This month, Glasgow City Council has put out an invitation in advance of the preparation of its Development Plan. The plan is aimed at setting out strategic land use changes in the city for the next 20 years, but the invitation asks participants to complete a survey on how the Council can engage with citizens and stakeholders during the production of the plan over the next 5 years. At the same time, residents of Yoker, Scotstoun, Jordanhill, Anniesland and Whiteinch have been asked to complete another survey on proposals to improve the liveability of their area, surely also a matter of land use.
Several inter-related issues concern us. Firstly, there is the question of what constitutes meaningful engagement for individual plans put forward by the Council. Secondly, this becomes more complex when there are a range of policies, strategies and plans with implications for a specific theme. Thirdly, and still yet more complex is the total volume of policies, strategies and plans for which the Council provides a consultation opportunity. According to its Consultation Hub, there have been 10 plans and strategies out for consultation which relate to, for example, its Neighbourhood, Regeneration and Sustainability Services, this year alone.
Let’s consider the issue of meaningful engagement briefly. A vast amount of research and experience has come together over many years about the role of the citizen in decision making about the matters that affect our lives. This ranges from non-participation to different levels of citizen power where citizens determine priorities and manage the processes involved. Once we have participated in elections, citizens have little real power in Scotland and we have to rely on our elected representatives to decide on policies and plans which will hopefully benefit us. There is a considerable amount of rhetoric about participation, engagement and consultation but in reality, strategies and plans for change are largely developed without us. When they do come out for consultation, they are often unclear and limited in scope, and their delivery feels tokenistic.
The most recent Council Strategy out for consultation is the draft Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy, a matter which is key to the decarbonisation of heating and crucial for an effective response to the climate crisis. Those with knowledge about what is required have reported that the document is 197 pages long, confusing, misleading, ill-informed and incomplete. In order to respond, there are a set of pre-decided questions with little or no scope for comprehensive analysis and alternative proposals to be offered. Consultation is therefore mere window dressing.
But even if the proposed strategy was well written, clear and likely to be effective, it still sits alongside a multitude of other strategies and plans with implications for the management of the climate crisis. A quick search of the Consultation Hub had identified 14 different proposals over the past few years which all have a bearing on this paramount issue. Working out their relative significance and whether they interrelate effectively is surely beyond the knowledge base and the time available of even expert organisations, let alone individual citizens. For an overarching issue which affects us all other issues and us, as individuals, like the economy, another search of the Consultation Hub reveals that there have been 275 opportunities to comment, a feat which is surely impossible to realise.
In summary, this month’s short blog has tried to show that whilst we are notionally invited to have a say in the way our city is run and developed, in reality the process is tokenistic and meaningless. Not only is the process limited for individual strategies but the volume of policies, strategies and plans for which we would have to have a good working knowledge in order to be an effective judge of their meaning for the city, makes the task unable to be achieved.
Please let us have your thoughts on the value of consultation by Glasgow City Council and other public bodies in the city and on whether there are other ways in which citizens should be involved in deciding the priorities for the city and the means of implementing them.
Active Glasgow City Council Consultations:
Development Plan Consultation
Glasgow Liveable Neighbourhoods Consultation
Glasgow Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy Consultation
To view current and past GCC Consultations:
Glasgow City Council Consultation Hub
For an overview of citizen participation:
Organising Engagement: Ladder of Citizen Participation