Creating Common Ground in a divided community

The process of preparing a comprehensive Town Plan often brings to the forefront a range of competing agendas, historical tensions, clashes of personality and values. Things get even more complicated when development proposals being advanced by key landowners rely on the outcomes of the Town Plan.

Such was the case with the URPS-led Strathalbyn Town Plan. The issue at the forefront for Strathalbyn residents was a proposed retail and commercial development on land 1.2km outside the District Centre Zone. The location and scale of this development raised concern for businesses and residents resulting in petitions to Council containing over 1,500 signatures, as well as numerous written responses and people attending consultation events.

Alexandrina Council resolved to present the findings of the consultation to a well advertised Community Information Session. As feelings were likely to be running high, URPS devised an engagement technique to allow participants to clearly see the views of the meeting.

Framing the key policy directions of the Town Plan as propositions, the URPS facilitator asked the 250 attendees to express their response to each proposition by holding up the relevant A5 coloured card – green for “support”, red for “don’t support” and yellow for “unsure”. Once the overwhelming opposition to the proposed shopping centre had been witnessed by all present there was active engagement with the rest of the Town Plan policies and an unsolicited vote of support for the draft vision.

When the Draft Plan went on exhibition, only 11 submissions were received and several of these expressed support for the Town Plan. This is evidence of a successful engagement process where community input influences the key directions of the Town Plan and the Council has confidence to proceed.