I was rather looking forward to completing this. As a former representative of the area I hoped I might have something to offer. I logged on enthusiastically. Sadly, it soon became obvious that not only would I find the questionnaire hard to complete, but so would others. I know it is easy to carp, and I do try to be positive, but my honest immediate impressions are as follows.
Q.1 asks which key issues you think are the most important to address within the town centre, adding “you can tick more than one”. The trouble is that all eleven are important, and it is very difficult to pick out any to the exclusion of the rest. Q.2 is a useful blank space to fill with your own ideas.
Q.3 asks you to agree or not (or “don’t know”) with a statement about the town which could not be faulted. Q.4 asks you to choose which of eleven things you would like to see more of in the town; again you can tick more than one. Just as well, as I could tick almost all – not very helpful to the questionnaire’s analysers!
Q.5 is a statement of the historical importance of the town, and asks for agreement or not (or don’t know). It would be hard to justify a “disagree”. Q.6 is open-ended and may well bring up some new ways of protecting the town’s heritage.
Q.7 deals with key sites on the edge of town, such as Tayfen Rd and Station Hill. It asks you to agree or not that these and other locations should be considered “as an interlinked arc of opportunity both within and closely related to the town centre masterplan area”. I am tempted to mutter: “well dur!” Q.8 asks if you agree with the principle of redeveloping potentially underused sites around the town centre, assuming existing facilities are retained. Surely the same reaction is justified. I hope that Q.9’s request for additional comments is more helpful to respondents and analysers.
Q.10 asks you to agree or not with supporting “thriving mixed-use neighbourhoods”. Again, how can you disagree? Q.11 asks you to prioritise housing needs within six types of accommodation and type of client, e.g., housing for single people, flats for older people, etc. This might seem useful, but what the respondents think is not necessarily where the demand actually comes from. Q.12/13 asks for further additional local facilities and services that could support residential neighbourhoods within the town.
Q.14-17 deal with “providing welcoming gateways and approaches”, along similar lines, and again there is the opportunity to contribute your ideas, as there is in Q.18/19, relating to the street scene, and Q.20/21.
Q.22/23 mark the return of the bland statement, this time about green spaces, with which no one could really disagree – despite the invitation to do so. You can then tick any of the seven cited improvements; but I fear you will want to tick all. As with so much of this document, the various suggestions and ideas are simply not mutually exclusive.
Q.24-33 are about you, the respondent. Here the authors lay out their polished credentials in political correctness. As well as more useful information to guide their analysis (gender, age, relative location, reasons for your visits to town and frequency) you are asked if you have a disability, including the option don’t know (sic). There follow no fewer than nineteen ethnic categories you are invited to associate yourself with, eight religions and five sexual orientations. I do not know whether it makes any difference that my own answers come from my having a White: British or White: English background, nor whether one being of the Jain faith, or any other or none, would have a bearing on one’s views on improved signage and information boards. The authors must think so.
Perhaps I should have read the full report before tackling the questionnaire, as it sets out issues, objectives and possible directions with much more contrast than the latter does. But I wanted to air my views first, as I think will some of you. I hope you won’t give up as soon as I did.
So will the results of this exercise be of any real use? Despite my misgivings, I genuinely hope so. But they need to be more than just going through the motions of public consultation, especially if the cost is to have been worthwhile – badges and all.