Force or farce Community consultation in local government
Trust and understanding in the community engagement process are considered by many an essential part of a successful urban planning process. Yet these issues have proved problematic for the stakeholders in one New South Wales local government area. This paper examines a case study of a community engagement process in New South Wales which has involved the re-development of the Camden Town Centre. The paper analyses how a trust deficit has opened up between the local council and the community over a lack of early and meaningful engagement in the decision making process. Many community stakeholders consider the planning proposals compromise the town centre's heritage values and its historic significance. The Camden town centre strategy involves a number of urban planning elements including a decked car park, traffic lights and other features. The decked car park is a particularly contentious issue that has risen like a 'phoenix from the ashes', after it was defeated a decade ago when it threatened to compromise the town's sense of place and community identity. In particular the town's historic St John's church precinct, with links to the Macarthur family and Australia's foundation. While the Camden mayor has vigorously defended the council's community engagement process, it has generated threats of legal action, a lively debate in the local press and community activism. Is it just a storm in a tea cup or a threat to local democracy?