Letter to the Editor, The Post, 35 Eastgate Street, Stafford ST16 2LZ

It is clear from the letters that are now beginning to appear in your letters page that we are all finally waking up to the fact that there is an important development process taking place.
So far a lot of the letters you are getting are focusing in “we don’t want it, or we don’t want it here”. I think that we are going to need to get beyond that and look at what does need to be done, and find ways of having an effective voice in this.

During this week I have spent time on three separate issues. Attending the Borough’s exhibition on the Development plans, and reading my way into their consultation documents; Looking at some of the background to the upheaval at the hospital; and preparing for a meeting to plan the management of social care for the in the coming years. I find that all these separate strands are closely linked. Building the right housing provision and support systems can be the most effective way of taking pressure off the acute services in the NHS.

I am doing all this as a private individual, but one with a strong vested interest. I am in my 50,s which means that the housing and health care and support systems which are being designed now, will be the ones that matter quite a lot to me when I am in my 80s and 90s thirty years or so down the line. Painful first hand experience of caring for an elderly person with dementia, and some understanding of basic demographics, is enough to show me that as a society we are facing a very major challenge, and that it would be a good thing if a lot more of us were taking an active interest in what is going on.
The Borough’s public consultation on the developments plans, is asking big questions about where they should place the 10,000 houses required by 2026, the facilities for employment, transport and other infrastructure, which will also be required. It is also asking a number of significant questions about building density and quality, the mix of affordable and market housing, the approaches to building for the elderly, the homeless, for young and for single person households, all of which are inadequately catered for at present, and the ways in which we should aim to make the housing and new communities created both environmentally and economically sustainable.

I think that much of the substance of the consultation, and the fact that they have set it up to be accessed and commented on online. – just look for the Stafford Borough Council Website and follow the links – is perfectly good. It is hard going, and it certainly took me quite a few hours to read my way into it. I would have liked more statistical information readily available to be able to make a really informed contribution.

I do have concerns that there are many people who have no idea that this is going on, or will be in any position to contribute their ideas by the close of this first stage of the process on 3rd April.
Having spoken to the leading officer in the process I am satisfied that he would actively welcome doing more in the way of consultation with groups and individuals if they approach him. – though this would now happen after the close of stage one.

My feeling is that I would like quite a lot more than this. I am not yet quite sure what it is that we need, though I am reading some interesting documents from the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, on how to set up consultations in a way that allow for really effective public participation in the planning process.

I think if there are enough people who want to play a positive role then ways can be found to make this happen.

If you would like to join me in asking for better ways to be more actively involved I hope you will leave your comments below.

Yours Sincerely
Diana M Smith