Muddying the waters
CONSULTATION: the action or process of formally consulting or discussing.
Public engagement: a term that has recently been used, particularly in the UK, to describe “the involvement of specialists listening to, developing their understanding of, and interacting with non-specialists” (as defined by England’s university funding agency, HEFCE, in 2006).
According to Eden District Council, only one of those definitions applies to the process surrounding the Penrith masterplan — and, even though the document itself refers to “Beacon Villages Consultation Events” , it is not the first one.
Whether the opinion of a barrister that the process is unlawful has persuaded the authority to back away from the use of the word consultation remains to be seen. The waters are further muddied for the public by councillors dealing with three sets of “plans”.
As well as the masterplan, residents are expected to understand the complexities of the emerging Eden local plan, which is also the district council’s responsibility, and the neighbourhood plan, which is being produced by Penrith Town Council.
As certain elements within each set of proposals overlap, it is difficult to grasp which carries the most weight and it is unfortunate that legal timescales mean they are all competing for attention at the same time.
One thing is certain: a key element of the masterplan to potentially allow development on the Beacon has resulted in as much public enragement as it has engagement. Protesters will be taking to the streets of Penrith today to express their concern and vent their anger. The strength of their feeling will have to be taken into account by the council when, and if, any “consultation” is held in the coming months.