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REDWatch Comments on C2E Forum and UrbanGrowth Response

On 9th December 2014 UrbanGrowth C2E held a Thinking and Visioning workshop. Concerns about the process were raised with REDWatch by both those that attended and those that were excluded. REDWatch wrote to the UrbanGrowth NSW Community Engagement Manager responsible for the project (who spoke on community engagement at the forum) setting out our concerns. In response REDWatch received a response from Troy Daly the C2E Programme Director. You can see REDWatch's concerns and what we asked for below as well as the response from UrbanGrowth NSW.

REDWatch letter to UrbanGrowth NSW

I am writing on behalf of REDWatch to follow up Tuesday night’s session with some comments and suggestions on the community engagement process. Rather than pass on our specific analysis of the night we think it better to suggest where we think UG should go from here.

I indicated when I met with you and Vanessa to talk about how best to do community engagement, that there were concerns that something had already been organised prior to our conversation. Last night regrettably bore out those concerns and we have had several people who were there express their disappointment about what the meeting set out to do as well as the processes used.

We know Troy said we were starting with a blank sheet of paper however at each step of the process on Tuesday night we were dealing with proforma ideas that had been put on that blank piece of paper by UG and your consultants. While they were there to  with a view to provoke discussion – they were there none the less. To me and others this was just a variation on the usual comment on our ideas planning process rather than a process aimed to get community input and sign on to the process. In our view an opportunity was lost and the view that UG was doing business as usual was strengthened.

REDWatch thinks there is a need to recognise that there are two imperatives in play. One is UG’s need to produce some outputs in a certain timeframe. The other is the need for processes that take the community with you and tap into community knowledge and aspirations. There is a tension between these especially in the early stages of strategic planning where trust must be established.

REDWatch would like you to consider the possibility of halting the process you started last night and in effect starting again. In its place over the next 3 months we would like to see a community conversation about what the community would like to see on the corridor and on the principles that should govern decisions about that.

As an example on the low hanging fruit exercise on Tuesday night we would like to see people be asked, in a multitude of ways, to nominate the low hanging fruit they see - rather than put dots on a list prepared by UG (albeit with the chance to add things after many dots had already been added). Then an opportunity in a couple of months for people to vote on what has come in. Will the lists be the same? Probably not, you will pick up new things and there will be a lot of overlap. But it is not just about the list it is about getting lots of people involved in the process and getting trust and ownership of what is happening.

Each of the early processes should primarily be about listening to the communities, building trust, mapping concerns and dealing with issues that are keeping people from having a more detailed strategic planning discussion. For example for some one of the elephants in the room last night was Alexandria’s experience of the impact of the construction of the C7 building. They find it almost impossible to talk about what might happen next in big picture terms without dealing upfront with what will be done to address the dust and trades parking problems they had with the C7 building. The ATP EOI announcement just bought all that back in spades.

In the early stage of a new process REDWatch thinks it should be effectively brainstorming for as many people as UG can using all the consultation mechanisms that you mentioned on Tuesday night. No one excluded – the message needs to be we want to hear from everyone and the processes need to try and encourage that. (As I mentioned last night there is an immediate problem for UG in dealing with some very angry people who were excluded from Tuesday night while others were then allowed to walk in. Most want to be involved in the next conversation they want to be involved from the beginning, some after being rejected are saying the process stinks and should be boycotted).

Following the brainstorming stage the next stage for REDWatch would deal with reporting back on what has been heard and maybe voting on low hanging fruit. It should also provide some education about what makes good place making, the importance of communities and other key “specialist” ideas (such as some of the stuff that I understand came from Bays) that the community needs to have an understanding of to be involved in the strategic planning discussion.

Following from this we would suggest that you then come back to some elements of what you were trying to do last night but having it come very clearly out of a synthesis of what has been heard from the community and the expert input. That session also should have adequate timeframes and processes suitable for the tasks at hand. Especially for the second exercise last night the timeframe and process was not suitable for the level of detail that we were asked to comment upon.

The process for that synthesis should be in terms of - this is what we have drawn out of your inputs. Any draft paper like last night’s needs to be in the public domain before any meeting so people can think about it and discuss it before making their suggestions. The process for this discussion needs to be able to deal with considered responses rather than just front of mind brainstorm type responses.

It is our view that the process suggested above can build community involvement in the C2E discussion and be used to get community buy in. The question is can the UG timeframe be put on hold to allow a more participatory, bottom up process if this is what UG is really looking for. If you are going to do this you may need to give your consultants something else to do or a holiday – in part this is why REDWatch wanted the conversation about the process to predate the decision about the consultants!

In some areas REDWatch thinks there is need for some “specialist interest” meetings to deal with issues that relate to issues of importance to particular sections of the community. If you do not deal with these you will have these people bringing their concerns into other parts of the process because there is nowhere else to raise their concerns. Having a person outside at meeting for people who have concerns to talk to suits in boilover moments, but does not deal with wider issues of concern to a particular cohort. We have argued for example that there should be meetings held with resident groups about their concerns and not just to gauge their input into what UG wants to discuss. We have said this a number of times but it does not appear to be considered important.

There is also a need for there to be some mechanism for community involvement in “Governance” – we have earlier suggested a community advisory group. The main aim of this group in our mind is to advise on and monitor the process. Such a group could monitor focus group / deliberative processes as I did last in last year’s C2E session for DoP.

One issue raised by a number of people from the latest consultation was around the phone surveys. Some of those who undertook them have described them as inappropriate push polling. Another is around the question of ensuring people have the necessary inputs to allow them to participate in the process at hand. It was reported to us that some participants seemed out of their depth with the level of conversation at points on Tuesday night.

The white paper promised a new approach to community engagement and from my experience in planning last year’s UG C2E discussion one of the biggest challenges Roberta, Tim and I had was breaking the well-established professional practice of the consultants and ex-practitioners in the room who wanted to do things as they had always done them. It is very difficult to look at ways of delivering community engagement at the beginning of the process. It is much easier to fall back on what people are used to by preparing a proposal and getting people’s reactions and saying - but we are more open to change these than we might have been previously – this time it is not set in stone.

For us this is the challenge both for Government, UrbanGrowth and communities. If we want to engage upfront then we need to find ways of building trust right at the beginning and getting the broad community to buy in to a process that respects their input and intelligence. It also needs to skill them to both understand and participate in the process they are involved in. It also needs to ensure there is time for in depth discussion not just brainstorming.

If we can do this then REDWatch thinks we can deliver on the aspiration of community involvement in the process but if we just rehash the existing process, even with the best of intentions, we will end up with repeating the mistakes of the past and more importantly people will just drop out and start opposing the process because it is going down the same path they have seen before with UG’s numerous predecessors.

We would be happy to discuss this with you and your colleagues further.



Geoffrey Turnbull



Ph Wk: (02) 8004 1490  Mob: 0418 457 392

email: mail@redwatch.org.au

web: www.redwatch.org.au

UrbanGrowth C2E response

Thank you for your email about the community Thinking and Visioning workshop and I appreciate the time you have taken to provide feedback.  We are committed to meaningful engagement and providing opportunities for people to share their ideas, aspirations, local knowledge and to provide comments on plans as they take shape. We also value the ongoing discussion with Redwatch. Overall our challenge is the need to plan for new development to the extent that good design and balanced public benefit will allow. In recommending future plans we will need to make tradeoffs to manage the competing interests of many different stakeholders.

Over the past 13 months there have been a number of consultation activities that have informed the project including workshops in November 2013, focus groups earlier this year and recently a two day workshop including sessions with State government stakeholders and the City of Sydney (3rd and 4th of December).

The culmination of this input was presented at the workshop on Tuesday as a basis for reflection, discussion and change as required. The material presented was a result of our effort to integrate the communities feedback with key directives set out in the City of Sydney’s Sydney 2030 plan and Your Future Sydney; the State Government’s draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031. While it is early days, it was important that community input received to date was reflected at the workshop as this has been requested by the community in previous engagement.

As you say , the themes and focus areas presented were to help provoke engaged discussion and feedback, and were not put together or presented as a fait accompli. We clearly communicated that participants at the workshop had scope to change, add and subtract from the material and that this in fact was the point of the session. While time was limited, there was provision for people to suggest changes to all of the material presented.

One of the activities at the workshop was a list of quick wins to get people thinking about projects that could be delivered over the short term. Participants were also invited to add their own ideas to the list.  The notion of a ‘quick win’ as a relatively inexpensive initiative that can be quickly implemented to deliver immediate benefits is not straightforward.   While I agree that one (or more) pedestrian crossings over the rail line would significantly improve connectivity, it cannot be considered a quick win given the complexity of land ownership and the technical constraints of over rail design and construction.

The focus over the next few months will be on broadening the conversation. Future opportunities will be publicised using a variety of means including the local paper, directly to friends of the project who have registered to receive information updates and through other community  networks. I would like to confirm that, as you suggest, we will continue the community conversation about visions and principles.  Instead of starting again, we need to maintain momentum. The next step will be to put all of the material from the workshop on the website for further comment, including:

  • Suggested themes and focus

  • Draft visions and strategies

  • Quick wins.

Even though the community evaluation from the workshop is very positive, we are reflecting on how to improve, including your suggestions to make the agenda and materials available prior to the event  and minimizing jargon. We are also considering holding the event over a full day on a weekend to allow more time for discussion and deliberation, to build peoples capacity to participate and showcase examples of best practice place making and design principles from around the world.

Reporting back is critical to good engagement and we will be providing feedback on what we heard , however, there is likely to be a range of views about the extent to which this is provided and getting the balance right is clearly important.  We are typing up the workshop outcomes and will notify you and everyone who registered interest when they are available. 

We are also planning some informal drop in sessions early next year for people with a specific interest in the ATP site. The community is welcome to come and ask questions including how the expression of interest relates to the C2E Urban Transformation Strategy. We will be advertising and promoting through the local paper, our email contact lists and stakeholders.

I note your support for a community advisory group.  Implementing an enduring governance model was also one of the themes discussed at the workshop. We asked participants to discuss how to develop a combined governance arrangement able to include key state agencies, the City of Sydney and a representation from the community.  Opportunities for community participation in the governance framework need to be carefully considered. At this stage of the Program, if a community advisory group were to be considered, I would suggest that it is comprised of a balance of randomly selected participants providing a wide cross section of community representation and not solely ‘expert citizens’.

In regards to the survey conducted prior to the workshop, it  was intended to gauge peoples interest and level of awareness of the project, their ideas and aspirations for the future of the corridor and their preferences for communication and involvement.  There was transparency as the questions asked during the phone survey mirrored those online and we will be sharing the results of both on the web site in the future.  I do not support any view that it was a ‘push poll’ and I would be happy to meet and discuss this further so that the facts on this issue are clearly understood. 

When you met with the C2E Communications Manager the week before last the mix of people who would be participating in the workshop and workshop promotion were discussed.  We are delighted that approximately 170 people  expressed an interest to attend through our web site.  There was a risk that the event would be oversubscribed and we would need to randomly select from those registered - this was well publicised when people put in their expression of interest.   

Of course we are looking at how we can continue to encourage people who were not selected to actively participate in the future. I think we share a desire for the process to allow sufficient time to invest in genuine engagement with community, government and industry so that there is broad input to and acceptance of plans.  Unfortunately, there will always be a tension between those who feel too much work has been done and those who feel not enough has been done to enable meaningful community input.  For example, I had a number of conversations on the night with participants who felt that the material presented at the workshop was not progressed or detailed enough to promote useful discussion.

At the same time, we will reiterate our open invitation to meet with community groups as needed to discuss specific matters of interest related to the project. Thank you again, I look forward to working together in the New Year.

For full transparency I will be copying this message to the City of Sydney and you are also welcome to publish it on the Redwatch website.

Best regards

Troy Daly

Program Director


Urban Renewal Division Office,

Level 16, 227 Elizabeth Street

Sydney NSW 2000