Newcastle council votes to keep the community in the loop with two-part engagement plan

NEWCASTLE residents were close to losing their voice when local councillors voted on a new community engagement plan late last month.

Draft copies of Newcastle council's Community Engagement Framework and its Engagement Policy were put to councillors for a second time this year after councillors agreed to put the two documents on public exhibition in July.

Council staff recommended they both be endorsed in July, but they changed their tune in November and recommended that only the framework be approved.

While both documents talk about the value of the community's voice, the framework document does not detail how the public should be engaged for every project or issue.

On the other hand, the engagement policy states that the council must engage with the community whenever changes were planned for a council service, project or initiative.

It also states that the council must keep a record of the community engagement and report that feedback to the elected council in an open matter.

At the council meeting, Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy said he was in favour of just one document to keep the process simple.

Councillor Tim Crakanthorp disagreed and said both documents were needed because "you need a policy before a process".

Newcastle council has flip-flopped over its preferred method of community engagement over the past two council terms.

In 2008, the council decided to replace community forums with four separate ward forums.

Then in 2011 councillors decided to scrap the ward forums altogether and use Newcastle Voice, which is predominantly an online-based community survey.

At the most recent council meeting vote, not all councillors toed their party's line, with the majority of councillors defying council staff's most recent recommendation and endorsing both the Community Engagement Policy and the Community Engagement Framework.

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