Consultants should have been from area

MORE news has emerged about the controversial regeneration plan – the Coastal Zone Strategic Framework and Masterplan.

A Freedom of Information Act request has revealed that North Tyneside Council spent almost £50,000 on consultants to prepare this.

However, it is not how much money was spent, but what poor value this has been as the plan has received criticism.

Perhaps this is because North Tyneside Council went to London instead of seeking local experts with local knowledge and understanding.

What is clear is that there are local people who feel the council has got it wrong.

One of the aspects people seem most unhappy with is consultation.

Although a consultation exercise was conducted, few people were aware of this and it achieved little real engagement – questionnaires were left at the back of libraries, and the questions within them were vague generalities.

This could have been approached in a far better way.

Since the 1980s it has become recognised that consultation with communities is one of the key ingredients in successful regeneration, and this should have been the main focus of the exercise.

Consultation can sometimes be a tricky business, and there are experts in seeking participation, involvement and community satisfaction.

Perhaps this is what the council got wrong – they should have engaged specialists in working with local communities who would have stimulated discussion with alternative proposals and ideas.

This is a shame because several local firms are experts in this field and would have delivered real community engagement and satisfaction.

Consultation really is worth doing and doing well, because local people understand the places where they live better than any outside expert.

Effective consultation can deliver better results, more public satisfaction and lower costs.

Where budgets are limited and choices have to be made, surprisingly enough, the public choose best.

There is also a deeper principle at stake. Democracy means listening to the public and then doing what the public wants.

Unfortunately, the council seems not appear to trust the public to know what is best for themselves, they instead pay for someone else’s opinion and then try to sell this to the public.

This left the council so far out of touch.

The politicians seem to have forgotten that although the public do not get to vote in the planning process, they do get to vote at elections.

There was supposed to be consultation on each of the six local area plans contained within the regeneration plan before any work went ahead.

Unfortunately, the Tynemouth area plan went ahead, and deep controversy has followed.

Fortunately, in Cullercoats, we have a community centre, and a large number of people turned up to our recent meeting about the proposed regeneration plan.

There were many constructive suggestions, and a surprisingly high degree of consensus about the significant issues.

Cullercoats people showed they cared about their community.

We are very grateful to the community centre for all the help it provided.

For setting everything up, and generally making the meeting possible.

Now, we are waiting to hear from the local authority and their response to the public opinion.