March 23, 2016
Plaudits for Porty
The untidy demise of the national umbrella body for Scotland’s community councils in 2011/12 seems to have had little impact on the ground. Community councils, supported in some parts of the country by local authorities, have just continued to function as before – some very effectively, some not so. Interestingly, there have been few voices, if any, calling for a replacement umbrella body. But without some means to share good practice, it’s hard for community councils to gain perspective on what they do. SCDC’s recent ‘inspection’ of Portobello CC might be a template others could follow.
Portobello Community Council’s community engagement ensures that the local community has an opportunity to have their voice heard in decisions which directly impact on their lives. The Community Council’s engagement activity has been assessed by SCDC as “exemplifying excellent practice” in community engagement.
As part of the Scottish Government’s ‘Strengthening Communities’ initiative, Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) evaluated two of Portobello Community Council’s (PCC) larger community engagement initiatives which were undertaken in 2014-15. The evaluation focused on Towerbank Primary School Catchment and Baileyfield Development & Aldi planning application, and included input from PCC members who provided evidence to support the quality of their engagement activities.
The community engagement which forms the basis of this evaluation is described below and has been assessed using the Scottish Government’s National Standards for Community Engagement. For more information on the National Standards for Community Engagement please go to:www.scdc.org.uk/what/national-standards
Towerbank Primary School Catchment Consultation
PCC undertook a community engagement exercise to capture the views and opinions of residents regarding the catchment criteria for Towerbank Primary school as part of their role to co-ordinate and reflect the range of views of the wider community. Planners identified an issue with the projections produced as part of the annual rising rolls assessment in March 2015. These projections suggested that Towerbank Primary School will experience a spike in its intake for August 2016 with a P1 intake of 114 pupils. In addition, beyond 2016/17, the school roll/catchment projections for Towerbank Primary school indicate that school roll numbers will rise to over 660 by 2019 and increase to 700 by 2026 based on a regular P1 catchment intake exceeding 100 pupils. In addition, the increase in roll would be further exacerbated by the increasing pupil numbers from the new housing development in the Baileyfield.
In response to the increase demands for school places Edinburgh Council initiated an informal community engagement process which was based around a number of public meetings designed to raise awareness of the issues and possible solutions. At these meetings the Council presented the option of reduced catchment area for the school as a solution to deal with the overcrowding issue. However, local people reported to the Community Council that the informal workshops were not as useful for developing options as they would have liked.
In order to develop greater clarity about the issue and to give the community more say over the possible options PCC carried out its own engagement exercise, gatheing the views of 182 residents who were affected by the proposed changes. The methods of engagement included an online survey of residents and paper responses gathered from a stall at local supermarket and via Portobello Library.
A large number of the responses to the online survey indicated the desire for a ‘sibling guarantee’ as demonstrated from the survey comment below:
“Whilst I appreciate that there are issues over the schools capacity I am alarmed by the suddenness of this review. We have a daughter in P2 and a son who would be due to start in 2016/17. Like many people in this situation I feel the council should look for a solution that at the very least guarantees places for siblings.” (Resident)
To support the quality of the engagement, PCC improved the maps supplied by Edinburgh City Council making it easier for residents to assess the proposed changes and produced its own paper which crystalised the options for the wider community. Individual responses were plotted on a map indicating where people were living when they responded. The map showed that those responding were from areas affected by the catchment issue. The survey went out on local Facebook sites, PCC website, local websites, PCC’s mailing list, school circulation lists and paper copies in library. PCC used their contacts and reach into the community and position to support the engagement process. The ‘sibling guarantee’ option came directly from their consultation.
As a result of the survey responses and PCC efforts the ‘sibling guarantee’ was added to Edinburgh City Council’s review of the catchment area. On 22 October 2015 the Council recommended that the ‘sibling guarantee’ option should be taken up,a decision that was helped by a groundswell of community support for the ‘sibling guarantee’ following the survey. The Council also opted to change the catchment areas of Towerbank Primary School and its neighbouring primaries and in certain circumstances, offer places at Towerbank Primary to younger siblings places if these changes would split their family between two schools.
The wider information regarding the community engagement is available on the PCC web site.
Baileyfield Cruden Homes and Aldi Planning Application
Baileyfield development was a major Planning Application for a food store and residential development made up of retirement, mixed use and residential homes. The location is a brown field site with a lot of history in the area. PCC met with the developer to discuss the proposal as part of their application process. As part of their remit to provide information to the wider community they offered to circulate materials relating to the development through their social media channels and list of contacts in Portobello and the surrounding areas. The PCC asked residents and local businesses if they had any questions for the developers, this went on from July to October 2015.
Following the basic pre-application process, carried out by the developer, and in an effort to engage the community in a more in-depth way, PCC instigated their own community engagement process. When the planning application was lodged PCC engaged the local community in discussions about the development using a mixture of online and offline methods to raise awareness of the planning application, including the dissemination of an information leaflet which was delivered to 5,000 addresses and further disseminated through website updates, Facebook discussions & links to survey, Twitter and articles in the local Press. The use of Facebook and the PCC website were key tools in engaging the community with the survey and disseminating results. Posts on the topic generated a great deal of interest, including around 500 comments. Traffic to the survey was fairly steady throughout the consultation, benefitting from a boost provided by the leaflet dissemination on 13 October 2014.
More than 423 responses were received. As the accompanying map shows, the responses represent a good spread of across the length and breadth of the PCC area. The engagement exercise enjoyed a high level of response with 423 individual submissions to the PCC survey. The overall results indicated around 50% support for the proposals, 40% opposition, with 10% neutral. The result reflects more support than opposition to the proposals locally.
Evaluation of both the ‘Towerbank’ and ‘Baileyfield’ engagement using the Scottish Governments National Standards for Community Engagement. The evaluation criteria range from:
1. Excellent…2. Very Good…..3. Good…..4. Satisfactory…..5.Weak….. 6.Unsatisfactory
SCDC scored both pieces of engagement highly, with all but one indicator being rated either 6 (excellent) or 5 (very good). Feedback included that the engagement demonstrated a wide range of involvement by those who’s interests are affected by the proposal, demonstrated by the volume of responses and the quality of the feedback from those in the catchment area. SCDC also commended PCC’s use of social media and an online survey as a cost effective means to connect with the community, backed up with easily-available forms for people without online access or limited ICT skills.
Another positive finding was PCC’s sharing of the results with those that responded to the survey and with Edinburgh City Council who adopted the ‘sibling guarantee’ option based on the feedback from PCC. On this note, one area for improvement was that more could have been done to ensure that the wider community is aware of the changes and not just those who access PCC website or those who responded to the survey. A further suggestion was that PCC should think about using VOiCE (www.voicescotland.com) in the future to plan, monitor and evaluate their engagement activity.
Lessons and Learning
Overall, SCDC found that the community engagement activity of Portobello Community Council is excellent, representing an outstanding standard of performance and exemplifying excellent practice. Analysis of PCC’s community engagement activities showed that they are performing to a standard which is the model of its type. SCDC recommended that this model should be replicated by community councils and other statutory and voluntary sector organisations across Scotland. Through conducting such strong engagement, PCC ensures that the local community has an opportunity to have their voice heard in decisions which directly impact on their lives. The excellent assessment, SCDC concluded, was largely due to the skills, knowledge, energy and enthusiasm of the PCC’s members and their commitment to making local decision making and planning as transparent and accountable as possible for local people.
For more information on Portobello Community Council please go to: http://www.portobellocc.org/.