Nik Butler: Consultants gathering as neighbourhood planning proceeds

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A few years ago I was invited to attend a day long discussion regarding rural broadband delivery in West Sussex and how to spend the £6 Million of grant monies available to help deliver rural broadband projects.

I sat and I listened and at the end I highlighted that the problem for these projects revolved around the consistent lack of prices for components to achieve those projects.

These items were tied up in non disclosure agreements and previous ‘arrangements’.

It was explained to me that I was being too simplistic; that I did not understand the issue. I predicted that a vast amount of money, that had been collected by government and councils, would be dropped into the pockets of private consultants. These ‘consultants’ seem to gather like seagulls at the prospect of local administration fiscal waste. My fears were subsequently validated and the concerns over the potential waste of public monies has become a story printed in national media.

So it was with a sense of deja-vu that I sat in on the recent discussion regarding the ‘Horsham Blueprint: A Neighbourhood Forum and Plan for the Town Centre’.

I could sense money and consultancies at work again. A quick search on ‘www.MyCommunityRights.org.uk’ in regards to neighbourhood planning shows that over £1.5 million has been awarded through 268 local groups and I cannot help but wonder how many private consulting firms have gathered to ‘aid’ those groups in building those plans.

Whilst sat in the meeting I asked if there were any previously published plans. Could they not use those to develop their own plan? Apparently there are currently only four published. This is an amazingly small number given the monies already awarded.

How likely is it that when our own neighbour plans are published they will share a similar format and content? Chances seem quite high; as it is a consistent method for consultancies to recycle the format and content of reports by cutting and pasting large sections of text then billing the subsequent publication as if it were an original and diligently assembled product.

As with rural broadband, so with neighbourhood planning, I believe there is a great opportunity for local individuals and groups to gather and create something uniquely useful to their communities.

Though I temper this with knowledge that these projects are usually painted as arcanely complex exercises worthy of only of specialist attention and invoices.