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Council's Community Engagement Framework gets an add-on

At the Ordinary Council meeting of Sept 24th staff will be asking Councillors to endorse for public exhibition the draft Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan. Staff, via their report, are advising the community that Community Participation Plans (CPPs) are a new requirement under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) with the purpose to provide a single document that the community can access which explains how they can participate in the planning process. Currently, Council outlines community engagement commitments for the planning process in the Advertising and Notification Code and Community Engagement Framework (CEF) Council adopted the Community Engagement Framework and charter in February 2017 and it has sat on the shelf unused At the time of adopting the framework that was established to provide guidance for best practice in planning, designing and evaluating community engagement activities, while setting out the expectations of both Council and the community its absence from issues such as the Mackay Park project has been more than embarrassingly obvious. So much so that the Community Engagement Framework has become a laughing piece and a thorn in Council's backside as it is continually pointed to for the Council's failure to use the framework that they adopted.

At the time of adopting it Council’s General Manager, Catherine Dale, said Council was "committed to engaging with the community, however it was important to remember that engagement was a two-way street."

“Council works hard at communicating to the community through many different channels but the community also has a role to play,” she said.

“We ask community members to proactively access information, get involved in Council activities, be prepared to listen to new ideas and share their thoughts and feedback with us.

“There are always going to be different viewpoints on the best way to do things, and there will be decisions of Council that not everyone agrees with. They are constant challenges for all decision-makers, but that is democracy at work.” It is considered by many that had the Community Engagement Framework been set in place for the Mackay Park project the community may well have been "included in the journey" instead of being left out with back room, confidential, decisions made by committees signed to secrecy. "Eurobodalla’s Community Strategic Plan identifies the importance of building and maintaining an engaged and connected community that works together to achieve common goals, where thoughts and ideas are valued and community members are empowered with knowledge and have the opportunity to participate." Generate mutual trust and respect, and be accountable: • Treat all engagement activity participants with respect. • Ensure engagement processes are not biased towards any stakeholders. • Explain how the community’s input will be used. • Be able to demonstrate how the community’s input is used. Engage early and provide information that is clear • Engage the community early in a project, wherever practical. • Clearly communicate the goals of the engagement process. • Communicate any limitations of the engagement process to participants from the start; including legislative or policy requirements, conflicting community views, budget constraints and any non-negotiable aspects. • Provide staff and the community with all the information they need to participate meaningfully. Be considerate and provide feedback • Demonstrate that we have considered the community’s input and other relevant information before a project decision is made. • Acknowledge the contributions that participants have made. • Give feedback to participants at key stages in the project and upon completion. • Let participants know how they can seek feedback or ask questions in the future. Value and acknowledge skills and resources • Recognise that community members have knowledge and experience to contribute. • Allocate adequate timeframes and resources to engagement processes. • Coordinate engagement processes to avoid duplication and wasting resources. • Provide training opportunities for staff to develop community engagement skills

Community Participation Plans (CPPs) are a new requirement under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) and Council has tacked their requirements onto the current Community Engagement Framework for want of somewhere to put them saying "The CPP has been prepared by simply merging Councils existing Community Engagement Framework adopted by Council I 2017 and the Advertising and Notification Code. The CPP is therefore consistent with current Council policy and practice." On Tuesday Sept 24th 2019 staff will be asking Council to endorse the draft Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan to be publicly exhibited for 28 days and, following public exhibition, a further report be submitted to Council for consideration of submissions and adoption of the draft Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan. While it doesn't appear that there is anything of concern with the add-on CPP it will be a good opportunity for the councillors to revisit the Community Engagement Framework and ask themselves "why on earth haven't we been using this document we endorsed to work with our community?"

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