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Archive for October 21st, 2011

This is a guest post by ‘EastEnders Scriptwriters couldn’t make it up’

 

How not to do public consultations

You might be forgiven for missing this but Tower Hamlets Council is currently holding a public consultation on its strategy for investment in parks and open spaces within the borough.  The summary document and a link to a survey are here.

The consultation runs until October 28, so there’s not long to get your views in.

The document maps the borough’s parks which are considered as priorities for investment to bring them up to Green Flag standard. The Council has also identified Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Fish Island, Poplar Riverside and Bromley-by-Bow as five locations in which more park space needs to be created.

The four-page document is easy to read through and the survey is straightforward to use. It invites residents to rank by importance a variety of factors that make parks pleasant places.

As always, however (and Tower Hamlets is not alone in this), the real art to consultations is to ensure that you end up with the answers you want – which may not necessarily be the answers people might want to give you.

You would think that given the recent dispute about the use of Trinity Square Gardens for a month of Christmas parties and the Mayor’s brave determination to halt the plans in honour of the war dead the publicity given to the U-turn might have included a mention that the council is currently reviewing its parks policy, and have encouraged residents to have their say.

Or maybe not.

Because calling residents to action would expose the gaping hole in the consultation: that despite the Trinity Gardens saga (and the long-running problems associated with the endless use of Victoria Park for summer festivals) the survey fails to address the policy on the closure of parks for events.

By all means tell the Council that you feel that parks should be tranquil spaces with flowers, secure play areas, space for group sport, or any of the other facilities they are proposing. But do not expect to be asked for your view on striking a balance between your wish to use those facilities and the Council’s needs to maximise the value of its assets.

This works well for the Council….because if nobody complains then there isn’t a problem.

In a similar vein, the refurbishment of Victoria Park appears to have run into problems with the news that the proposed children’s play area appears to come with no fencing (or fencing of inadequate height). Cue anguished cries from parents worried about tots wandering off or dogs being free to wander and leave mess on the playground.

Admittedly, this problem is probably more by accident than design. The proposals for the play area appear to have been included as part of the consultation on the overall plans for Victoria Park in the summer of 2009. I was at that consultation (a series of weekend events with fun activities attended by many local residents) but the details of the layout of the children’s play area were certainly not made clear at the time. And safety fences at a proper height are such a basic feature of children’s play areas that it probably wouldn’t occur to anyone viewing the plans to question whether they would be in place.

A few tweaks might have made the process more effective and had more of a response from the user group. Firstly, consulting specifically on the detailed plans for the playground might have helped. Pointing out the proposals for the fencing and asking whether they met safety concerns would ensure that parents were fully aware and happy (or not) with the plans. And visiting the park during the week to ask the views of the parents and children who were using the existing facilities would have been the belt and braces approach.

It looks as if the Mayor is going to have to improve the council’s engagement with all residents in the borough or risk being forced into further embarrassing (and avoidable) U-turns in the future. In the meantime, do use this publicity to have your say on the council’s parks and open spaces strategy by next Friday.

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