more than willing to take part in the process but they are not welcomed to do so.

    Reply
    1. Brian Caffarey

      I don’t know anything about the projects you’ve proposed to the Council, so I’m not able to comment on those.

      On the website, it’s not that the principle of a website is unwelcome but, as I’ve explained in my comments to Hilary, I feel that it purports to be ‘neutral’, seeking the views of those whose voices haven’t been heard, when it’s actually part of a ‘campaign’ by a group of people who share certain views and who want to encourage comments which they can then use in that campaign – although the comments so far seem to come almost exclusively from those whose voices are often heard!

      Reply
      1. Anna Bales Post author

        If I am supposedly part of a campaign to encourage those people who feel disenfranchised and believe that no-one listens to their points of view to speak up and be heard, then I am extremely proud to be part of such a campaign. I’m not quite sure how I am supposed to be neutral concerning something I care about, perhaps Mr. Caffarey could elaborate on this point?

      2. Brian Caffarey

        I think I’ve explained that my reservations are about the way the website is predicated on the assumption that people haven’t been consulted etc, rather than seeking people’s views, neutrally, on what they think abou the Neighbourhood Plan and the future of the Creek.

      3. Standard Quay

        Have you ever looked at all the comments on the Standard Quay blog site? Or looked at all the signatures on the Standard Quay petition? Or read the Standard Quay newsletters? Or asked Mr Fullwood what was discussed on the one occasion when he visited Standard Quay as a working boatyard (you wouldn’t know what was said then because it is not in the Fullwood report), or actually read all of the comments on the feedback forms for the Neighbourhood Plan consultation? (not just added up the ticks which people politely put in the tick boxes for what they often explained was a choice of the least-worst option? Have you actually read the detail in the individually written objections to the planning application for a restaurant at Standard Quay? If you have, do you really think these are all part of some orchestrated campaign by a very small number of people? Or would it be far far more likely to be an outpouring of genuine feeling for a cause very close to many hearts?

      4. Brian Caffarey

        I’ve never doubted that there is a significant number of people who care passionately about these things – who could doubt it when their voices dominate discussion about the Creek in meetings and in the newspapers? I have explained ad nauseam that my reservations relate to the manner in which this website purports to be seeking, in a neutral way, views about the future of the Creek when it seems clear to me from the language used that it’s actually part of a campaign by the same group of people. I fear the forthcoming film will convey the same impression.

      5. Standard Quay

        So is that a no to the questions? Have you actually read and accepted the comments from all these people or just thought “they are all objectors so they must be in the same camp and therefore I won’t bother”?

        The Creek Consortium is a committee as, presumably is the neighbourhood plan steering group (although I am still very unclear as to who appointed the members of that, when and how – perhaps you could tell me?) whereas the people who have commented on this forum, the Standard Quay blogsite, the Creek Trust site and the Quay film site are individuals. Does the Steering Group or the Consortium plan to have a similar kind of discussion platform whenever, finally, the site specific policies are revealed or will there be another set of closed questions and tick box responses?

        While it might be painful in the short term, the long term success of the Neighbourhood plan is surely founded in a thorough and wide consultation process in the relatively early stages with lots of people allowed the chance to express views so we all feel we have shaped the process (even if in the end we land up with a compromise). At the moment, most people I speak to (admittedly they do tend to be people I know and who do tend to care about the Creek and are therefore I suppose biased) seem to think they are being asked to comment on someone else’s ideas not contribute anything of their own – and what they and I do find galling is that these ideas do in the main come from landowners. Where are the community led ideas?

      6. Brian Caffarey

        I have read some of them. I’m not on the Steering Group so there is no need for me to ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ them.

        Let’s see what the Steering Group come up with by way of further consultation and communication. The Plan isn’t drafted yet, so there is nothing to stop people putting forward their ideas. But the Plan has to be financially viable and deliverable.

  4. Brian Caffarey

    Is perhaps part of the explanation that many of those who are interested in the Creek seem to find it more comfortable to be on the outside criticising than risking having to compromise their ‘vision’ by being part of the process?

    Reply
    1. Robert Telford

      No, it isn’t! The whole point of creating this website was to give people who feel disenfranchised a place to debate the issues; an opportunity still not yet given by the NP management.

      However, your assertion is wrong, quite insulting and a dangerous tactic; Many of the people who are asking for better consultation and visibility of what is going on, are the very activists who are doing something, for instance, as members of the Faversham Creek Trust, or had done something in the past, successfully, and seen their work destroyed at the end, by feint praise from their representatives, and their executives, who should have protected them.

      The concern is not what is or is not being proposed because no one knows and continuously telling us that what people suggest is unrealistic points inexorably to a version of Fullwood. If we are stuck with that, then many would rather fight ’em on the beaches, and fill the breach up etc. One hundred of them turned up at SQ on Monday – does that not tell you something!

      Last year my parish Council made the same mistake as you are making; declared that they represented the Silent Majority, silenced debate on the basis that all who spoke up were part of a Pressure Group, and went to a Poll on the issue. They lost on a remarkable 50%+ turnout, Two to One.

      If the NP Team fails to sell it’s proposals at next month’s exhibition, then they will need to quickly reconsider their approach; but bashing people who speak up does nothing to help the process.

      Reply
      1. Brian Caffarey

        I’m not sure, Bob, why you talk about ‘bashing people’ or silencing a debate. I’ve advocated neither of those things. I was simply suggesting that part of the explanation for the alleged ‘democratic deficit’ may be that many of those involved in putting forward their ‘visions’ for the Creek wouldn’t find it comfortable being, say, a Swale Borough councillor and having to apply the Government’s planning regime or being a Town councillor sitting on the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group and having to operate within the framework set by DCLG. What’s wrong or insulting about that? .

      2. Robert Telford

        I think that we have debated the issue of what this site is about and who is behind it and how we do not understand the constraints on the NP team and planners, quite enough. It is very divisive and a sidetrack.

        At the end, the public and it’s agencies, with and through SBC, will end up fighting issues like Standard Quay [and Ordnance Wharf], through the appeal system, providing SBC does not give in at the first hurdle, because the developer set out his challenge at the outset. He said quite clearly that ” he was confident the plans would be accepted on appeal even if they were refused by local councils. …. It would be hard for a planning inspector to ignore the benefits this project would bring to the town.”

        This particular developer appears to have little interest in the NP, unless it is based on his plans. This may not be true for other Creekside landowners, who may have a more cooperative and community focused attitude.
        If, as we are being led to believe, the NP has to meet the same rules, at the Inspection stage, as would be applied to any individual plan at an appeal, then perhaps someone would explain the benefit of the NP, and to whom.

      3. Brian Caffarey

        I’m not an expert on Neighbourhood Plans but, if you read the guidance, you will see that the idea is that the local community will set out what it believes is a suitable mix and quantum for the area in question, also covering issues such as design and public benefit in the form of footpaths, streetscape and moorings. But a Plan has to be financially viable and deliverable – hence the involvement of the planning inspector.

        Without a Plan, planning applications for individual sites will just be determined by what is ‘sustainable’ for that site.

        That’s my understanding anyway.

    2. Anna

      Brain, I think that this comment rather shows that you don’t haven’t lived in Faversham long enough to know much about what actually passes for democracy. I really do wish that you would engage in genuine dialogue with the people you are so ready to critiscise. I believe you would discover that your comments are both wrong, and to be honest, needlessly offensive.. It does seem to me that you are wasting a lot of your energy on rather pointless arguments at a time when the Philistines are trying to turn Standard Quay into a car park.

      Reply
      1. Brian Caffarey

        I don’t think that there is any evidence that Faversham is markedly different from elsewhere in terms of ‘democracy’. The fact that it has a Town Council arguably makes it more democratic than many other towns of its size.

        As I’ve said before, the idea that those who are concerned about the Creek don’t have a voice in Faversham is hardly borne out by a glance at the papers any week or by attending any meeting.

  5. Hilary Whelan

    April 6: on the Faversham.org website, the most recent Neighbourhood Plan steering group minutes are for the meeting on Feb 13. There have been two meetings since then. There is no agenda for the Town Council meeting on April 8 or minutes from the previous meeting. Add to that the fiasco over the minutes of the 2012 AGM of the Faversham Creek Consortium … all of this shows immense disrespect for the people of Faversham and the democratic process. Timely publication of minutes is essential to give people time to consider and respond.

    Reply
  6. Nathalie Banaigs

    I do feel too that a small number of people are making decisions in the town on behalf of the 18,000 residents. There might be something to regret there, even somebody to blame, but at the same time I also observe a lack of involvement from many of the residents themselves, as if they didn’t ‘bother’. That is a great shame. I have already shared my views about the importance of democracy and the civic responsibility we have as a result. It is a right but it is also a duty to say what we want, to get involved, to have a role to play. More people must engage with the process of shaping the town!

    Reply
    1. Robert Telford

      This is the heart of the issue. We are asking for inclusion, involvement, full and open consultation and so on, but it is up to the many, not us the few, to take advantage of the few available opportunities to do that.

      Ironically, whether we like it or not, and we should in principal, the whole basis of the new planning regime, under the localism movement, now the law, is the reinforcement of ground up involvement of people, everyone. It is described in some detail on government websites.

      So we must encourage everyone to join in the debate, especially where it appears that some of the peoples’ representatives that should be encouraging this process, do not appear to understand it themselves, nor the need for credibility through public support for it.

      It may be that it was assumed that the previous consultations with ”Stakeholders’ resulting in the Urban Initiatives Report, and the subsequent Fullwood Report that reinforced the views of the landowners and developers, already covered that part of the consultation process. If so, that assumption was not made clear, and has certainly not been accepted by many people. It deserved a fresh public consultation from the start.

      I think that message has been understood now, with a recent exception, and will be acted upon; the NP schedule has been delayed to include further consultation, and alternative methods of consultation are being arranged.

      However, it is still up to the many to fully exploit these opportunities, and it is imperative that the NP Team proactively assist the many to do that, otherwise there may be a nasty shock at referendum time.

      Lower Halstow recently conducted a village referendum to resolve the dispute about whether the Barge Westmoreland should be allowed into the dock to be restored; a major project like Cambria, and following on from the Edith May, completed there 2 years ago.

      The Parish Council made the decision, without consultation or debate, claiming to represent the silent majority. They were defeated 2 to 1 on a 50% turnout.

      Reply
  7. Anna Bales

    Dr. Goodwin has highlighted one of the most worrisome aspect of Faversham life today. I looked back at the first few sets of minutes of the Faversham Creek Consortium and was struck by the diversity of opinion and people represented. Looking at the minutes today, the numbers have dwindled and all I see is the same few names that keep cropping up on all the various public bodies. It’s all looking rather incestuous and highly unrepresentative but It is too easy to just blame ‘them’, It is us that has allowed this unhealthy situation to develop and it is only us that can change it.

    Reply
  8. Bob Carling

    Interesting point – but I’d like to know more about what Harold Goodwin means. Who are the small minority of people? Some specifics would be useful. I appreciate that this might be difficult to name (and shame?) individuals but I am sure that some good quality investigative-journalism-type specifics could be shared here…

    Reply

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