How to feed back to the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill

This guest blog I wrote appeared on the Greener Leith website and on the eco-blog Me Eco You Eco. Responding to public consultation papers can be hard going.  Here are some steps to make the task less of a slog! 

A very interesting piece of legislation is taking shape that you’ll want to keep an eye on if you’d like more local say in what happens to land near you.
The making of the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill sounds like a groovy opportunity, but how do we use it to really feel like we can do stuff where we live? The entire process from consultation to law will take about three years, but the time to get your formal feedback in (as a group or individual) starts now.
This consultation deadline is Wednesday, 29 August, so here’s my empower-up action plan plus a few thoughts of my own.

Step One - Have a look at the proposals and questions
Here are the official write-ups including the form you must use to respond: There is the easy-read, surreally clip-arted summary and then there's the loooong version
The text is vague at best (lots of re-re-reading paragraphs to get the foggiest idea of what was going on). So, after grasping more or less what this is all about, I suggest moving on to step two.
Step Two- Discuss
Nothing nurtures community empowerment like a good natter about what matters, be it with friends, family, neighbours, councillors, volunteer association, walking group, church or school.
Have a look at the Our Great Ideas site for interested and experienced souls. Keep your eyes peeled for events, or create your own. I recently attended a Community Empowerment Bill session organised by Scottish Orchards and hosted by Leith Walk Green councillor Maggie Chapman.
One of the community presenters was Carolyn Bell of Leith. Carolyn is helping her neighbours on Great Michael Rise, Newhaven start a community orchard.
Her view (echoed by most) was that their work would be easier with clearer communication and good will between community and councillors. Much of the proposed Bill dwells on a community’s right to buy land and buildings.
It seems nice and empowering to have this option, but surely the first step should be facilitated work with council to gain access to land and use established government infrastructure to manage things more efficiently.
Out of my discussions, I found this community/council communication to be key, so I’ve made it my focus.
Step Three- Feed back
There are 49 questions in the complete consultation paper. A lot for anyone, so, as per the end of step two, I’m spending my time on items that improve communication between people and council.
These are addressed in Part One: Strengthening Community Participation featuring such sharply defined queries as:
Q1. What would you consider to be effective community engagement in the Community Planning process? What would provide evidence of effective community engagement?
Q13. 'Should public sector authority have a named accountable officer, responsible for community participation and acting as a primary point of contact for communities?’
TOP TIP: Be as explicit as possible. Specify EXACTLY what you want done. Detail definite examples of barriers and/or successes. Can’t think of any? Repeat step two.
If you are still flummoxed by the language and acronyms (I feel your pain), try speaking to your local councillors.
Also, have a look at Scottish Environmental LINK’s helpful briefings – LINK is an umbrella forum for Scotland’s voluntary environmental organisations, assisting communication with government and other sectors within civic society.
Their Parliamentary officer Andy Myles (0131 225 4345) is open to queries from the public.
And it’s consultation contact Kate Thomson-McDermott’s job to answer your questions, so ring her on 0131 244 0382 or email at community [dot] empowerment [at] scotland [dot] gsi [dot] gov [dot] uk
Good to have this official info on submission, too.
There, I hope that helps. Getting through this process can seem a slog, but even answering only a few questions, even just talking about it with a neighbour, is a step in an empowering direction.