7 Consulting the Community
7.1 Local authorities are required to notify Community Councils and community bodies when a proposal is published and invite representations to be made which will also be published. The draft guidance suggests a timescale of 20 working days from publication of the proposal to receive a representation; then 20 working days for local authorities to respond to such representations (with responses published alongside the original representations).
7.2 The draft guidance also sets out that local authorities should ensure they publish the final decision about the proposal, notifying community bodies and all who made a representation.
7.3 Question 10 asked for views on the timescale of 20 working days in which to make a representation; question 11 about the 20 days in which to respond to a representation and the final question asked whether further consultation should be required if the proposal is amended in any way.
Question 10: What are your views on the timescale of 20 days to make a representation on a proposed change or disposal of a Common Good asset?
7.4 A large majority (34) felt the timescale should be longer with only seven considering it was about right.
7.5 For those that thought it was about right, one respondent suggested a caveat around more complex cases that may need research where a longer timescale may be required.
7.6 For those that felt it should be longer, the two key concerns were to ensure enough time for people to even become aware of a proposal and then allowing sufficient time to consider it and draft a representation.
“Effective community empowerment means giving people time and space to organise, collaborate and participate” (Co-operatives UK)
7.7 It was pointed out by many that 20 working days is too short for the frequency that Community Councils meet and there is a need to take account of common holidays such as school summer and Christmas holiday periods when many community groups may be inactive.
7.8 Suggestions for what the timescale should be ranged from around a month to six months with a period of two to three months most frequently called for. One respondent suggested it should be dependent of the complexity of each case.
Question 11: What are your views on the timescale of 20 days to respond to representations?
7.9 There were mixed views on this. Twenty thought this was about right; 20 thought it should be longer, but only one thought it should be shorter.
7.10 Those that thought it was about right felt the local authority should already have the details to hand to be able to respond relatively quickly and there was a sense that they should not take too long. However, it was widely suggested by this group to include in the guidelines an allowance for extensions as required for more complex cases. It was highlighted that this was to some extent addressed by the wording that an authority should “aim to consider and respond to any representation within 20 working days”, however, the responses here suggest that this perhaps needs to be made clearer.
7.11 Those that considered it should be longer again raised the issue that complex cases may take longer; volume of representations may place high demand on resources and such decisions should not be taken lightly so time is required for due consideration. Timescale suggestions ranged from 28 to 60 days, also with the suggestion these should be advisory or flexible.
7.12 A view was expressed that the same time should be allowed for a response as is given to making a representation, hence, if altered, they should be in line with each other.
Question 12: If the proposals are amended, should the guidance recommend consulting again on the revised proposal?
Please explain your response.
7.13 Eight responded no, but the majority (32) responded yes with only one who thought this would depend on the level of change or amendment.
7.14 For those that thought there should be further consultation on a revised proposal, the reasons given included:
- Because the amendments may lead to a different conclusion from the initial one
- Fear that councils may make only minor changes to controversial proposals to placate critics
- There should be transparency about what the amendments are and ability to comment on whether you agree or not
- It would be in the true spirit of participation and community empowerment
- There is a potential to create loopholes and for Councils to make unsatisfactory amendments that do not address representations with no further ability to comment.
7.15 Numerous respondents in this group did suggest that further consultation should only be if there were major amendments which led to the proposals being materially different. Minor (or non-material) amendments should not need to be further consulted on and could be prejudicial to project planning and obtaining best value from disposing of the asset. It was also suggested that the consultation process should not go on ad infinitum with perhaps a limit of three consultations, the last being a public meeting if there are still controversial issues to address. These follow up consultations could be carried out within a shorter timescale due to the action already in progress related to the proposals.
7.16 Amongst those that felt that there should be no further consultation, the sentiment was that it could delay the process unnecessarily, become onerous and never ending and there should be recognition that issues relating to Common Good property are often contentious and consensus may never be achievable. Also, that given sufficient timescales to ensure proper due process, there should be no need for further consultation.
7.17 There were some in this group who responded no to further consultation but did say there should be in the case of any major amendments.