Birmingham activists must up their PR game if they are to remain relevant to the local community

17 July, 2013

A Birmingham community is leading the development of its local area. But it must respond to its detractors if it is to remain relevant to all stakeholders.

Moseley Village
Image: St Mary’s Row Village Green, by Brendan Patchell (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Moseley started life as a village. It is now a thriving area of Birmingham with a broad mix of residents. It has a compact centre of vibrant pubs and restaurants, which cater to all sorts and span a wide price range. In addition, the few hundred yards of central Moseley host an award-winning monthly farmers’ market, the annual folk and jazz festivals that attract international stars, a regular arts market, independent food shops, two chain supermarkets, a number of independent cafes and at least three live music venues.

Moseley also has a very active Community Development Trust (CDT), run largely by local volunteers. The Trust has persuaded the City Council to let Moseley become the first area of Birmingham to have its development plans led by the community. For this purpose, it has consulted locally and created a Supplementary Planning Document to the city’s main strategic plan. It has to do this if it wants any chance of success: proposals will only be listened to if they are in harmony with the existing council strategy.

But all is not rosy in Moseley. There is growing opposition to the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), and I suspect the opposition has the potential to be more damaging to the SPD than is being acknowledged.

Dialogue is in danger of succumbing to factional fighting. I don’t know who’s right, but I do know that the opposition is charismatic and visible. Moseley CDT is much less so. The opposition is fronted by a lively character who is talking directly to local businesses and putting posters in shop windows. By contrast, Moseley CDT has stopped posting updates through residents’ letterboxes and now expects people to visit its website for that information. The opposition’s poster contains fewer than ten, catchy, words; the CDT’s A1-sized information poster (only brought out on special occasions) is packed with small text in very, very long lines.

I understand the pressures. Moseley CDT is working hard on substance and has little extra capacity to use on PR (volunteers have other lives too). Unfortunately, I think it needs to find some. Because, unless it can prove it is as visible, as relevant and as uncomplicated as those who currently oppose it – and can provide lucid clarifications to any confused messages – it may soon find it no longer has the support of local interests.

5 thoughts on “Birmingham activists must up their PR game if they are to remain relevant to the local community”

  1. As far as I can see, the Big Plan says everything I expected it to say, which is kinda the problem. It’s tried too hard to fit in with the strictures of planning policy, and has ended up rather anodyne as a result. So, on the one hand, it’s not surprising that opponents have been able to put their case more excitingly and engagingly. On the other hand, I’m not sure I see what the fuss is about in the first place.

  2. I’m not sure that the CDT or the bit of it that’s acted as a forum for developing the plan needs to ‘up its game’ at all and I’m fairly certain that PR isn’t what they should be getting into. This isn’t the Council, it’s local people. If other local people disagree with them, that’s fine. If the opposition wins and the plan’s defeated, that’s also (in the grand scheme of things) fine. And if in two years time, they start to realise they don’t have a local plan and that they would like one in order to have a say in how the place develops… it’d be absolutely fine for the people who oppose the plan now to start up a new plan process then.

    The thing is, saying ‘No’ is OK. Thinking that unless we say ‘Yes’ it’s all been a waste of time is the old-school local authority way of doing things. You know, where the Council decides what’s going to happen and then hires PR and bludgeons you with consultations until you agree with what they’ve already decided. The only thing the CDT and the large number of local folk who’ve been involved in making the plan can do wrong right now is to slip into thinking they’re the Council and ‘up their PR game’. Have the courage to see things through and let people judge on the facts rather than on ten word slogans.

    1. Saying no is fine, of course. But if you believe passionately about what you’re doing then surely it’s a bitter shame if your effort is wasted simply because you didn’t communicate it clearly enough? Particularly if doing so might have resulted in everyone fighting for the same side? I don’t agree that people are merely ‘local people’. They are at least as driven and professional as anyone, and I think they have a right for their work to be given every opportunity to be effective.

  3. Please never, ever imply I would use a phrase like ‘merely local people’. I didn’t and never have in all my life. It’s your phrase, so own it yourself?

    My point, as I think was fairly clear, is that this isn’t the Council driving through stuff no one wants; this is local people debating with local people. The only way they can lose is by getting carried away and starting to think and behave like the Council.

    As for rights: anyone has the right to kick off a local plan process (if they can get a suitable forum together); anyone who does so has the right to expect the planning authority to cooperate; everyone in the area has the right to comment and debate at whatever stage of the process; and everyone gets a right to vote on the end product. That’s all the rights you need, I reckon.

    1. Sorry Paul, I misunderstood you; I apologise for misrepresenting you.

      I agree with you. My point is not that people should be acting like the council, but that they could grasp the opportunity for better dialogue before it descends into acrimony.

      I agree about rights too, although rights without knowledge and skills are pretty meaningless.

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