20 Sep Forced to re-consult
Plans to build 700 new homes to the north of Scone, were probably always going to be high profile. A significant voluntary consultation was always going to be required, and even if developers expected a weight of views opposing the scheme, they should have looked carefully at the responses to see if the respondents had merit with their comments.
Consultation is always about feedback, debate and discussion, something opposing groups must accept as well as pro development stakeholders.
Things went terribly wrong in Scone, when it is alleged that representatives for the developers used employees to submit over 100 pro development letters and emails to council officers.
Developers defended this action suggesting it was understandable as employees livelihoods depended on the site coming forward as soon as possible.
This pressure did not go down well with local politicians who’ve asked the managing director of the development company, to publicly apologise for the way they had gone about their consultation.
Politicians also suggested that certain specific households were missed out when delivering questionnaires. The response was this was an administration error and was not to do with their proximity to the site or their previously recorded comments.
Looking at wider issues relating to engagement and consultation, whilst it might be tempting for developers to use friends and family to create a surge of positive voices, it rarely influences the officers and politicians.
We were recently working in Chester where a particular coffee chain wishing to expand their site offered discounted coffee in return for a signed feedback form. Planning Officers thought this was most amusing and immediately struck off the feedback.
Opposing groups must be willing to engage and listen to alternative views. The practice of photocopied forms with template objections is equally objectionable, and rarely creates any traction.
It may leverage a local press headline, but it will deliver little in the long run.
We have always preferred the option of workshops and Focus groups to give the disparaging voices a platform whist opening up the issues to wider debate.