Last week at the regular weekly meeting of the River Community Council Simon Noble outlined his feelings about the recent town centre action plan charrette. On hand to reply were local Highland Councillors Liz and Colin.
Simon said: “One of the things I remember reading in the Nairnshire which echoed what I had felt at the time was that the charrette was not a good means of consulting with the wider community because, for instance, just me for example, I was unable to attend because of working commitments. So I wasn’t able to put my two pennyworth into the consultation. And I know of a number of other people typically much younger than me. There were lots of middle-aged, grey haired, bearded blokes turning up to the charrette but I am aware of quite a lot of people in their thirties and forties who have got an interest in it and also local business people who can’t afford the time or were not able to allocate time to come along to a charrette. So what is worrying is that the charrette is seen as the consultation but it hasn’t reach large sections of the community. And what is worrying though is that the messages from the charrette are seen as the consultation, the authority if you like to take forward plans."
Liz then said: “I think one of the things we have to do with the planning officers is look at the previous development plans and the outcomes of the charrette in how we meet the aspirations of our community and there were other ways that people could get involved through the internet and there was different mediums that people could put in representations. There were forms in public buildings and so on."
Colin then said: “There was a broad section of representation there and we hope these people represent their community’s views, whether that is from Nairn businesses or..., I think it was an opportunity to try and bring some threads together and I think it did that and [...] there was stuff there that wasn’t really invented on the day it was stuff that had been invented on other days in years past kind of thing, being brought to the fore because it is still the prevailing view. I accept loads of criticism in terms that it could have been better but we were faced with an opportunity of applying for money to allow us to consult. It was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Simon later came back into the debate: “Nobody is consultation and community engagement is an easy thing to do and so of course, it is important to run events like the charrette, but it is a mistake to believe that that is sufficient. There is also a natural tendency to rely on the firmest, clearest bits of evidence when building plans and developing one’s thinking. The slightly worrying bit about the charrette is that it was formulated as a consultation process because some money was made available rather than because the Council wanted to develop the best possible way of consulting with the community. The risk is that the charrette has been successful with the group of people that attended it will then be given considerable weight in any developing plans. I think that risks losing the opportunity to engage the wider community because there are other ways of achieving that. I think it is too easy to tick a box to say we’ve done some consultation because we have done a charrette or we’ve done one or two other things. There are other ways of developing community consultation which can involve people, some of whom have got skills in this town that they can offer to facilitate that."
The conversation continued in this vein for a few more minutes.