Community Consultation

By 27 February, 2006 10

Community Consultation is talked of a lot in the ACT, but never actually seen. How should community consultation work in an ideal situation?

The ACT government have unfortunately realised that if they talk about Community Consultation, 90% of the population will imagine that it is happening. Meanwhile the 10% of people who would like to be consulted have nowhere to express their thoughts.

There have been several examples of this recently. Letters to the Stanhope government about the dragway, drew responses stating that the community was represented in discussions. This turned out to be two community representatives who were barred from speaking to the community. At no time was I able to give them my thoughts, and they were formally banned from releasing information they had to base their recommendations on (noise reports etc.) My second letter to Jon Stanhope asking when I could provide my input drew the somewhat cranky reponse that ‘as I said, you are represented by the community representative.’

This government has had several goes at setting up community representative groups. Briefly, areas had LAPACS (local area planning groups). These were then disbanded for no apparent reason, after people had done a lot of work to set them up. This morning on ABC radio I heard that the government still claims to be liaising with these LAPACS as their major form of community consultation, and that letters are still sent to the (sacked) LAPAC reps. At first this seems like incompetence, but I think something more sinister is at play. The ACT Government have realised they only have to talk about community consultation, but they prefer not to actually do it, and they’ve realised they can get away with not doing any at all.

What would be the best way for the government to consult with the community over planning issues?

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10 Responses to Community Consultation
#1
johnboy6:47 pm, 27 Feb 06

Consultation can be good, in situations where the government hasn’t already made up its mind and actually wants to know what people think.

When the government has already committed to a course of action then consultation for its own sake is just a waste of everyone’s time.

as a veneer of democracy where precious little actually exists it can even be counter-productive in the long run IMHO.

#2
jr10:43 pm, 27 Feb 06

*sigh*

Previously said

#3
GuruJ11:21 pm, 27 Feb 06

seepi is correct that the government has disbanded the LAPACs. As a replacement, ACTPLA has set up community engagement arrangements with ACT Community Councils, advising Councils of development applications that are to be publicly notified. They also offer briefings to community councils on significant development applications when requested.

Since many of the former LAPAC members are also active in the Community Councils, these arrangements are likely to be what was referred to on the radio.

I can’t speak for the political process that drives planning decisions in Canberra. However, I can say that the developers and ACT public servants who present planning information at our Belconnen Community Council forums appear genuinely keen to seek as much useful feedback as possible from the community.

Of course, given the contradictory points of view on most developments, it is almost impossible to get a solution that pleases everyone. However, if you get involved during early planning stages and have constructive suggestions, it is quite possible that the final result will be influenced by your opinions.

Each community council holds monthly meetings, where typically representatives of a proposed development will present information, followed by a Q&A session with those present. If you live in the Belconnen region and are interested in planning issues, I’d strongly encourage you to come along to future meetings — check times and dates at http://belcouncil.org.au.

If you live in another Canberra region, there are Community Councils for you too — check the DHCS Community Engagement Calendar.

Stephen Bounds
Secretary
Belconnen Community Council

#4
Maelinar11:13 am, 28 Feb 06

I fail to see how these community councils can have any say, other than being a minute gnat under a steamroller on the GDE roadworks.

Given that Canberra touts itself as a planned city, that would indicate to me that beauracrats, not residents, have the say as to what goes where.

Similarly, I note that a large area of green (which I presumed to be vegetation) on the Molongolo Valley Extension (MVE) has turned into an intended sports centre and 2003 fire memorial.

Left hand not talking to the right ?

I think not – it’s deception and positioning to keep the community in the dark while doing their own thing anyway.

That’s not such a bad thing however if the city is to be a planned city. Just stop feeding us the bullshit that we have our say in the matter (at what cost exactly?), cause that only offends.

#5
GuruJ11:51 am, 28 Feb 06

To be fair, one of the functions of the ACT Government is to do planning for Canberra. That’s what we elect them to do.

So if the Government’s decided that it wants a certain development to go ahead, it’s highly unlikely that any community organisation can overturn it (… if Save the Ridge can’t do it …)

But Save the Ridge was completely against the proposal. If they had instead argued (as an example) for better bike paths, better sound shielding, landscaped parkland or something else that complemented the proposal, the Government may well have listened.

In many ways it’s similar to how the Federal Parliament works. The Government is hardly going to withdraw legislation just because Bob Brown gets up and says, “I think this is wrong”, but if amendments are proposed which address genuine oversights in the legislation, they will get adopted.

#6
seepi5:39 pm, 28 Feb 06

Well, if the government really are consulting on other issues it seems that the dragway is one of those foregone conclusions and they are not consulting because they have already decided. If so, I wish they would say so, and stop us all going through the heartache of writing letters to newspapers, letterboxing and attending rallies etc. The last process they went throgh where residents didn’t get any notice about it, or any say was the seven storey old folks home in Ainslie, and that was approved in a flash.

They certainly aren’t consulting on the dragway. I went to a community group meeting, where the community reps said they were not allowed to say anything, or take comments. I then wrote to Jon Stanhope and was told to speak to my community reps. At the second meeting a lot of people raised this point, but it was never answered. At this time the community reps had been provided with the govt nose reports, but gagged from talking about them.

The nose reports have now finally been released. Noise in Hackett will be 72 DB. 82 DB is classed as as loud as a bus driving next to pedestrians on the footpath and making conversation impossible as it passes. Something to look forward to in my backyard every second weekend from 10AM to 10PM, and on public holidays. The report doesn’t actually say how loud it will be inside our houses.

#7
seepi5:41 pm, 28 Feb 06

Re the govt still sending letters to the LAPAC leaders – the lady being interviewed on ABC yesterday morning specifically said she had concerns about the govt’s understanding of their own consultation processes, as she still regularly received letters from ACTPLA to LAPAC LEADER inner South, despite the LAPACs being dissolved over a year ago.

#8
bonfire11:36 am, 01 Mar 06

yet another whine from softhead seepi.

the dragway is a dual election promise committment.

the noise you will hear will be minimal, if you hear it at all. a car driving down your road will create more noise to you in your loungeroom.

if you want total silence shift to a fucking island.

you do have community representation its your local assembly member. if they arent doing it for you VOTE THEM OUT.

the community councils are effective mechanisms for dissemminating info and gathering feedback, but they have zero decision making power. they are unelected and filled with alp flunkies.

having said that, when i attend them there is sually fewer than 20 people in the room. so much for the community giving a shit.

nimby issues like str and dragwayaway attract more because there is something to whinge about.

#9
GuruJ4:35 pm, 01 Mar 06

“the community councils are effective mechanisms for dissemminating info and gathering feedback, but they have zero decision making power.”

Correct. Our job is to interface between the government and the community. We aren’t the government, despite the fact that the word “council” sometimes confuses people into thinking we are a branch of local government.

Also, Belconnen Community Council positions (and I assume all other council positions) are elected each year by those who attend the AGM (around October). It’s certainly not intended to be a party-political organisation.

#10
seepi5:53 pm, 01 Mar 06

The expert noise report commissioned by the govt specifically states that in the worst affected suburb I will hear noise at 72 Decibells. IF that is no worse than a car they would have said so.

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