The Fermanagh and Omagh Community Plan 2030 is the first to be formally launched. Community Places worked closely with the Council and partners throughout all stages of the process. The Plan launch was hosted by the Fire and Rescue Services and three other statutory partners introduced the Plan. Council members and the Chief Executive all praised the collaboration exhibited by all the partners and the dedication of the council staff involved. Barry Boyle, joint chair of the Community Sector Forum, outlined the extensive engagement process and the role of the Forum (which Community Places helped to establish recently). For more on the launch and a copy of the plan see the council's website.
Two highly significant planning applications have been submitted to Belfast City Council this week. The St Francis Group developers, based in England, are proposing an ambitious development for East Belfast which will extend the city centre via a linking pedestrian and cycle bridge connecting the Sirocco site with the Waterfront complex.
In West Belfast the Ulster Council of the GAA has revised its planning proposal for Casement Park which will be assessed by the Department for Infrastructure in line with Minister Hazzard's announcement in January.
Over the course of the last 18 months Community Places and Rural Community Network have been working on a ‘Re-thinking NIMBYism’ project in three rural areas across the region. Adopting a Public Conversations Project methodology, we explored issues surrounding the siting of renewable energy infrastructure in communities which have benefited from renewable energy and in others where there is considerable objection to such proposals.
Often the views of communities to renewable energy proposals are characterised as a form of “NIMBYism” (not in my back yard). We believe this fails to reflect the very real connections people have with their environment. The research explored a range of attitudes and views to major renewable proposals helping to deepen understanding of community concerns and to inform recommendations to improve community engagement. The project drew on the work of Professor Patrick Devine Wright who has researched the social and psychological aspects of the siting of new energy infrastructure in communities across the UK.
The report of the project makes a series of recommendations relevant to planners, political representatives, the renewable industry and local communities and supports a shift towards a more discursive and participative form of planning practice with the aim of reducing conflict, inequalities of power and to inform practical decision-making.
Minister for Infrastructure, Chris Hazzard, has announced his intention to hold a public inquiry into a proposal for a gold mining plant near Greencastle in Co Tyrone. Pre-application community consultation has been undertaken but no planning application has yet been submitted. Community Places has been providing advice to the Save Our Sperrins group which is opposing the proposed mining development. The group’s grounds for objection include protecting the Sperrins as a community and tourism asset; the proposed use of cyanide during the gold mining process; and the visual and environmental impacts of the proposal.
In acknowledging that the planning application will be complex and controversial, the Minister said: “I will ultimately be the final decision maker, but I would like the benefit of a public inquiry and report which has independently considered the views of stakeholders, including the local community, and has scrutinised the information provided by all interested parties”.
The Scottish National Standards for Community Engagement have been revised to reflect recent changes in policy and legislation relating to community empowerment in Scotland. The revised standards known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ are good practice principles designed to support and inform the process of community engagement and to achieve more influential engagement in public services. The Standards are available at www.voicescotland.org.uk/