It’s just after 8pm and we’ve just snuck out of planning committee. The second day of the peer review was long but fruitful as we started to get the right evidence to confirm our initial findings and drill down deeper on some of them. As I said yesterday, I’m learning a lot from the rest of the peer review team. Partly this has to do with focus group facilitation techniques and interview styles. We all broke into laughter when one of the team members was on a telephone interview. He asked ‘If I came down in a spaceship before this change had happened what would I have seen?’ as a probing technique (no pun intended). But actually this was quite useful to get the interviewee to step back a little and give a clear account.
We’ve started to get a really clear view of how external and internal partners view the service and the council as a whole. One leading officer said that the council ‘is the runt of Essex’ (read: we’re not in Essex but the officer has close ties there so presumably this was a slip of the tongue). But despite the underdog characterisation of the council, the planning service is highly regarded by many partners – particularly after some major changes that happened a couple of years ago.
My favourite meeting so far was with the opposition members. One of whom is a dead look alike for Clint Eastwood. Dressed like he just stepped off the set of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, ‘Cllr Eastwood’ was very entertaining to listen to and I thought he raised some very good points later on in planning committee when discussing applications. The committee was a really interesting experience for me. The majority of the public who came couldn’t fit into the council chambers. This is normal for the meetings so the council have made arrangements for them to wait in another room where they could hear the committee. This isn’t ideal. Neither were the visual aids which were projected in a corner far from half the councillors and the public.
On an uplifting note, we had a walk around one of the town centres today. This is an area of considerable deprivation. It was prettier than many of the rural towns where I come from, but there wasn’t much in the way of historical charm or any design to play up the area’s features. The tour was given by a planning policy officer who explained the plans for regeneration which we all agreed were excellent and ambitous. This was impressive and I hope they are able to see these through. Although, there was one minor hang-up: the plans for the main road to a new planned development weren’t sufficient. It wouldn’t be able to handle the traffic and there doesn’t seem to be a proposed response to this.
Tomorrow we’ll draw up a presentation of our findings. There will be good practice to share and some areas for improvement. I’ll share how that presentation goes and any final impressions when I’m sat on the train home.