Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A tale of two consultations

An interesting contrast in consultation approaches in the last few weeks between Northumbria Police and their proposals for a new Morpeth police station on their existing site and the Primary Care Trust with their superclinic proposal on The Mount site.

The PCT are going for planning permission by March ’10, so they can get construction underway before the money is taken back by Government. So – they wanted to identify and head-off all problems as early as possible. So they put up a single draft proposal and sketch plans, as a basis for discussion. And they had some of the people who’d actually be working there talking over the plans and listening to what people said.

And the proposal itself is probably the best redevelopment of The Mount site, given that it will be redeveloped. The proposal doesn’t sprawl out over the Easter Field, and the building - though probably not very pretty – won’t be highly visible.
Scope for energy efficient buildings, grey water systems – and possible a ground source heat system under the Easter Field. Cleaning up the Easter Field and returfing it – it was left in a mess after construction of Easter Field Court – would be a possible community gain bringing the field back into use for children. Some concerns about bus and pedestrian access, especially the distance from the bus stop to the entrance - though I was told there’d be facilities for cyclists. And a 95-space car park which may be available for park and ride at weekends. There’ll need to be some work to the junction too – I’d like to see (pedestrian-friendly) traffic lights there.

Compare the mess the police made of their consultation: they want to sell off a chunk of land to pay for a new or refurbished police station – which will actually have a very small footprint. However they put forward four options – two of which involved building on Goosehill School – with very vague suggestions as to how the land sold off could be developed, housing, a supermarket or a hotel were all mentioned.
Then they had stiff in-house project managers and planners at their consultation who explained the development options and answered questions but didn’t really talk with people.

Being Morpeth – this approach obviously raised a real storm which focussed on a perceived threat to Goosehill School and inappropriate development on the edge of the town, in the flood plain. So – I don’t think the police got any real feedback on the proposals for the police station – which was what they really wanted.

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