Deciding what gets built where is often an intensely fraught subject of debate, as Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework consultation showed. Space in Common is a project exploring whether a better quality of debate is possible on this subject in Greater Manchester. To start the discussion off, we brought together a small group with a stake in this issue from a range of different standpoints to talk about their experiences of this topic and to start thinking about what a better conversation might look like. What did we learn?
- It’s currently really hard to understand how decisions get made, and when its most relevant for people to feed into these plans. Including how large-scale spatial plans connect with local plans and individual decisions. This uncertainty adds to people’s fears and breeds suspicion. It makes it more daunting to speak up and much harder to do so amidst other demands on peoples’ time.
- People aren’t always aware of the range of concerns out there. For instance, bringing together a greenbelt campaigner with someone working on inner city issues initially threw up quite a few misassumptions about where the other was coming from. Even through a short discussion people working on different aspects of this topic were able to learn quite a bit more about some of the different concerns at play.
- People with different concerns aren’t getting much chance to talk to each other. People understandably approach debates about this topic with the priority of arguing for their objectives rather than listening to what others are saying. This means there isn’t much chance for people to learn about other takes on the issues.
- Financial pressures are impacting strongly on local authorities’ ability to reach out, and on how charities and other bodies can respond. This includes preventing charities from doing more to engage their constituents in policy debates and from working at a more localised scale.
- Local authorities could do more to talk about the pressures they are trying to balance, and how they are making these decisions. Including how they have to balance the positives of development alongside the downsides.
- More could be done to notify local groups about plans in their area and give them support to respond. This would give them more capacity and help build trust.
This was just the first of four workshops we are running on this theme. In our remaining workshops, as well as learning more about our group’s experiences, we are also going to help our participants get a better understanding of how decisions currently get made, and what has been tried elsewhere to build a better quality of debate. Our next workshop is on Monday 29th October 17.00 – 19.15 in central Manchester. If you are interested in this topic there are still spaces available in our group. You don’t need to be an expert to take part, we want to link up people interested in this topic for a range of reasons.