Skewed consultation questions limit usefulness of responses

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16 Aug 2009
This weekend I took part in the consultation exercise on the future plans for Swale which is being conducted in order to formulate the basis of Borough Councils plans for the next 20 years.

The main criticism levelled at consultation exercises like this is usually one of “why bother, they just do what ever they want to anyway” and having seen some of the questions presented here it’s hard not to find yourself agreeing with this sentiment.

In particular I was rather depressed to see that for the employment section we were being asked where we wanted 18,000 new jobs to be created with choices including the Kent Science Park, other employment sites and green field sites.

One suspects that this was supposed to be a choice of utilising existing employment land vs brown and green field development. The inclusion of a single specific employment opportunity only serves to confuse the issue, especially when one considers that the Science Parks major new employment plans are for green field development.

Considering the range of employment opportunities that this borough has to offer in Sheppey, Faversham and central Sittingbourne you might start to wonder why the Kent Science Park crops up in every single paper the council has produced on employment in the last five years.

I’m not suggesting that it won’t play a part, but by the parks own admission they have only managed to create a mere 108 jobs since July 2004. You may be thinking that these are well paid jobs, highly skilled jobs, but tell that to the third of the employees who work in the call centres and account for a third of all the jobs on the park.

The are three major problems with posing this question.

Firstly the Kent Science Park is simply incapable of delivering a significant proportion of these jobs, probably no more than 3 or 4 %. Secondly I doubt very much whether either public opinion or that of Swale Borough Council has ever significantly influenced where jobs are actually created. And finally according to the Kent Science Park most job creation would take place on green field sites which will present problems in making any sense of the results.

Personally I don’t think that this tunnel vision developer led approach to employment will be justified in the end and a more open approach to employment across the whole of Swale would reveal numerous other potential options. Granted I’m sure that other sites have been given some consideration but let’s at least pretend to be a bit more open minded and stop this endless reliance on a single employment site to resolve all Swale’s employment issues.