Regular readers will have seen the odd reference to the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill in some Gurn articles in recent times. There are those in Nairn that are hoping that this Bill will do what it says on the tin and that with this direction of travel that could benefit and perhaps reverse some of the Invercentralism of the last 20-30 years?
There has been a period of public consultation on the bill in the latter half of 2014 and then the bill was looked at by the Local Government and Regeneration Committee of the Scottish Parliament. That committee has made some serious recommendations. One of our regular readers has pointed us in the direction of specific parts of that report and in this and future articles our intention is to highlight some of the report in a context which might reflect on some of our local scenarios. You can access the report yourself here. In this article we look at how the Bill may change the way communities are involved in the planning process. Gurnites will need no reminding that planning issues and the way they have been implemented by an Inverness based Highland Council have been to the forefront in recent years and even saw local people taking to the streets to demonstrate.
The report into the bill highlights Community Planning partnerships In Section 2. If you have the time it is worth a read in its entirety. Para 109 explains the current situation.
“109. Part 2 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 places a duty on local authorities to initiate, facilitate and maintain a process called community planning by which public services are provided, after consultation with such community bodies and other bodies or persons as is appropriate. This is undertaken by Community Planning Partnership’s (CPPs) of which there are currently 32 in Scotland, one for each local authority area.”
We have been consulted in Nairn over the years but there is a perception that we get consulted and then you get what the authorities in Inverness wish – this would be borne out in recent years by the the many planning stushies such as South Nairn. The community’s relationship with the Highland Planners perhaps found its nadir in the demonstration when Highland Councillors came to Nairn to see the South Nairn site for themselves. The report goes on to detail some of analysis of problems, here’s another extract:
“112. A range of reports have criticised the development of community planning since its introduction, including the Christie Commission in 2011. In March 2013, Audit Scotland published a report on Improving Community Planning in Scotland (Audit Scotland 2013), which concluded that—
“Partnership working is now generally well established and many examples of joint working are making a difference for specific communities and groups across Scotland. But overall, and ten years after community planning was given a statutory basis, CPPs are not able to show that they have had a significant impact in delivering improved outcomes across Scotland.
“Our audit work in recent years has found shortcomings in how CPPs have performed. These are widespread and go beyond individual CPPs. Community planning was intended as an effective vehicle for public bodies to work together improve local services and make best use of scarce public money and other resources. Barriers have stood in the way of this happening. All community planning partners needs to work together to overcome the barriers that have stood in the way of this happening. For example, shifting the perception that community planning is a council-driven exercise, and not a core part of the day job for other partners.”
|Nairn's planning future - more conflict or real consultation and compromise?
Again this observer would venture to suggest that it is not an ideal planning world that we live in locally and our local community councils might be inclined to think that there is no partnership with Highland Council and a distinct lack of compromise on planning issues.
There are worries that the Bill doesn’t go far enough:
“130. Overall the most common written comment was to express disquiet as to the extent to which and indeed whether the provisions in this part of the bill empowered communities. There were two main strands of concern covering the role of the community, namely the extent to which consultation with communities was undertaken meaningfully as well as the timing of their involvement.”
There is also a remarkable quote that we extract from the report “doing things to people as opposed to with people”. Sadly many people in Nairn will feel that that is the story of the recent past. Are we on the cusp of a different more Nairn friendly future when it comes to planning? Back to the report and some suggestions from the parliamentary committee for the Bill:
172. There is a considerable difference between engagement and empowerment. We would like to see some of the various engagement requirements under this Part translated into empowerment. It is important that powers are exercised at the lowest possible level. We look forward to seeing the promised amendments from the Government at stage 2.
173. We remain concerned local communities are not sufficiently and directly involved with CPPs. The Bill should require CPPs to seek involvement and input from a level below that of community representatives. It is for the Scottish Government to suggest how this be done, and as importantly, how it will be assessed.
174. There should be an explicit requirement on all CPPs to include community capacity building in local plans and to report on progress along with setting out future plans in every annual report.
175. As a minimum we would expect the Bill to require annual reports from CPPs to comment on community involvement across the area, including setting out the steps taken to consult with and involve individual communities, and to report on successes in this area. CPPs should also be required to report on how they have developed contacts with local communities over the previous year and the steps they are planning to take to extend and increase involvement of local communities in the coming period.
176. Overall we are not convinced this Bill goes far enough to move CPPs from their current top-down approach and recommend further statutory provision is made to ensure this is both clearer and measurable.”
If you are still reading this then well done. We could be accused of indulging in the jargon filled esoteric world of government but if Nairn is to be able to define its own future in any way then there will have to be real community input and into the planning process and eventually a measure of community control. The language of government at any level can be daunting and interestingly the Committee convener, Kevin Stewart MSP, told Holyrood magazine:
“During our consideration of the Bill we heard expressions used like ‘third sector interface’ and ‘partnership-framework’ when taking about community involvement.
“Language like this can act as a barrier for people getting involved. For the Bill to truly empower, public authorities must avoid ‘gobbledygook’ phrases which cannot be easily understood.” Well said that MSP!
Citizens locally have involved themselves in agitating for a better deal and hopefully will continue to do so. We all have a right to have a contribution into how our built-up environment is shaped – who should have more say in that exercise, citizens or Inverness based planners? Sadly it has looked like one way traffic up to now – as we ask earlier in this article, could we see change soon?
The Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill may soon offer a measure of hope for communities like Nairn in the future when it comes to planning issues and it will be worth observing to what amendments are proposed to strengthening the Bill as it proceeds to the next stage. More of a look at the CEB and how it might have an impact on Nairn issues soon.