Croydon’s non-consultation consultations reached a new nadir over the weekend, when a promised drop-in session about the old library building in Ashburton Park was left unstaffed by council officials.
Residents, and some councillors, have long suggested that such “consultation” sessions are nothing more than our highly paid council executives paying lip-service to certain legal requirements that the local authority is supposed to observe, just to tick a few boxes and give the impression that local people’s views are ever considered, before they go ahead and do want they planned to do all along.
The Ashburton Library drop-in session on Saturday – the one day when residents who have to work for a living might have had an opportunity to speak to council officials about the scheme – underlined how little importance is given to residents’ views. No one from the council bothered to turn up in the morning to explain the plans or hear residents’ views.
The council had offered the consultation session with this barely publicised message on its official website: “Before we take the plans to committee, we would like to welcome you to see, hear and comment on our exciting new plans for the redevelopment of the building. These plans have been designed using the feedback received from the local community, helping us to shape the proposals to turn the building into a thriving community hub.
“You can get involved by joining us at an exhibition at Ashburton Library, Friday 2 September 12-5pm & Saturday 3 September 10am-4pm 2016. These are drop-in sessions, where you will be able to see the plans and talk to council officers. There will also be the opportunity to submit any feedback that you may have.”
Or not, if you bothered turning up on Saturday morning.
Those who had taken the trouble to visit the exhibit found a hastily scrawled message pinned to one of the display boards. “Somebody from Croydon Council might be here from 12.00 today to answer questions,” it said.
The plaintive use of the word “might” in that note says much about the state of Croydon Council today.
Anyone on Saturday who tried to telephone the council to ask about its own consultation session will have struggled to get through, since the phone lines are no longer staffed after 4pm on Fridays (and getting through in the hour or so before that might test the patience of a saint, too).
One resident, interested and civic-minded enough to take time out of their own weekend to visit the council’s Ashburton Library exhibition, did tweet an admonishment to the council’s (unstaffed) Twitter account, @YourCroydon. They finally received the courtesy of a response just after 11.30am today, nearly 48 hours later. And long after the consultation sessions were finished.
“Sorry, we had a few staff probs,” Croydon Council’s official Twitter feed broadcast to the world. “If u didnt get a chance 2 give ur view info is on the web til 09/09.”
Croydon Council has cut so many jobs now that it is unable to staff its own planning consultation sessions.
It might have been reasonable to expect at least two, perhaps three, council officers to be present for such a drop-in session. In that way, even in the event of unforeseen circumstances or some staff sickness, there should have been someone staffing the event.
And for what will undoubtedly be presented as a “prestigious” project, some might suggest that the council really ought to have arranged for twice as many consultation sessions – if they really wanted to hear the views of the public.
But that probably was never really the intention. Saturday’s shabby performance demonstrated that.
Croydon Council has instituted a cost-cutting policy of “online only” engagement with the public which avoids council staff actually having to deal directly with residents in phone calls for all but 35 hours each week. If you’re lucky enough to get through on the under-staffed switchboard (sorry, “contact centre”), that is.
Anyone who could not get to the limited opening, unstaffed Ashburton Library exhibition now has to the end of this week to download no less than seven documents from this web page, some produced in very small print, and then get their thoughts and comments off to a council official, who has failed to provide a contact phone number.
For remember, this is an online only consultation, in which anyone without ready access to a computer is excluded.
If you have questions, forget it: according to the council’s own documents, the plans are to go before the council’s planning committee this month, which is when invitations for contractors to tender for the work – which those running the council have already decided upon – will also go out.
Because Croydon Council’s senior execs are going to deliver a community centre in Ashburton Park, whether the community likes it or not.
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