October 1 2009 ~ Cuckmere Estuary Report - a blueprint in how to conduct an effective and genuine consultation?
An independent report into the future of the Cuckmere Estuary in East Sussex was undertaken during the past year to examine options for its future now that funding for flood defences is soon to be withdrawn. A wide range of voices were heard, all options for the estuary were able to be discussed, people felt encouraged to get involved in different ways (online, at events, by post), the facts were given clearly and consistently - and it was evident to all that there was no prior agenda. Such openness of approach led to a new trust. At the beginning, as the report says,
".. The people we spoke to were clear that emotions had been running high for some time. They understood that some individuals felt there had been inadequate discussion with the local community and believed that their views were being ignored or sidelined. Interviewees felt that there was a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about the future of the estuary, and a perception that the Cuckmere Estuary Partnership was being run by bureaucrats from London, who had already decided on the approach."The recommendations in Section 6 of the report see pdf are masterly. Such excellent communication skills and the provision of a "long-term stakeholder engagement strategy" must surely reassure all shades of opinion that a genuine consensus about the costs, risks, benefits and legal implications of the various different options for the future is being built and, in the end, the most sustainable solution will be agreed.