8. Good practice case study: Portobello Community Council
This case study highlights a participation request submitted to Edinburgh City Council by Portobello Community Council (PCC). The aim is to highlight good practice and areas for further learning and development. The positive outcomes evidenced here indicate the potential of participation requests for other communities.
8.1. Developing transparent processes
When Portobello Community Council became aware of the potential sale of a local site, they submitted a participation request to be involved in the selling process. The subsequent outcome improvement process involved a series of community focus groups and an online survey. The purpose of the process was to gather community perspectives on how the land should be developed in order to inform developers bidding on the land. In addition to this, two representatives from the community council were involved in the bid evaluation process.
The community council members involved described the process as more transparent compared to other decisions:
"It felt reasonably good to be involved in the sense that these things usually happen behind closed doors, or historically have happened behind closed doors and you never know what the decisions are based on."
8.2. Inspiring creativity
Although frequently challenging for the community, the participation request process was eventually successful. Continuing to work with councillors and council officers, the community set up an action group, Action Westbank, to promote more community involvement. This culminated in a community-led design weekend in which 600 people came together to develop alternatives for the site. Whilst not formally part of the outcome improvement process, it was felt that the participation request was a 'crucial step' in opening up communications with the council and bringing the community together in a positive and proactive way.
In October 2018 Edinburgh Council made the decision to work with the community to develop a master plan for the site. Reporting on the progress since then those involved described an improved working relationship and a sense that the council were enjoying being able to work in a more creative way:
"They're used to a particular way of working and this is not what they're used to, and they're excited. When you meet them they get excited about this, they love it. It's like… because this is something new and this is obviously where they should be."
8.3. Ongoing communications
In August 2019 the communications between Action Westbank and Edinburgh City Council were ongoing as they worked together to design a 'Place Brief' that will be used to inform a new set of bidders. Building explicitly on the work of the community-led design weekend, it was hoped that a closer working relationship between the council and the community will lead to a better outcome for the development of the site – meeting the financial needs of the council and community aspirations.
More recently, the current tenant of the site has released plans for investment in the development and expansion of the existing sports facilities. This has been welcomed by the wider community. Whilst the eventual outcome of the outcome improvement process was not the one anticipated, or desired, by the community, the process of the working through the participation request and the events that followed have had a positive impact on the relationship between the council and community. There was greater insight into the decision-making processes at the council level, and new insights for the council on how to work best with communities during planning processes:
"'When you tell them at the beginning, the empowering thing to me is that actual \engagement, that discussion or that moment where somebody is asked, 'You can say what you want, we're not going to judge you, we're not going to disregard you. You can be as opinionated about it as you want and you can be as outrageous about it as you want, just tell us what you think'. That can be very liberating for people and can give them a lot of self-esteem and enthusiasm about not only their own life but it can actually make them go away and think, 'I actually don't think that's that bad, that council, they care', and whilst that's very, very limited in what we did, if we were doing that on a bigger scale and we put a lot more resources into it, can you imagine the power that would… how powerful that could be for the communities."