Into the engagement funnel

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North Essex Garden Communities Ltd (NEGC) is ‘engaging’ this autumn.  The public is being managed through a funnelling process which aims to breakdown resistance to the new towns and create compliant local communities who will design West Tey, East Colchester and West of Braintree.  It is only by understanding the techniques being used that we can counter it.

CAUSE has now attended two of the engagement events. We have seen at first-hand how the funneling process is being managed.

Four things to note, but it’s the sequencing we’ll talk about in this blog:

SEQUENCING – breaking down the public stage by stage.  We have already seen how this happens during the making of the local Plan.  The process was broken into bite-sized chunks less likely to enrage the public.  It is known as ‘incremental persuasion’;

CREATING THE ILLUSION OF A DONE DEAL – this is done by repeating messages and by allowing the public to feel that decisions have already been made so there is no point is resisting;

ATTEMPTING TO BUILD TRUST – NEGC Ltd is attempting to position itself as an agent of positive change, somehow separate from the authorities and therefore more trustworthy.  It wants to be your friend and do things differently this time round.  Different messages for different groups*.  NEGC is attempting to build a network of community co-ordinators.  Clever, huh?   Use trusted local people to sell your message for you.

CONCEPTS – We are being presented with concepts, ideals, wish lists and a better way of doing things.  It does not matter that they cannot be paid for or delivered in reality, nor that the concepts on display do not match the evidence base.

Sequencing

We’re in phase one of a three-stage funnelling process.   This is the trust-building phase, where concepts and ideas are floated and our ideas and input are sought.  What might we like in a new town?  What do we like about north Essex?    At this point alarm bells should be ringing.

Let’s give one example.   If you say that what you like about living in north Essex is village life, they will write this down.  Then, in phase two, the ‘concept maps’ in summer 2020, if the Inspector finds the Plan sound, hey presto, you will find that the maps show ten new villages in the area of search for West Tey.  This will count as taking on board the ideas put forward in phase one.   This is why we warn that anything you say will potentially be used to design a new town that you may not want.   (If you want the new towns, you can probably stop reading and go and do something else)

The two events last week which CAUSE attended were an invite-only ‘stakeholder workshop’ and a public event, both at Marks Tey.

The aim of the workshop was for NEGC to collect input for the first phase of the designing of the north Essex new towns.  The intention was to display our ideas and photos at Saturdays’s public event.

But stop…wait…hang on…!   What if you don’t want the new towns?   Aren’t we still waiting for the planning inspector to examine them?  Absolutely right.  These events should not be happening at this stage of the planning process.

Sign a disclaimer… Therefore, many of us who attended the events handed in a signed piece of paper stating that our attendance did not signify acceptance of the proposals.  We also insisted that we were not photographed.    In addition, we refused to provide ideas.   On Saturday the display boards were soon plastered with angry post-its and, thanks to non-compliance at the workshop two days earlier, there were no photos and precious few positive ideas for NEGC to display.

NEGC is holding a series of these events, followed by two at the end of November to sum up the feedback.  They will also be launching some kind of online engagement.   Please remember: JUST SAY NO.  Ask questions and do not give them your ideas – you’ll just see them on a map next summer and the next thing you know, government will be told that local people have had their say so it’s all ok to move forward with the Locally Led New Town Development Corporation.

Stage three of the funneling sequence will involve the final decisions about the layout and delivery of the new towns

Finally, so you know what to expect if you are invited to one, a brief section on the ‘stakeholder workshop’:

Stakeholder workshop

We, the ‘stakeholders’, were heavily outnumbered by paid consultants – that’s tax-payer money being used, and we were told that the engagement process is costing £60,000.

Promises cannot be kept.  References were made to doing things differently and the need for change.     Great in theory but, without going into detail, remember that the council evidence base does not demonstrate how ‘garden city’ promises can be kept.  Most simply, if the projects are not financially viable, the promises certainly cannot be kept.

Not the same.  None of the examples given (Freiburg, Poundbury & Eddington) have anything in common with the north Essex new towns project.   They are all much smaller.    They are all urban extensions, not stand-alone new settlements.  Land ownership is different, German legislation is, in the case of Freiburg, of course, different.   They cannot be used as examples of how East Colchester, West of Braintree or West Tey will succeed.

We were shown some propaganda-style videos but at the end, in a show of hands, only one person said they had found them useful.

You can just say no.  Then we were asked to give our ideas, in groups.  These sessions are designed to make it hard not to participate.   We simply said things like ‘This is premature’, ‘I do not wish to engage’ and ‘I do not believe the garden communities are sound’.

PhotoNEGCPostIt  PhotoVanBanner

 

Letters to the paper after the ‘stakeholder’ workshop

 

HH NG Gazette NEGC engagement

*For example, local building firms have been treated to a presentation telling them how they will be able to build the new towns.   They were not convinced.

Rosie Pearson, 11 November 2019

p.s. My background is in business development, and I have had the dubious pleasure of sitting through many sales training and persuasion courses, which gives me an insight into this process.