As I’ve covered in some recent posts, Trafford Council have published a refreshed masterplan for Stretford, based predominantly around the UA92 proposals. They’ve been consulting residents about these proposals, having hosted a number of sessions with locals. They also have an online questionnaire for people to give their views, deadline is 19 December 2017.
At the same time, Oldham Council are consulting on a town centre masterplan. Like Trafford Council, they’ve arranged a number of local sessions and have an online questionnaire. While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on Oldham, I do know the town centre has seen a decline like Stretford town centre has.
Looking at the two masterplans, there are some clear differences in approach. In the Stretford Masterplan, there’s lots of detail about the revenue-generating UA92 parts of the scheme, the university campus, student village and Turn Moss.
Beyond that, things become vague and aspirational when talking about the other parts of the scheme. The language changes to what could be done, with Trafford Council committing to very little.
Add to this the glossy leaflets to promote UA92 and the masterplan. It looks as though more time was spent on these than on the masterplan contents. And that tagline, “Once in a generation opportunity”, is that not the tactics of a dodgy door to door salesman?
The Oldham Masterplan is very different, in that there’s a clear plan for what they want to deliver in the town centre. Although the documents are quite brief, they’re much more specific about the retail, leisure, civic and cultural spaces that’ll enhance the town centre.
The wording is very different too and much more what you’d expect from a council. It doesn’t come across like a sales brochure from a property developer.
A question of timing
The first we heard about UA92 and the refreshed Stretford Masterplan was back in September 2017, when they went public with it. Though it was obviously being planned for some time, with Lancaster University Students’ Union knowing about it long before any of us in Stretford did.
Since the full details were published, Trafford Council have left relatively little time to consult with people and many people feel they’re not getting answers from the council to questions and concerns that have been raised. A petition has been set up to ask Trafford Council to extend the consultation period, because they feel there isn’t enough detail in the proposals and Trafford Council aren’t providing answers.
Oldham Council were much more up-front about their masterplan. There was talk of the town centre redevelopment back in April 2016, with details of the upcoming masterplan consultation being published in July 2017, long before the consultation started.
Now, I’m sure Trafford Council will point to various reasons around commercial confidentiality for why they couldn’t share details sooner. But it’s clear many think the consultation is being rushed and people aren’t getting any clear answers back to genuine questions and concerns. I’ve tried to ask a number of questions myself and have had very little back.
A word about consulting
I’ve written previously about the rather dubious way the consultation questionnaire for the Stretford Masterplan has been constructed. Most of the questions have a greater number of positive responses than negative responses. This means they’re far more likely to receive positive responses, supporting the proposals.
This is similar to what they did with phase 1 of the public realm scheme. To me, this just makes it look like a box-ticking exercise, with the council having little interest in knowing what people actually think, they just want to show they’ve got support for what they’ve already decided.
Let’s look at a typical question from the questionnaire as an example. As you can see, there’s 3 supportive responses, 1 negative and 1 neutral. That hardly seems balanced to me.
3. Please choose from the following statements the one which most closely reflects your view:
- I am supportive of the Stretford Masterplan and think it will be a positive thing for the area
- I am supportive of the majority of the proposals but I have one or more concerns
- I am supportive of the majority of the proposals but would like more information on one or more key proposals
- I disagree with the proposals put forward in the Stretford Masterplan and am not yet convinced of how it will benefit the area
- Prefer not to say
The Oldham Town Centre Masterplan is very different. The questions asking for people’s views are all constructed in a fair manner, with 2 positive, 2 negative and 1 neutral response.
1. Overall, do you agree with the general idea behind the masterplan to redevelop Oldham town centre to make it work better and to increase resident, visitor and user numbers so it can thrive round the clock?
- Strongly agree
- Strongly disagree
Well that does seem much more balanced to me. With neutral wording and an equal positive and negative responses, it comes across like they genuinely want to consult.
So there go you, two very different masterplans, two very different consultations. While I’m sure Oldham Council’s won’t be perfect, it seems much more appropriate and in-line with how you expect a council to approach it. Trafford’s approach leaves a lot to be desired.
So I say to Trafford Council, can you commit to giving more time for the consultation and respond to the genuine questions and concerns people have? And can you replace your questionnaire with one that’s fair and balanced, not weighted to give you the result you want?
Have your say
Now don’t forget to complete the online questionnaire, deadline is 19 December 2017. Be careful how you choose your responses, anything but the ‘I disagree’ responses will be treated as a positive response.