The Scottish Civic Trust is the national body for the civic movement in Scotland. There are over 130 groups affiliated to the Trust. Some are called civic trusts, others amenity societies, "friends of" or heritage groups. Their aims vary but most share a common purpose: to care for, celebrate and champion their local village, town or city.
Many spend a lot of time commenting on planning applications. Most members of these societies tend to be older and many are retired. They offer lifetimes of experience and come from a wide range of backgrounds. They are, perhaps, not as representative of their larger communities as they would like to be. Almost all struggle with the same issues: ageing membership, lack of voice, recruitment of new, younger members and a feeling of swimming against the tide. What drives them on is civic pride in their area, responsibility for its upkeep and future and a determination to stand up for it when it is under threat. Their sense of civic duty harks back to an earlier time, the 1960s and 70s when civic society was at its most active. In a time when people lived in neighbourhoods for much longer than today's transient populations, there was a greater connectivity to one's environment. This cohesion, along with a campaigning spirit, imbued groups to challenge and inform decisions made by planning authorities and city and town leaders and helped to make the conservation movement grow.
No doubt, much of this will sound familiar to members of community councils across Scotland whose role also includes representing the views and needs of their communities to local authorities. Many local civic trusts and amenity societies also share with community councils a deep sense of pride in their neighbourhoods and a civic duty to protect and enhance them. In some places there may well be people who sit on both a community council and the board of an amenity society. There are of course many more community councils than amenity groups but I believe there is still plenty of scope for improving dialogue and co-operation, particularly in smaller towns and villages. For example, in Haddington in East Lothian, the local community council worked with Haddington and District Amenity Society and a number of other groups including the history society and business association to develop a new ‘Vision’ for the town centre. The current Scottish Government consultation on the future of the Scottish planning system offers opportunities for a joined-up response from different local groups including community councils, particularly as involving more people in the planning process and aligning community planning and spatial planning are some of the stated proposals. The annual Scottish Civic Trust My Place Awards regularly gets submissions from community councils for outstanding placemaking projects including buildings and gardens and for local community heroes, or ‘civic champions’ as we call them. Similarly, the Scottish Heritage Angel Awards is open to community councils. There should be scope for different groups to liaise with each other when considering potential nominations.
In summary, while the remit of community councils is wider than a typical civic trust or amenity society, which tend to have a particular focus on the built environment, there must still be opportunities for both groups to work together on matters of shared interest including preservation and enhancement of conservation areas; housing developments; local development plans; town centre management and jointly supporting and promoting community engagement in the planning process. A list of amenity societies across Scotland can be found at www.scottishcivictrust.org.uk
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