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33 Pages
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Chelmsford Borough Council Communication and Consultation Audit 2004 © PPS (Local & Regional) Limited 2004 This document is protected by copyright in the UK and in other countries. No part of this document may be copied or reproduced in any form without the prior consent of PPS (Local & Regional) Limited. PPS (Local & Regional) Limited fully reserves all its legal rights and remedies in respect of any infringement of its copyright. Contents 1. Introduction and Background 1 2. Executive Summary 3 3. Corporate Overview 6 4. Planning Service Overview 18 5. Conclusions and Recommendations 29 1. Introduction and Background As part of the Government's reform of the planning regime, through the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the planning policy preparation process has been significantly amended. Unitary Development Plans, Structure Plans and Local Plans have been replaced by Local Development Frameworks. These frameworks will be made up of a number of Local Development Documents (LDDs). This report concerns the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), which will set the policies that the Council will follow when consulting on the LDDs and Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs), as well as setting out the expectations the Council has for pre-application consultation on major applications. Government’s guidance concerning the preparation of SCIs is contained with Planning Policy Statements and the ...

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Chelmsford Borough Council
Communication and Consultation Audit 2004
 
 
 © PPS (Local & Regional) Limited 2004 This document is protected by copyright in the UK and in other countries. No part of this document may be copied or reproduced in any form without the prior consent of PPS (Local & Regional) Limited. PPS (Local & Regional) Limited fully reserves all its legal rights and remedies in respect of any infringement of its copyright.
Contents
1. Introduction and Background 2. Executive Summary 3. Corporate Overview
4. Planning Service Overview 5. Conclusions and Recommendations
 
   
  
   
  
   
  
1 3 6
18 29
 
1. Introduction and Background
As part of the Government's reform of the planning regime, through the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the planning policy preparation process has been significantly amended.
Unitary Development Plans, Structure Plans and Local Plans have been replaced by Local Development Frameworks. These frameworks will be made up of a number of Local Development Documents (LDDs).
This report concerns the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), which will set the policies that the Council will follow when consulting on the LDDs and Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs), as well as setting out the expectations the Council has for pre-application consultation on major applications.
Government’s guidance concerning the preparation of SCIs is contained with Planning Policy Statements and the associated documents available at www.odpm.gov.uk
One of the key points made is that local authorities should consult with key stakeholders in the preparation of their SCI.
This report has been prepared by PPS, and is an audit of consultation and communications activity undertaken by the Council as a whole, and by the Planning Service in particular. This will be used to inform the preparation of an SCI for Chelmsford Borough and will help to ens ure that it is tailored to local circumstances and the local characteristics that influence the Borough.
The report reviews activity undertaken in the past, what has been successful and what has been less so, and how this is viewed both internally and externally.
The report concludes with a series of recommendations, which will inform the drafting of the SCI.
In writing the report PPS:
·undertook desk and web based research of all relevant Council and Planning Service documents
·undertook two days of interviews with staff in the Planning Service and the wider Council, as well as key partners and stakeholders. Comments from the interviews are included in this report to highlight certain points where there was a consensus of views from interviewees.
·held a focus group and stakeholders’ workshop
In addition, PPS also examined various best practice guides available to central and local government. The two key documents were ‘Code of Practice on Consultation’ (Cabinet Office) and ‘Consulting Local Service Users’ (I&DeA). 1
Consultation has many benefits for local authorities and these include :-·Testing options for service changes ·Targeting services at what people want and need ·Improving the delivery of services ·Improving the take-up of services ·Tracking overall resident and user satisfaction ·on conflicting priorities, key choices and resource decisionsTesting public views ·Supporting bids for resources such as Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) or partnership funding ·Supporting the development and delivery of the Communi ty Strategy and Local Strategic Partnership ·systems of democratic accountability and services such as areaSupporting devolved committees and district offices. ·can also help to improve the democratic image.Consultation ·simply on those who are consulted. BeingGood consultation has a wider impact than perceived as a 'listening Council' can improve overall resident perceptions. The Key Action Points outlined in this report have regard to Best Practice, which will be followed through in the Council’s SCI. It should also be stressed that overall, Chelmsford Borough Council’s work in communication and consultation should be looked on with satisfaction. This report acknowledges that and focuses on the areas in which improvement should and can be made in light of the requirements of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.  
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2. Executive Summary
·Chelmsford Borough Council has adopted a positive stance to consultation and communications and has adopted strategies covering both areas of activity.
·the Audit Commission during the Comprehensive PerformanceThis was recognised by Assessment (CPA) inspection process. The Inspectors’ Report said ‘Consultation with many sectors of the community is strong and ongoing, with evident attention paid to citizens’ views’. 
·This is also confirmed by the identification of the need to engage the local community as one of the core values of the Community Strategy.
·Council and its departments are actively consultingThere is strong evidence to show that the stakeholders and local residents.
·There is however evidence to show there is concern that this work needs to be better co-ordinated across the Council to help overcome consultation fatigue and improve the perception from local people about the way the Council consults.
·methods, the Council has begun to move away from the more basicIn terms of consultation ‘quantitative approach’ through surveys (eg Best Value Performance Indicator Survey) towards a more qualitative approach through forums and focus groups (eg Environmental Services).
·as significant and successful parts of theBorough Life and the Council’s website are viewed Council’s consultation and communications activity.
·of the local community and representatives from keyCouncillors, officers, members stakeholder groups supported this view.
·Despite this members of the local community felt that the Council carried out consultation merely to ‘tick the box’ rather than take real notice of local views.
·There is evidence to show that the Council needs to focus on the way it measures consultation and the way it reports back to consultees the views expressed and the action taken. This is supported both by members of the local community and by Council Officers.
·There are strong examples of good practice within the Council (including, Leisure and Cultural and Parks Services Best Value Review and Housing Strategy) that need to be shared across services.
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·There is a strong acknowledgment that the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement will play a key role in providing a consultation framework and model for the Council and its individual services.
·The Council’s planning department consulted widely on the Revised Chelmsford Borough Local Plan (2001 – 2011) and received over 8,000 representations.
·Although local stakeholders and residents acknowledged Planning Services work on the last Local Plan, many believed the process could have been made more user-friendly and pro -active.
·More recently the planning team has also shown a desire to develop its consultation techniques through the successful West End Master Plan, Village Design Statements and Planning Briefs.
·Consultation on development control matters is viewed by local residents as being informative rather than consultative
·There is an acknowledgement within the Council that present consultation methods only engage the ‘usual suspects’ and that hard to reach groups (Black and Ethnic Minorities, commuters and young people) could be more successfully involved.
·There is little evidence to show the early integration of previous planning consult ation work with that of other services. There is evidence however to suggest this may be changing with Officers acknowledging the importance of cross cutting work.
·The Council does have some weaknesses in its consultation activity. These are: -oThe co-ordination of the Council’s consultation activities needs to be improved. oThe Council needs to establish formal processes for the reporting back of consultation exercises and the influence they have on decision-making. oapproaches to consultation activities tend toThe local community believes that current raise expectations of influence. ·Overall these weaknesses are outweighed by several key strengths: oThe Council has acknowledged the importance of successfully engaging the local community through the approval of key corporate strategies and the identification of this issue as a core value in the Community Strategy. oThe existing methods of communication and consultation are generally appreciated by the community
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o
The Council has established a sound base of quantitative consultation methods and
has begun to expand the types of qualitative work it carries out.
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i
3. Corporate Overview
Strategic Approach Chelmsford Borough Council has actively developed a corporate strategic approach to consultation. This follows from the 2001 Best Value Review of Publicity and Communications in which the Council aimed to achieve, by 2005, the Improvements and Development Agency’s Level 3 for communications. This level focuses upon communications as a strategic issue. As a result Chelmsford Borough Council has produced both a Communications Strategy and a Consultation Strategy, which were approved by the Executive in February 2003. The Consultation Strategy follows the principle outlined in the Communications Strategy 2002 that effective communication is central to the provision of Council services. The Consultation Strategy The Strategy demonstrates the Council’s commitment to consultation and a belief that levels of current consultation are high: “Chelmsford Borough Council has been a leader in consultation and community engagement for many years. The Council has actively consulted the public on all major decisions and initiatives, and seeks dialogue with the public and local organisations to shape its strategy and future policy. The Council wishes to be a listening and learning organisation.” The following areas of the Consultation Strategy are key in outlining the Council’s approach to consultation: Principles · across the CouncilThis section positively outlines the need for consultation to be co -ordinated through the Publicity and Marketing Unit, with particular emphasis upon avoiding ‘consultation overload. ·be strive to be: Inclusive, Impartial, IdentifiableSimilarly, the section outlines that consultation will and Intelligent. These aims for consultation acknowledge the need to deploy extra effort to involve ‘hard to reach’ groups and make the best use of a range of communications media. ·with the principles of market research,However, the principles of consultation are firmly bound up as stated; “All consultation should be viewed as being part of a structured, planned process of market research and communications”
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Therefore consultation is closely linked to the use of quantitative methods and statistical analysis: “All market research will be conducted in accordance with appropriate professional standards and (where relevant) will be subject to rigourous statistical analysis. All quantitative research should be carried out in such a way as to enable realistic confidence ratings to be calculated and applied.” Methodology
·for innovative ways of conducting consultation to move away fromThis section outlines the need the quantitative approach previously adopted by the Council. It identifies the need to make greater use of new technologies in consultation such as the Internet.
·However this objective appears to conflict with available resources at the Council, as the Strategy also states that consultation methods such as MORI polls and postal surveys are: “The only market research channels for which identified central funding and staff resources presently exist.” Measurement 
·The Council aims to measure the success of the strategy through formal opinion research such as MORI polls, which will identify public perceptions of the Council and how it informs people.
·Strategy lacks clarity on whether the measurement of success will be an ongoing process or aThe periodic review. Similarly there is no guidance on how the results from such evaluation will be published or lead to a review of the Strategy. Feedback
·This section, whilst recognising the importance of feedback through a range of means including the Borough Lifecivic newspaper, provides little insight into the objectives of feedback. Strategy The offers no insight into the potential scope of feedback including: the desirable methods for reporting feedback, who feedback should be made available for, or, the role of feedback in influencing and shaping Council services. Key Action Point
·Chelmsford Borough Council’s SCI should inform and fit into the corporate Consultation Strategy whilst providing clear guidance to other Council services on a corporate approach to consultation. This is of particular importance in the areas of oCo-ordinating the Council’s consultation activities oEvaluation and reporting back to the local community, and
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oagreed consultation process and set of principles that canPutting in place an be adopted for all consultation activity The Consultation Strategy as a Corporate Document
From a review of a range of Council documents, it is clear that the Council is actively consulting with the public and the desire to consult is increasing, however, the role of the Consultation Strategy in this process is unclear. More recent key Council documents provide details of the appr oach taken to consultation, however, there is little specific reference to any adherence to the Consultation Strategy.
For example, two members of staff from the Planning Service were unaware of the consultation statement and believed it has no impact upon their work. Another member of staff believed this lack of awareness of key Council documents was hindering consultation: “There should be more top level consultation. If there was a greater internal awareness of overarching policy documents such as the Corporate Strategy and the Community Strategy, in theory, all other Council policies should fall in line.”
Key Council documents, whilst not specifically referring to the Consultation Strategy, refer to a number of the broader principles of the Strategy and often provide a more detailed outline of the approach to consultation than detailed in the Consultation Strategy. For example, the Draft Housing Strategy 2004-2007 sets out the aims of its consultation and the role of feedback: “In order to deliver local services that meet people’s needs within available resources, it is vital to talk to the community about their needs and aspirations for service delivery…The genuine interest in the Strategy has delighted us and the results on the consultation process have influenced the Strategy’s development in the following areas [listed].”
The Draft Housing Strategy 2004-2007 specifically outlines the methodology employed in its consultation and reasons for using these methods, for example:
“ We are aware that low income groups are less likely to have their own Internet access and  we provide information on our services to local libraries, parish Councils and to our Registered Social Landlord partners for their tenants.” The Draft Housing Strategy 2004-2007 also provides a detailed timetable for the future consultation programme, a concept that is not referred to in the Consultation Strategy.
Another indicator of the Council’s strategic corporate approach to consultation can be found in the Community Plan 2003-2008 which lists, as one of is core values, the need to engage the local community stating:
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“At all stages of planning and decision making, engage the community, whether as individuals or groups. Where possible use information and communication technology to increase local involvement. Assess progress to ensure that high standards are maintained and report the results to the wider community in an open way.”
Indeed from a corporate perspective, the Community Plan has greater influence in establishing this strategic approach to consultation as the Plan, and its Core Value to ‘engage the community’, is specifically referred to across other Council documents.
For example the Corporate Plan refers to the Core Values of the Community Plan and states:
“The Council will consult and communicate widely on these priorities, externally using Borough Life and internally through our communications network.”
Similarly, the Older People Strategy and Action Plan states that the Strategy is underpinned by the five important values at the heart of Our Future, the Community Plan.
However, a member of staff did not believe the Community Plan has any significant impact upon the work of his department.
A third indicator of a strategic approach to consultation is found in the Chelms ford Borough Council Constitution Section 8b, which is entitled Protocol on Consultation. However, this section mainly addresses the need for the Council to be open to the public and for specific individual and groups to share their views on decisions made by the Executive and Review Committees. There is little reference to broader consultation on issues such as Council policy and initiatives.
The Best Value Performance Plan 2003/2004 acknowledges the developments the Council has enacted to improve consultation and communication. Following the Best Value Review of Publicity and Communications in 2001/2002, the current Best Value Performance Plan (BVPP) believes progress has been made in the target area of Strategy/Strategic Gap through the development of both the Communications Strategy and Consultation Strategy.
Further work is to be carried out on promoting internal links especially through raising the profile of the Publicity and Marketing Unit. The BVPP states that in the coming year the Council will introduce a formal Internal Communications Strategy.
Chelmsford Borough Council has a positive view in its BVPP of the development of a corporate strategic approach to consultation, and significant work will be implemented to improve internal communication within the Council.
A member of staff believed the presence of a communications and consultation strategy demonstrates that the Council is taking these issues seriously. However this member of staff stated that consultation processes are “amorphous” with “no smart objectives” and fail to address issues and methods of good consultation. The member of staff highlighted the need for a more centrally co-ordinated approach to consultation believing the current process to be “disjointed” and “adhoc”. 9