Planning for Real was appointed by Swale Borough Council to undertake a Planning for Real® consultation exercise in the communities of Queenborough and Rushenden on the Isle of Sheppey to ensure the local communities had their say in the future regeneration of their area.
The Planning for Real consultation which took place in 2004-5 engaged 30 per cent of local residents and gained the support and full confidence of a complex partnership including councillors, masterplanners, the Regional Development Agency and other organisations.
The purpose of the consultation exercise was to ensure that the communities of Queenborough and Rushenden were given a stake in the future regeneration of the area, from the very start of the process. Specific objectives included providing a better understanding of the existing community situation and helping to identify the issues, wants and needs that might arise as a result of the major developments proposed.
Work started on the consultation exercises in Queenborough and Rushenden in December 2004. The views and priorities identified by the community would inform a master plan for a brown field site, ex-industrial land, which was to be transformed as part of the Thames Gateway project.
A high level of interest was shown in the two day, mid week, training event held in early January when 33 people, mainly local residents turned out. It soon became apparent that people really liked living on the Island and were keen to see improvements made that would benefit local residents, particularly additional employment and services. Many remembered the days when employment on the Island was thriving and few people had to travel off the island to find work.
This initial enthusiasm was also shared by the younger members of the community who eagerly helped to make a large 3D model of Queenborough and Rushenden, and proved that eight year olds could rise to the challenge admirably – models are usually produced with slightly older children.
Consultation with local residents took place during the winter months and despite bad weather conditions (a number of events were held outdoors in the snow) we were, with the help and support of locally trained facilitators, able to consult with a good cross section of the community.
The success of the Planning for Real® approach as a method of consultation and dialogue for this regeneration scheme was demonstrated by the fact that nearly one third of people living in the area came along and gave their views, (5,003 suggestions).
The residents’ enthusiasm was also mirrored by that of service providers and representatives of local agencies when over 60 turned out for the prioritisation and action planning exercise a few weeks later.
Our experience of working on this project was one of real partnership working and we welcomed the opportunity to be in at the beginning of a new development knowing that the findings would inform a masterplanning process, rather than being brought in when the communities most affected by the new development are rejecting the proposals that have been developed.
The commitment of the borough council and the regeneration partnership to community involvement at an early stage in the regeneration process brought benefits by building confidence and credibility to a ‘change’ process that, although essentially long term, would undoubtedly raise concerns and apprehensions in local people.
The consultation process encouraged many people to become more active in the community and it was crucial that opportunities were developed to continue their involvement. The PFR process also provided an opportunity for all concerned to better understand the roles and interrelationships between the local resident and business communities and the local service providers.
The key partners in the regeneration process (SEEDA, Swale Borough Council, Swale Forward and Kent County Council) set up a Community and Skills Group which included local residents and representatives from most of the key players within the area, introduced a community newsletter and established a dedicated website.
Going forward, the role of the community development worker was also important in ensuring momentum created by the PFR consultation process continued and that the action plan was delivered. As the PFR process ended it was important for the master planning process to take over and build on the momentum already created.