Council Consultation Shortcomings


Consultations are considered valuable for getting community and stakeholder perspectives. There is even an expectation, from the Government, that where applicable consultations may take place. However particularly in transport, some councils can use them to block change. In contrast as an alternative other councils, especially during Covid, tried out schemes. Then the public could experience the proposed changes and decide if they like them.

It is becoming increasingly clear that relying on consultations  has limitations. The more council consultations, you are involved in,  the more the failings become apparent. These include :-

Question Bias. Written to deliver the ‘desired outcome’. By writing questions in a particular way the options are limited. Such as the one for local cycling, where there was the choice of nothing or designs that were substandard. Not what the ‘users’ wanted. There is often no easy way to specify  a different or better solution. If you choose ‘nothing’ the funds are then lost.

Limited Representation: Consultations attract those who have strong opinions and miss out the majority. On top of this, certain marginalised communities with limited resources, may not have equal access. Leading to an incomplete understanding of the community’s needs. As an example the bus consultation along Seaside is through one of the most deprived wards in the town and has low car ownership. Should the local residents be given greater weight than those who are more vocal but live elsewhere ?

Tokenism: A recent consultation on the town centre had 64% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the proposal. The County Council still proceeded. This leads to frustration and distrust among participants for future consultations.

Lack of Expertise: Public consultations often involve those who may not understand the complexities of planning issues or the regulations . Unfortunately not everything can be simplified.

Manipulation : Consultations can be susceptible to manipulation or bias. Those with greater resources or more power may dominate the outcome, drowning out the opinions of others. Special interest groups can exert undue influence and this is often true on both sides of a debate

Constraints: Consultations can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive, requiring significant effort to organise and manage. This can lead to delays in the planning process and using up valuable funds that could be used to deliver real change . It can also be used as a tool to allow councils not to proceed, which may have been their original preference. This can often be the case with anything that adversely affect car drivers. There is pressure for councils to develop ‘green’ plans that they do not really want. This happened during Covid when the county was funded by the Government to implement temporary solutions. If councils can show that there are negative comments they can drop the scheme and keep the funds.

Resistance to Change: Public consultations may reinforce the ‘status quo’, as many people are resistant to any change. Often only a narrow cross-section of the local demographic tends to engage in council consultations.  Often with a preponderance of older people taking part, whilst the views of young people and students, who are mostly reliant on public transport, are not usually represented well enough. However often controversial schemes are then accepted and most would not want it back the way it was.

Social media – Assuming many residents do not fully understand or even look at the documentation, there is the strong evidence of people being influenced by ‘simple summaries’ on social media. This is an increasing problem. As an example a recent local social media campaign had the suggestion that, in the current bus consultation, all of Seaside would become a bus lane and there would be no parking. This is not even close to reality. However these simple messages can then be the main source of misinformation for people completing the online consultation.

Compromise : There is little scope, for those with different views, to come to some common agreement. Often the consultants will speak to the different sides in isolation. When perhaps, through a wider meeting, a compromise could be achieved.


Consultations can be used in a number of ways :-

  • genuinely find residents opinions
  • ensure the desired outcome from the council’s perspective
  • allow councils to drop schemes they did not actually want
  • rubber stamp a decision that had already been taken

Paul Humphreys  EEAN Transport Group

Could there be an end to Eastbourne’s congestion?

Eastbourne is one of the most car-dependent towns in the southeast. The reason? The alternatives to driving a car in Eastbourne just don’t meet the needs of most people. Too many cars on the road, and too many cars parked alongside the road, legally and illegally, lead to unsafe road conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. There are less than a handful of safe cycle paths. Traffic congestion leads to unpleasant and dangerous levels of pollution, which deter people from walking or cycling along our streets.

There are too few buses for them to be a convenient alternative to driving.  Commuters and school children cannot rely on buses as they are too often delayed by traffic jams during busy times. Laying on more services is not cost-effective unless more people use buses. People won’t use buses unless there are more services and buses run to time … and so the cycle continues.

The lack of alternatives to cars leads to more people driving cars whether they want to, or need to. Congestion leads to more congestion … and so the cycle continues.

Eastbourne needs radical changes to end the cycle of congestion. Giving people safe, reliable alternatives to driving a car will reduce congestion so that those who need to drive a car, can and those that want to walk, cycle, or take a bus, can make those choices.

Eastbourne now has an opportunity to make changes. East Sussex County Council has put forward a bus improvement plan, with funding to match. Eastbourne has waited a long time for this level of investment in our transport infrastructure and if we don’t take it up, we lose the funds.

The East Sussex Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) includes a set of Bus Priority Measures which is open for consultation until 25 September 2023. You have until then to show your support for the proposed changes. So please act now.

About the proposed changes

OK they are not perfect, but these things rarely are at first and the consultation allows us to offer suggestions for improvements. The aims of the BSIP are all heading in the right direction:

  • Improve the reliability and punctuality of bus services and explore methods to make bus services more accessible.
  • Encourage an increase in the proportion of people travelling by bus.
  • Enhance the bus network, reducing journey times and improving reliability and punctuality of bus services.
  • Increase bus usage across the county by building a bus network that meets everyone’s needs.
  • Complement and support wider transport investment across the country.

The aim of the bus priority measures is to make bus journeys quicker, more efficient and reliable. Through introducing dedicated spaces for walking and cycling, ESCC also want to improve the safety, convenience and attractiveness of these journeys, and help encourage more people to travel on foot, by bike, and use the bus.What’s not to like?

If you want to attend one of the public consultation in-person events on 16th September from 09:30-13:30  at The Foundry (inside The Beacon shopping centre), Eastbourne, BN21 3NW. Add this event to your calendar (.ics)

Could there be an end to Eastbourne’s congestion? It’s in your power. Give your broad support to these proposed changes and give our councillors the confidence to make the decisions we need them to make.

Jill Shacklock

cartton of traffic jam with children cycling over the roofs of cars. two women are walking along the pavement. One is saying to the other "isn't it nice to see children cycling to school?"