Scarborough Senior High School Plan
The prior Government had determined that the Senior High School was no longer required due to declining numbers of school aged children in the area. The community opposed the closure of the school, however it was closed, with minimal consultation.
Closure of the Senior High School
The prior Government had determined that the Senior High School was no longer required due to declining numbers of school aged children in the area. The community opposed the closure of the school, however it was closed, with minimal consultation. When the community asked for the swimming pool and gymnasium to be retained for community use, the request was ignored and the bulldozers came in.
Development of Lobby Groups
A powerful and organised community group actively lobbied for over 18 months for 100% of the land to be retained as public open space. Other lobby groups developed through sporting organisations, the local primary school and other community groups. This issue was perceived to have had considerable influence at the State election, where the sitting member lost his seat.
The Liberal Government of the day had initially committed to 10% public open space, which was later increased to 30% public open space. The new Labor Government came to office with the commitment to consult the public before further developing the site. Before this consultation, they made a Cabinet decision to sell at least part of the site to provide $10.5M for educational facilities. The remainder would be subject to community consultation. Analysis from the Valuer General’s Department indicated that this would be $3.8M that could be used to pay for facilities or additional public open space
Stage 1: Determination of the Options Consensus Forum
A Consensus Forum was held to assist the community to develop between 3 – 8 options to take to the larger community for their vote.
Each of the key lobby groups was invited to send several delegates. A random sample of residents from the larger catchment area around the school received invitations to attend. Advertisements were put in the local newspapers for interested participants.
Just under 100 participants attended the Consensus Forum, consisting of almost 50 who were invited either through the key lobby group invitations or the random sample invitations; and a further 50 who were chosen from those responding to the community newspaper advertisement
A small Community Reference Group consisting of the leaders of the key lobby groups was instituted to oversee the proceedings. This Group determined the process for choosing the participants from the advertisement. Selection was done through a computerised random sample. The task of this group was to ensure the process was fair and transparent and to keep their members informed.
It was determined to run the engagement in two phases – the first a Community Forum to determine the options; and the second a random sample Community Survey, based on the findings of the forum, to determine the wider community’s preferences.
Steps in the Process
Before the Forum
Although the community was involved in overseeing the selection process for the Forum, there were still complaints about how the participants were chosen as well as insufficient advertising and notice. The Government had publicly stated that it would not consider 100% public open space, so many in the community did not want the Community Forum to proceed. Protesters wearing 100% signs and large posters had gathered outside the venue prior to the Forum. The media was well represented and TV cameras and journalists covered the proceedings.
To ensure maximum participation, a Table Facilitator was organised for each table. The facilitators were Labor members of parliament as well as the CEO and executive team of LandCorp. At a briefing session prior to the Forum, a detailed description of the tasks to be undertaken was distributed to them and potential difficulties were discussed
At the Forum
Managing the Forum
Participants were allocated to specific tables, although the seating was not always heeded.
The technique of De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ was used throughout the Forum to reduce the emotion and encourage rigorous debate.
The Minister explained the Cabinet decision to sell at least part of the site to reimburse money to Education. She indicated that up to 50% of the land would be available for public open space (20% more than had been previously promised) or up to $3.8M ($1.3M more than had been offered previously). The response from many participants was angry disagreement. Several attempts from the floor to stage a walk out did not succeed, with participants choosing to remain for the duration of the Forum.
LandCorp, the government agency charged with the redevelopment responsibility, organised pictures and costings of approximately 10 options for distribution at the Conference. The CEO Landcorp described these options to participants and answered questions. There was some mistrust about the accuracy of the costings, with the belief that the government would receive much more from the sale than was suggested.
Discussion of Options
The Tables were asked to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the various options and to design new options that would fit within the government parameters of ceding $10.5M for education. Some options focussed on the amount of public open space and its location on the site; others focussed on the amount and type of recreational facilities. Findings were discussed in a plenary session.
Prioritisation of Options
Finally, participants were asked to vote to determine the options to be forwarded to the community for their vote. Two new options, which were not within the government’s parameters, were proffered (100% public open space and approximately 90% public open space) and received preferences. The Minister committed to taking this back to Cabinet for reconsideration.
After the Forum
Cabinet maintained its commitment to securing $10.5M for education. The Community Reference Group was advised, and a press release was disseminated. The remaining options prioritised by the Forum were discussed by the Community Reference Group and it was determined that seven (7) options should be offered to the community for their vote.
Stage 2: Determination of the Preferred Option Community Survey
The boundaries of the survey sample were discussed with the Community Reference Group, with an agreement for the catchment area to include 6,000 homes and for each household to receive one survey. The WA Electoral Commission provided the survey addresses, including the name of the oldest person in each household to whom the survey would be sent.
The Community Reference Group agreed that bona fide members of the lobby groups who lived outside the catchment area boundary would also be sent a copy of the survey to complete, if their names and addresses were provided to LandCorp.
This process was not well understood by the community. The survey was criticised for not allowing sufficient people to vote or attempting to rig the vote
The survey was prepared by an independent consultant. The format consisted of coloured pictures of options, with trade-offs between public open space and facilities.
The first question asked the extent to which the community wished to trade off public open space for facilities, with a range of a maximum of 50% public open space with no facilities, to 30% public open space with $3.8M for facilities.
The next question asked the type of facilities preferred, and if they should be located on the Scarborough Senior High School site or off site on the Scarborough Beach foreshore, or on a combination of both.
The 100% public open space group criticised the survey in the media for its complexity. Others, however complemented the way it handled a complex subject simply. Notably, there were only 4 responses in total that could not be coded. There was also public criticism of insufficient time to respond. However, ten (10 ) days were allowed to return surveys, and this was extended when one of the action groups submitted a list of names to receive the survey right before its due closure date
A total of 6,100 surveys were received by households in the school catchment area and approximately 400 members of sporting and action groups involved in the site development. A total of 1,889 responses were returned, ie 31 %, which is high for a community survey.
The clear community preference was for 30% public open space with facilities. This preference received 51.1% of the vote (938 first preference votes) compared to 26.4% for 50% public open space (485 first preference votes) and 22.5% for 41.5% public open space plus facilities (412 first preference votes).
Overwhelmingly, respondent households preferred facilities on the Scarborough Senior High School site, a total of 69.5% (1189 first preferences) compared with 30.5% for facilities either off site at the Scarborough beach foreshore or both on and off site (521 first preferences).
The community chose the option of 30% public open space with an open 50 metre swimming pool, as well as one enclosed and one open multipurpose court on site, that is 36.1% of first preferences (618 votes).
The Minister accepted the survey findings and put the agreed money aside for the pool and multipurpose court to be built on the school site.
The result was not well received either by the group who wanted 100% public open space or the Local Council, which didn’t want to build the swimming pool on site, but rather at the Scarborough Beach foreshore.
To date, the residential blocks have been sold and the multipurpose court has been built on site. However the pool has not. The community is still lobbying the Local Council to build it on the school site. The remaining money for the pool rests in a government account awaiting resolution of the issue.
Despite the considerable effort to create a fair, transparent and accountable community consultation process, it was criticised by some at every stage. The key learning from this is the crucial importance of consultation with a community very early in the decision making process. Because the community was not involved from the outset of the decision to discontinue the school, the community became angered and frustrated, making future attempts at negotiation extraordinarily difficult.
When community members were anxious about the result, they criticised the process, even though they were stakeholders it its development. Rumour and innuendo became far more powerful than fact and information. Considerable distrust developed not only between the community and the politicians / bureaucrats, but also within different segments of the community. Agreements not in writing were later reneged upon.
Although the process was seen as fair and worthy by some community groups; for others, it was a betrayal. The lobby groups in the community that did not agree with the parameters the government set, could see no fairness in the consultation process.
It could well be that when there are focussed, single issue lobby groups that have determined there can only be one resolution to then issue, that the Consensus Forum is not the engagement technique to use. Consensus Forums are best used when the community is willing to engage in dialogue about all potential options, and can be engaged in reframing issues in order to find alternative solutions.
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