The Western Front
A well meaning district councillor gave me advice last week on making my submission to the Long Term Plan.
He told me to stick to one point and then the councillors might understand me. He probably didn’t realise that he was suggesting that two points rubbed together generating a conclusion might be beyond the intelligence of his companions.
I always listen to advice but, in my case, there was something else wrong with his advice. In all of my submissions to WBOPDC up until now, I have presented information directly from the council’s own publications. In my very first website, I was actually attacked for writing twisted council documents. I was very polite in my reply and didn’t remind them that I didn’t write the twisted council documents.
I must confess that I have been guilty of assuming that the councillors do read and understand all council publications. I discovered that more than 67% of all council meetings are ‘off camera’. We are never allowed to see or hear their bigger picture and they are not allowed to reveal anything. It is a little like the old Babylonian Mysteries. Faced in the submission process with having to argue against this unseen mountain of superior knowledge, what hope can anyone have in 10 minutes of changing any council thinking at all? We do get a few sentences of grouped feedback much later but it doesn’t change the initial feeling of impotence. You can feel quite submissive at these times.
There have been some very memorable moments in the hearings. One morning, a rather stocky woman swept into the chamber, banged her bag onto the desk, sat down and announced that she had something to say and would not be interrupted. She warned the chair that she would take much more than 10 minutes and she would not be leaving until she had finished. You had to admire the entrance. No-one even thought of suggesting that she might be out of order. She had a complaint relating to rates and presented her case rather forcibly, indicating that new rural rating regulations were missing badly on some details. She was magnificent but I don’t recommend that anyone should try and copy her. She knew the submission process didn’t fit and tackled it head on. We may have to do something similar.
A number of people appearing with submissions carrying the same message is a better way to gain the council’s attention. The trouble with that approach is that most groups are happy to follow a banner of complaint but very few are able to present a reasoned argument and offer possible solutions, especially in the small amount of time available. The submission process is inadequate for handling a large number of people submitting as a group. The Mayor states in the plan that he wants to be communicating directly with large groups but he doesn’t seem to understand that our current structure is even more cumbersome with groups and will have to change.
I have been working over the last few weeks with three large groups who are trying to use the submission process this time round. Movements like this from within the community are common around the country. Communities are standing up and having their say. More importantly, encouraged by the Government, they are coming to the table with fresh ideas and are showing a willingness to work with councils. We will soon know if our council is ready to move towards better structures, a better communication model and forget about this archaic submission process. We must do away with having to say thank you for ‘our’ plans that have been designed for us, communicate with councils and develop our plans using more cooperative planning models.