A community building conflict resolution group?

PEDAL’s pur­pose is to sup­port our com­munity to build social, eco­nom­ic and eco­lo­gic­al resi­li­ence. Even if we man­age to estab­lish all the infra­struc­ture needed to ensure our chil­dren are fed and warm when food and fuel prices go through the roof — all the com­munity gar­dens, insu­la­tion and tur­bines in the world aren’t going to be much use if we don’t know how to sort things out and be able to live with each oth­er.

Here are some per­son­al reflec­tions on what we might learn from the com­munity divi­sions gen­er­ated by the pro­pos­al to build a new Portobello High School on the Park.

In 2006 PEDAL made an ini­tial objec­tion to the school being on the park: not because we prefer green space to kids’ edu­ca­tion, but because we didn’t see the need to choose between one and the oth­er. We wanted a new school and wanted the best for our kids, includ­ing being able to con­vert green space to food grow­ing if peak oil makes that neces­sary.

However, we changed our pos­i­tion to one of neut­ral­ity, as we became aware of just how divis­ive and embit­ter­ing the issue was becom­ing for our com­munity, as well as because (giv­en the way the choice was being framed – a new school on the park or no new school at all) many of our mem­bers were strongly for the new school being on the park and oth­ers strongly against. We didn’t want to be part of a pro­cess that was pit­ting one part of the com­munity against anoth­er. We decided that we would not take a pos­i­tion but would make sug­ges­tions to help improve the school.

We were advised that we needed to frame our sug­ges­tions as objec­tions to be taken ser­i­ously. If that was right, then I believe we made the right call since those com­ments were inten­ded to improve the school and ensure such a big new devel­op­ment can help make Portobello less vul­ner­able rather than more vul­ner­able to fast rising fuel prices. If our under­stand­ing of how we should frame our sug­ges­tions was wrong, then that was a ser­i­ous mis­take. I have sub­sequently sought advice from those involved in plan­ning and the answer is not clear. On the one hand all sub­mis­sions – wheth­er framed as sup­port­ive, neut­ral or an objec­tion – should be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion; on the oth­er hand, giv­en the num­ber of com­ments a plan­ning com­mit­tee receives, much great­er con­sid­er­a­tion is (in real­ity, although not in the­ory) giv­en to com­ments framed as objec­tions, since they might lead to per­mis­sion not being gran­ted.

On reflec­tion, the key point for us is less wheth­er we framed our sug­ges­tions in the best pos­sible way, but wheth­er we engaged in the pro­cess con­struct­ively. What has become clear is that Pedal does not need to take a pos­i­tion on divis­ive issues, but needs to engage in com­munity con­sulta­tions in a way that can help build com­munity con­sensus to ensure we get the best for our com­munity.

To be fair, our ori­gin­al 2006 sub­mis­sion was pretty com­pre­hens­ive, pos­it­ive and made sub­stan­tial sug­ges­tions not only in terms of the build­ing but also in terms of the kind of edu­ca­tion our chil­dren need to face the future. Subsequently we have been so over-stretched with all our oth­er pro­jects – from the orch­ard, to the mar­ket, to energy sav­ing and energy gen­er­a­tion to …  — that we just didn’t have the time engage in the school pro­cess.… we have real­ised that in future we should either engage far more fully in poten­tially divis­ive issues or we not engage in them at all.

But how can we best engage con­struct­ively and non-divis­ively in con­ten­tious com­munity issues?

I am head­ing to Kenya to work with six com­munit­ies who are seek­ing to devel­op a ‘com­munity pro­tocol’ that can enable them to present a united response to the threatened build­ing of a huge deep-sea oil ter­min­al. I am hop­ing to learn from them, but mean­while in PEDAL we are aware that we need to con­sult much earli­er and deep­er and to look at issues in the wider con­text of a fast chan­ging world.

How do we do this?

One way would be to pro­act­ively bring togeth­er a small group of people who are inter­ested in con­sensus build­ing, per­haps kick­ing off with people who have not been at the fore­front of the school and park debate, but who are inter­ested in estab­lish­ing a pro­cess that can mod­el for our chil­dren how to resolve dis­putes in a way which treats each oth­er with respect. Anyone inter­ested?

Justin Kenrick — justin AT yahoo.co.uk

3 responses to “A community building conflict resolution group?

  1. Just for clar­ity; a fun­da­ment­al prin­ciple of the Planning sys­tem is that decisions must be taken on legit­im­ate plan­ning grounds. So wheth­er you object, sup­port or simply com­ment on an applic­a­tion isn’t, in itself, import­ant. Whatever views are expressed only carry weight to the extent that they are legit­im­ate in plan­ning terms.

    You don’t need to object to get heard. You need to raise val­id plan­ning issues to get heard.

  2. Mary Janer Elton

    Seems like Pedal wanted to make sure that any new school would take accout of envir­on­ment and sus­tain­ab­il­ity issues. In the attempt to do this seems like Pedal were in a pos­i­tion of put­ting in an objec­tion when it wanted to influ­ence the way any school build­ing was done. Perhaps the adversari­al plan­ning sys­tem did not help. To get heard you have to object! Perhaps the coun­cil has a role to play in devel­op­ing pos­it­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion in com­munit­ies along­side res­id­ents. I am sure Porty folks could do a bet­ter at work­ing togeth­er & reslov­ing con­flicts.

  3. Thanks for this sug­ges­tion. As I’m new to the area I’ve only come in at the tale end of this debate. I am con­cerned that as a soci­ety as a whole it seems the gen­er­a­tions are grow­ing fur­ther apart — is a key part of this look­ing at intergen­er­a­tion­al con­flict res­ol­u­tion and con­sensus build­ing?

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