Letchworth Town Debate

The Centre for Sustainable Communities was asked by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation to undertake the facilitation, analysis and reporting of a two-week consultation exhibition and debate with Letchworth residents in late 2013 on the question - should more homes be built in Letchworth? It was thought that as a neutral organisation with expertise in consultation process and analysis the University could act as an 'honest broker'; providing useful input both to facilitate the process and report on its results.

The Centre's facilitation work was designed and managed by Dr Susan Parham who ran a team of expert engagement staff who were present throughout the two-week exhibition that supported the debate process, which was located at Letchworth's Community Hub (weekdays, some early evenings, and weekends). Susan and her team facilitated visitors' consideration of the issues at hand and helped ensure their views were recorded on 'comments cards' available for this purpose. 673 people visited the exhibition and 157 filled out comments cards. A considerable number of people also decided to make their comments by email, through Facebook or on the Heritage Foundation's website. There were 97 emails - many with detailed comments, 58 online comments on the Foundation's website, 136 Facebook comments on the Foundation's website and five letters sent to the Foundation.

At the consultation venue this facilitation work was supported by a series of information boards developed by the Foundation, and downloadable from their website, explaining different aspects including the town's development principles, reasons for posing the question about new homes, the timeline of planning work to date on these issues, and exploration of implications of any decision to build more houses. This overarching information was supported by a series of technical reports available in hard copy at the Community Hub, which covered findings on issues including economics, design, energy, transport, water etc. Again, this material was downloadable from the Foundation website.

The facilitators also took part in a number of 'surgeries' at the Hub where key issues were discussed by stakeholders with expert consultants, including socio economics; biodiversity; flooding and hydrology; and transport. These sessions were run by non-Foundation staff, although normally at least one Foundation staff member was present. The Centre's team helped to facilitate four specialist surgeries on areas thought likely to be of particular concern and for which technical reports had been commissioned.

At the close of the consultative period on Friday 29 November 2013, Dr Parham then undertook a detailed review and analysis covering consultation responses from the Community Hub, email, letters, Facebook and website forum comments. As contextual material Dr Parham also viewed the data from an online consultative process (both area-based and reflecting Letchworth's demographic profile) that had been separately commissioned by the Heritage Foundation from AudienceNet.

Dr Parham prepared and submitted a detailed report of the Town Debate at the beginning of December and briefed the Town's Board of Governors about the process and outcomes of the "Debate". This facilitation, review and analysis work informed a detailed verbal and PowerPoint presentation given to the Governors on the evening of the 4 December. It also forms the basis for the Consultation report, which can be read here (PDF - 3.26 Mb).