Denbighshire County Council ran a successful participatory budgeting project relating to a public park in Ruthin. Its aim was to engage and consult with residents after significant protest following the demolition of the park's paddling pool. The Council decided to engage with residents and offer them £25,000 funding. They could then decide how to spend this money in the park.
In 2009, Denbighshire was forced to demolish the paddling pool, primarily because of health and safety risks and costs of upkeep and renovation. The Council arranged an initial residents meeting, which was well attended. After inviting everyone to openly express their displeasure, the Council explained the reasons for having to close and remove the pool. The frank and open discussion meant that much of the initial bad feeling was dispelled and residents better understood the reasons for closing the pool.
At the meeting the idea of participatory budgeting was introduced and residents were given the opportunity to propose alternative schemes to replace the paddling pool. At the close ofthe public meeting volunteers from the community were requested to join a working group for the next stages ofthe project, especially to include young people. The working group consisted of 40 volunteer residents, including 12 young people.
Over 30 proposals were received, and the Working Group then had the task of adding technical details and costing the ideas presented. They also prepared the proposers to present to the community at the voting event in early November 2009.
The working group also had the task of short listing proposals based on their technical feasibility and costs. The group also shortlisted proposals based on the premise that the proposals had to improve the opportunities for play in the park. It also evaluated the project, which included expected outcomes, continual assessment of public perception and levels of engagement and how to manage community feedback.
The group needed to examine all received proposals individually to judge:
- their legality, in particular health and safety issues;
- whether it met the required themes, in particular geography and purpose;
- their feasibility;
- their costs; is it within budget or can it be adapted to be so?;
- the potential merging of similar proposals; and
- the potential for direct contact and collaboration with project proposers.
It should be noted that some working group members were also project proposers, and this was not considered a conflict of interests since the community as a whole would make their preferences known at the voting event; no advantage to any proposer was gained by being on the working group, in fact it speeded up the collaborative and examination short listing process.
The main benefit ofthis project was the creation ofa better play facility at the park for children. Residents also felt empowered and involved in decision-making. Denbighshire County Council and the local community also developed a strong working relationship, each developing increased respect for and understanding of the other’s responsibilities and capabilities. Engagement with all proposers at all stages of technical review led to full and effective public engagement, with no potential for criticism or resentment. The numbers engaged, and the demographic range, exceeded all expectations. The community involved wants to do it again, with other funding streams.
The effectiveness of the project was measured by taking records of meetings, and through the feedback provided from all involved. This included the way the media reported the project.
The main resources required for this project were the expertise of a Council Planning Officer and Facilitator and the involvement of a local Council Member. Like any project, the type of area and cost are factors in participatory budgeting. People involved could be coerced or persuaded to vote for a particular project. The process could be problematic if more or less projects get majority 'yes' votes than the pot of money allows. However, the rationale can feasibly be used in other Authorities.
Since 2009, the Council has continued to support two or three Participatory Budgeting events each year.
Name: Alan Smith
Title/role: Head of Service Business Planning & Performance
Organisation: Denbighshire County Council
Telephone: 01824 706000