Smarter Cambridge Transport

Why Community Involvement is Essential

By the time you read this, the City Deal will have rubber-stamped funding for the set-up of neighbourhood parking schemes in Cambridge and beyond. While this policy was being developed, one such scheme was already going ahead, and its muddled gestation may be a template for how not to do things.

Some residents in the Morley area of Queen Edith’s have been pushing for parking restrictions for 15 years or more. ITV even filmed a recent edition of its ‘Parking Wars’ series there.

A couple of years ago, residents finally got an indication that permission for a neighbourhood parking scheme might be granted. But things have not gone well. After an informal survey of residents by the local county councillor, a public meeting, and then a more official survey from the county council, there seemed to be support for parking restrictions. Council officers then simply devised a scheme, and presented this to residents.

The proposals are now dividing the community in an unpleasant and unnecessary way. Some residents are grateful that something is being done after years of what they see as chaos. But others have taken quite the opposite view. Many don’t think there’ll be enough parking space for residents. Others object to the cost. More people have now objected to the scheme, in writing, than supported the scheme in the original survey.

What can other areas learn from the mistakes here?

Firstly, residents need to be involved at the earliest planning stage. No scheme can please everyone, but some council officers seem determined their own idea is to be the only one which gets considered. Pre-consultation workshops that agree objectives, identify problems and consider options can achieve wonders. A community initiative on the back of workshops organised by the City Deal produced ‘Do Optimum’ proposals for Milton and Histon Roads; these have much broader buy-in than the City Deal’s proposals.

Secondly, the council needs to stop confusing consultations with surveys: counting the responses to a ‘consultation’ is not the same as conducting an opinion poll.

Most important of all, the council needs a transformation in its communication. Officers must learn how to design surveys which are clear and impartial, to get more residents to respond. Community groups can help with this. Plans must be presented in such a way that everyone can understand them. An A0-sized engineering drawing pinned to a wall, or a sheet of paper with a web link written on it, is not the way to explain things.

Your part of the city may soon be in line for a neighbourhood parking scheme. Be vigilant, and insist on every resident having the chance to be involved in its design from the very start, and at every step along the way.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 15 March 2017.

Chris Rand

Chris Rand is a blogger and campaigner from Queen Edith’s ward, with a keen interest in improving the communication between local government and residents. He believes that a key factor in making the City Deal successful will be generating ideas from the people who live in and around the city, and not leaving things to commercial interests, which will inevitably try to hijack this fantastic opportunity.

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