Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Tunbridge Wells Town Plan Advisory Panel (2)

The Local Government Act 2000 placed a responsibility on local authorities to publish community strategies (or community plans).  Guidance indicated that the strategies had to reflect the views of communities and not simply be a regurgitation of existing statutory bodies' policy documents.

In Tunbridge Wells the document published was entitled Tunbridge Wells Borough Community Plan.  Note it was not Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's Community Plan, although the document only received formal status on been approved by the Council.

In 2003 the Council established a steering group to produce the community plan.  Membership of the group was set by the Council.  At its first meeting I was elected chairman.  The task facing us was daunting.  Tunbridge Wells was well behind other local authorities in Kent in commencing the process and we had a very short time-scale.

The group published a draft report and I addressed a meeting of the full council prior to the council agreeing the document be put out to consultation.  We received comments from 50 organisations and over 160 individuals.  Each comment was discussed by the group and this led to many alterations to the draft report.
The amended report was approved by the full council.  Our task completed, we disbanded.

The group, well aware that its membership lacked a degree of legitimacy, insisted that within 12 months the plan be reviewed.

Tunbridge Wells Town Plan Advisory Group's membership was determined by the then Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.  On his loss of his council seat he became chairman of the advisory group. The advisory group has no greater legitimacy that the community plan steering group and its report has not been subjected to public scrutiny and comment .prior to publication.  Nor has the advisory group disbanded.

It is important that the recommendations of the advisory group are not granted an enhanced status, given the background to its formation, its membership and that it is only the opinion of a consensus of a majority of the group.


  1. John, for some reason, you omit any reference to the scathing criticism the BC was given in 2004/5 by the Audit Commission, when it rated TWBC "weak" under the inspection regime at that time. The way the Plan was produced was cited as a classic example of a culture unwilling to engage with real people. The plan production proocess improved immeasurably a bit later, but even so, none of us involved with it at that time were under any illusion this was a plan for and by the Borough COUNCIL first and foremost, whatever the spin and rhetoric.

  2. My recollection is that the Audit Commission's comment as regaled to me by the then Chief Executive of TWBC was: Community Plan good, Council's Corporate Plan crap.

    Indeed, the Councils engagement processes were poor at the time. The Council is on record as stating: We have heard and understood your message that we must go further if we are to achieve successful community and business engagement.

    Also, in this context: You have ensured we have heard unpalatable truths.

  3. I should add that members of the steering group were under no illusion concerning the engagement process. We came to the conclusion that what we were doing was a 'quick and dirty' exercise along with a determination to emphasise the need for improvement.

    I was interviewed at the Town Hall by the Audit Commission and also had a long telephone conversation from home, during which I expressed my concern at the deficiencies in the engagement process in respect of the community plan and generally. Some of my comments are reflected in the AC report to which you refer: almost word for word.