Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Death by Consultation

People tend to view the purpose of parish councils as either one of two things. They're there to deliver important services to the local area to be paid for from the Council Tax, or they are to be the advocate for local residents and should express the parish's wants and needs to borough councils, county councils and beyond. From my experience, Shilton Parish Council does plenty of the latter and a bit of the former (although I sometimes wish it was the other way round).

In an effort to be seen to involve the public in important decision-making, the parish council can be inundated with consultation documents seeking our opinion, on behalf of local residents. This does, of course, mean that you have to have an opinion on things that probably the week before you had no opinion on at all, and preparation for council meetings becomes an exercise in cramming in order to have a vague idea about what it is we're discussing. The upshot is that you soon become a bar room expert on things you never thought you would (although whether my life is enhanced to any degree by a working knowledge of Regional Spatial Strategies is something to consider at another time).

The parish council meeting last week was a good example of this. We were asked to give an opinion on:
  • West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy Phase Three Revisions Options
  • Warwickshire County Council Local Transport Plan 3: Transport Goals and Issues
  • Warwickshire County Council Community Emergency Plans
  • Rugby Borough Council Proposed Submission Core Strategy Development Plan
  • Coventry City Council Core Strategy Development Plan
  • Coventry City Council Rights of Way Improvement Plan
  • two local planning applications

Different opinions are discussed, responses agreed and sent off, and the collective views of the people of Shilton and Barnacle are feed into the strategies and plans that will affect region, county, borough and parish for the next ten years.

Does any of it make any difference? The cynic will say no, but very occasionally a policy gets tweaked, or a plan slightly amended, and just for the briefest of moments it all seems worthwhile.

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