CONSULTATION? WHAT CONSULTATION?

 PICARDY PLACE PERPLEXITY

The ‘Battle of Picardy Place’ may have been decisively won by those in favour of a gyratory, but various local stakeholders believed their input would still be valued in fine-tuning aspects of the subsequent design. Months later, some have been left feeling deeply disenchanted. Peter Williamson, Chair of the Picardy Residents Association, gives a personal perspective. 

Following the Council’s Transport Committee on 25 January – when CEC decided to proceed with a gyratory in the middle of Picardy Place – the Convener made commitments regarding future engagement of the community.  

Cllr Lesley Macinnes said in the meeting that ‘the conversation would continue’, and immediately afterwards stated that ‘within the next two weeks’ there would be discussions with all interested parties. This was to be about the details of the design for Picardy Place beyond the general road and public space layout just approved. 

Meetings were held by officials with a number of interested parties approximately four weeks after the Committee meeting. The one I attended (on 21 February) sought my views about some design requirements. My opinions were also sought on whether the works should be done in an intense but short period, or extended over a much longer period with less disruption to Picardy Place and the adjacent area. (In both cases I emphasised that I could not properly and fully represent the views of local residents, and that a wider process of engagement was essential.)

No firm commitments about how the Council would take forward the engagement were made, but it was stressed that getting on with the detailed design was urgent and something would happen in the two weeks following the 21 February meeting. 

Still waiting

Over two months later, all interested parties are waiting to hear what the next steps are. No explanation for the delay on the Council’s own stated timescale has been received, far less has there been notification of what the next stages may be and when they will happen.

This is all too familiar.

My assessment is that the Council is essentially ‘winging’ its planning of Picardy Place. My expectation is that – just as with the previous consultations – it is likely that there is no plan whatsoever about how this stage of engagement is to be conducted. The purpose and format of the engagement will probably never be laid down clearly enough. The different steps to be followed will remain a complete mystery in this seemingly ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ world.

All this puts those outside the Council who wish to be usefully involved at a serious disadvantage. It also gives a recurring message that residents and other interests not involved in the development are very low down in the food chain.

Lack of joined-up thinking

The Council has, however, made it clear, despite representations, that it will not engage with all parties together, but wishes to hold separate meetings.

This – consciously or not – puts those who want to get their views included at a further disadvantage. It offers no opportunity for wider constructive discussions. All are left simply speaking for their own specific concerns, thereby stymying better, joined-up solutions from coming out. 

It also places the Council in the convenient and paternalistic position of having to arbitrate among ‘competing interests’, although what these are and what they add up to will never be explained.

Lack of meaningful engagement

I believe Cllr Macinnes is entirely sincere in her stated intentions to engage communities over Picardy Place and other matters. Similarly, most Council officials are personable and eager to help. However, institutionally, the Council can only be described as lacking the necessary competence and awareness to facilitate proper and meaningful engagement.

While I personally have had valuable assistance from one ward councillor, the lack of interest and involvement from other local elected members is both baffling and frustrating to Picardy residents and businesses. I will be writing to councillors requesting that they address these shortcomings on behalf of the community here. Hopefully, others will do likewise.

Got a view? Tell us at spurtle@hotmail.co.uk and @theSpurtle and Facebook

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Picardy Place
55° 57' 24.9084" N, 3° 11' 12.5232" W