Earlier today I spoke to Simon Bates about the work of Exeter Community Forum and the recent community meetings
Simon Bates: Here’s one of those questions – you know those things you do on a Saturday when you’re in the pub – what would I do with the £1m that I might win on the Lotto?
Here’s a question that’s allied to that, if you were given £3.7m to spend on improving the the area you live in, what would you spend it on?
That’s what the people in Exeter are being asked. Developers pay a certain amount into the public purse, of course, every time they build a house and a portion of this could be spent on improving communities.
Harriet Bradshaw’s been along to one of a number of community meetings where a team are trying to find out exactly what people want.
Harriet Bradshaw’s package featured vox pops with suggestions including:
– better safety crossing roads;
– something for elderly people;
– help for homeless people;
– build an older people’s home;
– community halls;
– a theatre;
– improve the park & ride; and
– more sports facilities.
The package continued with interviews recorded at the ECF meeting at Beacon Heath:
– Diana Moore of Exeter Community Forum (calling for community organisers and development workers);
– Richard Cummings, Centre Manager of The Beacon(also calling for community workers, with investment into people);
– Mark McCutcheon, local resident (liking the idea of health care provision, whether a full blown GP surgery or maybe frontline health practitioners at the Beacon itself?); and
– Annette, a resident from Pinhoe (passionate about local areas where people can meet, natural focal points like parks and pubs or open spaces).
Harriet concludes: ” As one person mentioned at the meeting in Beacon Heath, £3.7m spread out across Exeter over 10 years may not actually go very far, so the next step is to work out priorities”
Simon Bates: It’s so typical of Harriet Bradshaw, she answers the question and then poses another, I don’t know!
Exeter City Councillor, Paul Bull, Member Champion for Community Engagement. Good morning, Mr Bull.
Paul Bull: Call me Paul. Simon, please
SB: Thank you very much, it makes it a lot easier to be honest. Look, it’s the first time you’ve done something like this, to get ideas about actually how to spend this type of money, and you’re engaging with the public, getting information. What happens to that information?
PB: The information is being collated by some facilitators appointed by the Exeter Community Forum but funded by Exeter City Council and the Exeter Board of Devon County Council. They’re going to come up with a list of priorities, possible ways of coming up with the criteria to decide how to spend that money on the facilities they want and that will come forward to City Council, and we will debate at City Council what that will mean.
SB: Looking ahead, do you think you’ll get 10 ideas and say here’s numbers 1 to 10, what do you reckon, to your colleagues?
PB: Again, I’m not trying to pre-judge this. I’m going in there with an open mind – and I’m very rare as a councillor at these meetings, I actually sit back and listen…I to not talk too much..
SB: (sniggers) You are a rare thing!
PB: It really is a new way of working, this is. It’s come from Exeter City Council Executive – they wanted this to come through a grassroots process, and we’ve started engaging with the grassroots.
The thing about this money is Exeter was one of the first Councils to sign up for the Community Infrastructure Levy [CIL], that’s means we’re also the first one pioneering the way on how to spend this 15% neighbourhood portion. It’s a challenge, and it’s great because we are pioneering.
SB: I can see that, and it’s very exciting too. £3.7m now, and in coming years you are going to raise, I understand, correct me if I’m wrong, round about – well up to – £28m. Would that be true?
PB: That’s what the whole amount of CIL will come to. Each house has a charge on it and that forms the big pot – I can’t remember the figure of the top of my head because the City Council website is down today…
PB: …but the reality is 15% of that money, which we reckon is going to be £3.75m, will be spent in the neighbourhood, in some way or other. Now whether that’s on buildings, whether it’s on parks, or whether it’s on people – as several people commented in Harriet’s package, community development workers getting out there talking to people coming up with some of the things they want.
Helping with the homeless – Exeter City Council are already doing some great things on that. We’re talking about building some old peoples homes at the moment, so there are other things – community halls.
We were at Alphington a couple of weeks ago, and everyone wanted a bigger community hall but that was several different groups. Possibly one community hall might satisfy the needs of 7 or 8 different organisations – because they might all step up one. The one at the bottom of the chain – the tin hut that the Scouts have – might move into one of the other facilities that are already there. By doing just one thing we might be able to address the needs of a whole community, and that’s what we’re out to do – find out what the needs o’sf those communities are.
SB: Who finally decides?
PB: That’s again is to be decided. I think the communities are saying they will come with the priorities which they are deciding in different ways. Great work being done by the people organising this, facilitating this. And this will come in front of Exeter City Council through the Scrutiny Committees, and the Executive and the Full Council, and we will agree to adopt – or change, or modify – their plans that come forward. It’s looking like that will be in May, but we will try and get some principles in place by March. The Council will actually have the final say on the money, but we are really, really coming up with a way of listening to communities.
SB: Well, with the best will in the world, the one thing that strikes me about this is it’s a wonderful initiative, it’s a great idea – are you going to raise expectations too high, do you think? Everybody is gong to expect from you, Paul, ah well that’s fine, I’ll get my Scout hut, I’ll get my village hall, I’ll get my town centre.
PB: I think we’re all being very, very cautious. We know this £3.75m isn’t going to go as far as we hope, awe’re not going to wave a magic wand and make everything better. But, already the Steering Group of Exeter Community Forum have been talking to other agencies to see if we can find ways of match-funding, making this money go further, investing it in a way can actually double or triple the investment. So it’s not going to be just that pot, hopefully in the future but there are other ideas, working alongside this main scheme of the neighbourhood portion of CIL, to see if we can actually double our money. Get more bang for our bucks.
SB: (laughter) OK, Paul thank you very much indeed. Fascinating stuff, we’ll follow that one up.