109 – How can you influence a council decision? Some tips.

Posted by Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                  670 words

sprinfield monorail

Hear the song.

 A friend recently asked me for advice on influencing a council decision regarding a park near his home. His council had plans to demolish an old community building in a park and allow a nearby disused tennis facility to be converted into bowling greens by the club based at the park. He disagreed with the plan and wanted to see the building retained and the old tennis courts turned into open parkland.

After thinking about it overnight I proposed the following ten actions (in no particular order) to influence the decision:

  1. Understand what is proposed really well. Look at all supporting evidence and any policy or strategy supporting it. Make sure you know the detail of what is planned and why it has been proposed.
  2. Split the focus. Try to save the building. Ask whether its removal is part of any council plan or strategy. Find local people who have had pleasant experiences or important life events there. Get them to publicly reminisce about the important role it has played in their lives and the lives of other people in the community. Try to find someone who has media appeal. Talk to the local resident’s association about the loss of the facility. Are there plans to replace it? What do they think? Try to create a groundswell.
  3. Undermine the proposal. Examine the bowling club expansion plan and focus on its weaknesses. Point out that the only beneficiaries of additional bowling greens will be paid up club members. The rest of the community will be kept out of the area by the rink side fencing. Find out what the council strategy is to provide facilities for bowling. Is this expansion part of that strategy? Look for the relationship between the club and the local councilor. Is there a conflict of interest?
  4. Develop an alternative proposal. Get someone to design a general parkland development in the area of the old tennis courts. Include a children’s playground and places for families, young and old. Create a viable and attractive alternative use of benefit to more people in the community.
  5. Look for inconsistencies and find allies. Look around for nearby urban densification. This park is near a railway station and shops. Has there been multi-unit development and will there be more? Has the council used the lack of open space in the area as an argument in opposing development? See if you can get a developer to contribute financially towards converting the old bowling green to create open parkland to replace the tennis courts. Try to get some cash of their on the table.
  6. Get a good leader. Find a sensible, rational and respected local person to front the campaign. They need to be able to calmly and clearly explain what is happening, what is at stake, and why what has been proposed isn’t a good idea when there are other alternatives that haven’t been explored.
  7. Learn from others. Talk to leaders of other groups or campaigns that have been run nearby to prevent loss or alienation of open spaces. Ask whether they have media contacts that will be useful. Is there a reporter or producer who has shown interest in their issue? Try and get some air time on the radio or coverage in the daily media. Put questions that make all councilors take a public position on the issue.
  8. Wedge the councilor. Start developing questions to ask the local councilor. First ask them if they are prepared to ensure that some questions being asked by people in the community will be answered before a decision is made.   Assuming they say ‘yes’ (it would be hard to say no) offer to send them the questions. Make sure the questions commit the councilor to a position that makes their support for the plan more difficult and potentially politically embarrassing. If they have already taken a position, try to think of awkward questions that will weaken their resolve. Have they thought about the repercussions for them if the majority of people don’t agree with the bowling club proposal?
  9. Publicly oppose the proposal. Attend any council meeting when the matter is debated and ask to speak at public question time. A carefully planned question that requires a ‘courageous’ commitment from the local councilor could well see them defer or reject the plan.
  10. Be persistent. It isn’t over until it is over. If the initial decision goes against you, keep looking for ways to delay, frustrate and stop the proposal. Fight it at budget time – try to stop it getting a funding allocation. Look for better uses for any available funding. Object to planning permit applications. Highlight any conflicts with any other decision of the council.

This might seem like a complicated plan. It needs to be.  If a planned decision is to be overturned a worthy alternative and a multi-faceted campaign is required to undermine the proposal .

Take a leaf out of Marge’s book.