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the action or process of formally consulting or discussing

Or box ticking?

doing something just because there is a rule that says that you must do it 

An East Lothian News article from late 2014 popped up in a memory this week.  The headline was ‘Cockenzie’s future – Your say’.  The article content was based on Richard Demarco’s call for the old station site to form the basis of a ‘Tate of the North’ art gallery and more, believing it would attract millions of visitors annually to our County and coastline.  Creating jobs, jobs and more jobs while generating £s, £s and more £s for communities and county.  The article also highlighted the need for our Council to have a meaningful consultation with the local communities.

The EL News were running a ‘Power to the People’ campaign and inviting suggestions on what folks might like to see at Cockenzie.  Suggestions included a museum to the Battle of Prestonpans which could also become home to the Prestonpans Tapestry;  a marina;  shops;  restaurants;  the Tate of the North of course and a poignant suggestion that the communities bordering the site are lovely places to live, full of history and marine life and that the next generation should have the opportunity to inherit that beauty.

Tate of the North never did happen, but what did happen – eventually – was the suggested ‘Consultation’.   The consultation happened for a variety of reasons – whether or not it was ‘meaningful’ could be argued.  This triggered thoughts about ‘Consultation’ – how meaningful were they actually?;  what are the aims and objectives of carrying out a consultation?;  how many were needed on the same topic?;  were they no more than a box ticking exercise . . . that communities had been asked and whether or not their suggestions had been taken on board were irrelevant – they had been asked, the box has been ticked and move on.

From memory, the earliest formal ‘Consultation’ that included the Cockenzie site was through the Coastal Regeneration Forum with the aim of bringing people together to create a new vision for the regeneration of the coastal strip from Morrison’s Haven down to Longniddry.  Buzz words were community action, wellbeing, social, recreational, environmental, civic pride, local ownership, action plan – amongst many others.  Community and elected officials came together, consulted widely with many varied groups, businesses and individuals and compiled a comprehensive Consultation Report.  This valuable insight to community and wider aspiration and vision has been no-where to be seen since the project ended.

It’s likely that there should have been a formal consultation on the closure of the Pond Hall, but it appears not to have been the case.  A community led consultation carried out in support of the 1995 Prospectus to preserve and enhance the Pond Hall resulted in 1580 households being surveyed;  1274 households were in support of the community bid, 255 households did not respond, 16 households were in favour of the Pond being demolished.   The outcome of the community bid for the Pond Hall is there for all to see – the Pond is gone and housing stands in its place.

The most recent formal ‘Consultation’ is the 2017 Cockenzie Masterplan.  Commissioned by ELC at great expense to the public purse, with an outcome arrived at after workshops with stakeholders, community led events and several months of consultation.  The Masterplan has never been formally adopted by ELC – a point questioned by the Reporter in the government calling in of the Inch Cape planning application on the station site – although the document is referred to several times in support of the application for the Levelling Up Bid.  Cherry picking comes to mind.

So, it’s little surprise that the announcement earlier this year that a further ‘consultation’ on the Cockenzie site – at a suggested cost of around £100,000 – was greeted by many a raised eye brow, eyes cast to the Heavens and calls of ‘not again!’.

Consultation after consultation, after consultation = disengagement from those that should be a No. 1 engagement priority.

Almost 30 years on from the Pond Hall demolition, almost 15 years on from the excellent work of the Coastal Regeneration Forum, and almost 10 years on from the Cockenzie Masterplan a comment made in a 1995 community newsletter resonates ‘We want to negotiate with the Council.  So far they have listened with Deaf Ears and Closed Minds.  We must keep trying’.  That remains to be the case with our vision for The 360 National Climate Change Centre at Cockenzie.  We need our elected officials to open ears and minds and to listen to the folks they are elected to represent.  Even 30 years on, it’s never too late.