Back in June I shared a letter I had written to Shaun Dawson, Chief Executive of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, about the Authority’s lack of community engagement. You can see the letter here: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/06/29/open-letter-to-lvrpa-re-lack-of-community-engagement/
In the spirit of fairness, I think I should also share Shaun’s response, which I received just under three weeks after I sent my original letter. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to do so; no excuses, I’ve just been really busy.
Shaun said, and I quote directly:
I am writing in response to your email of 28th June in which you set out a range of concerns in relation to the Authority’s approach to community engagement in the south of the Park. Authority Members received your letter and it was discussed at the Authority meeting on the 5th July. Members resolved to look at how the Authority engages with the many user groups and key stakeholders up and down the Lee Valley and this will be looked into in the coming months. My response below addresses the specific points that you raised in your letter.
The Ranger service continues to manage the range of Authority owned sites to a high standard and deliver local community engagement though various means in the Park. Please see attached a list of the community engagement activities and communication mechanisms in the south of the Park since January 2018 and also planned future events and activities for 2018/19.
The Lower Lee Valley sites continue to receive high scores for both Green Flag and London in Bloom, and in the latter case achieved best Conservation Area for London for the past 2 years. The awards are assessed by external judges from both the Green Flag and London In Bloom awards and we have fulfilled their community engagement criteria.
In addition the Authority consults local groups and the wider community on its Park Development Framework (PDF) proposals for the Regional Park as these are developed. Currently the Authority is consulting on draft strategic policies and a landscape strategy for the whole Park and area proposals for specific areas of the Regional Park which lie north of the M25 motorway. All of these documents are available on the Authority’s website (http://www.leevalleypark.org.org.uk) or can be seen in hard copy at several venues across the Regional Park.
Public consultation has recently taken place on the draft Lee Valley Regional Park Biodiversity Action Plan, the outcome of this will be published soon. Comments from Save Lea Marshes have been noted through this process. The Authority will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to develop and deliver the specific action plan targets.
The previous user forums in the south of the Park were not always well attended. We therefore decided to look at a more effective approach to community engagement. The workshops were created to focus the meetings on specific aspects of site management and to better inform the public about the Park’s rationale for its management regimes. Natural England attended the grassland workshop to provide a clearer understanding of the Park’s grassland management regime. During the workshops we discussed how and why we managed all of the different habitats present on site as well as other site operational issues, which was the specific aim of the workshops from the beginning. The workshops were an opportunity for members of the public to raise questions and provide feedback relating to the topics discussed on the agendas. During the workshops suggestions, questions and opinions were invited for consideration, were responded to and if appropriate were implemented.
We also took the decision to run a series of site management walks, inviting members of the general public as well as local user groups to attend and discuss relevant management issues with the Ranger while on site. In addition to this we continue to run several Ranger ‘drop in’ sessions each year. We have engaged with many more users through this format of community engagement and receive a greater level of response and insight into the views of the visitors to the Marshes than through the previous forum meetings. The Ranger ‘drop ins’ and walkabouts are in our opinion a more efficient and effective form of community engagement. The participants of the former workshops/ forum continue to be contacted via a mailing group, updating them on site management of the marshes, as well as receiving a quarterly newsletter. All FOI requests received have been responded to. Furthermore the site Ranger for the Marshes has always shown a willingness to meet informally around prearranged walks to discuss any management issues they may arise.
Our events and activities are advertised on the Visit Lee Valley Website, What’s On guide, Information Boards and via Lee Valley Regional Park social media. The site Ranger also regularly tweets information regarding the Park and events and has 840 followers and growing. Events and activities are mentioned in the mailing group and the events and activities are also included in the quarterly newsletter which the mailing group receive.
In your letter you also made reference to the £75k investment which was borne out of the temporary use of Leyton Marsh for the 2012 Olympics. I am advised by officers that SLM were involved in the process for determining how the investment was to be spent including being part of the panel that approved the artist and artwork for the mural.
The Authority does, it believes, devote significant time and energy to engaging the many interested parties in the south of the Park, as the attached list illustrates. That said it is important that we review how we do engage and look at ways to be more effective. Over the coming months we shall carry out such a review.
It was heartening to hear that the Authority is taking our concerns seriously, although we have heard absolutely nothing on the matter in the last three months, and so I can’t help thinking this is another hollow promise.
What was disappointing, although perhaps not surprising, is the fact that the LVRPA continues to argue that what we have experienced, what we have witnessed, what we know to be true isn’t true. For example, while it is absolutely true that members of Save Lea Marshes were involved with the underpass mural project, it is not true to say that we have been ‘involved with the process for determining how the [ODA] money was spent’, and this blog post will explain why: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/02/07/what-happened-to-our-money/.
As for his comments about the forum, workshops and ranger drop-ins, here’s what one friend, who used to attend the forum and the workshops, says in reponse:
“It’s so convenient for them to keep saying that all the good stuff happens on the ranger drop-ins, when there is no documentation, no reporting, no follow-up. The LVRPA can say anything it wants about what is said by people who happen to pass along during the drop-ins. The forum was for all about having proper discussions about issues and attempting to have some input into LVRPA policy. Obviously, the LVRPA prefers the drop-ins because they aren’t for that at all. The forum was all about consultation, the drop-ins are not.”
I am conscious that different optics produce different perspectives but surely the only way for any organisation to better serve its customers or clients is to listen to them? And I’m very clear in my mind that the LVRPA exists to manage the land within the Park on our behalf; that the LVRPA does work for us. I just wish it behaved as if it did sometimes, and listened to us.