Opinion: Restoring balance in community decision-making

Tuesday 16 May 2023

Hannah Moneagle
Hannah Moneagle, Director and Principal Solicitor at Grampian Community Law Centre and Lecturer at Robert Gordon University’s Law School, has written an opinion piece in the Press & Journal about the importance of people power in North East communities...

Save St. Fittick’s Park, Save Our Libraries, Save Bucksburn Swimming Pool, Save the Belmont Cinema. We could go on. The fact is that local communities are tired of important decisions being made about their lives and local areas seemingly without prior consultation or forethought and instead based solely on monetary considerations.

The term ‘democracy’ derives from the Greek with ‘demos’ meaning the people, and ‘kratos’ meaning rule or power. The Council of Europe’s Manual for Human Rights Education for Young People suggests that democracy can be considered as “power of the people”; a way of governing which “depends on the will of the people.” 

In a time of climate breakdown, biodiversity crisis, and the cost-of-living emergency, communities battling to save vital greenspaces and essential services feels a long way from democracy under that interpretation.

The truth is that people are now more aware of their rights and feel very strongly about protecting and utilising these when they need to do so. The difficulty lies in access to justice and an imbalance of power. 

We often see rallies, protests, and petitions setting forth the strength of public opinion on community matters. The issue is knowing where to turn next for the legal guidance and support that many campaigns require to take them to the next rung on the campaign ladder. 

As the Director and Principal Solicitor at the Grampian Community Law Centre, part of Robert Gordon University’s Law School, I have found that our dedicated Community and Climate Clinics have usefully started to fill this void. 

Our Community Clinic is currently supporting the Save Our Libraries and the Save Bucksburn Swimming Pool campaigns while the Climate Clinic is working with the Friends of St. Fittick’s Park to try and prevent the inclusion of Torry’s cherished St. Fittick’s Park in the proposed Energy Transition Zone. 

I was involved in the successful Slochy Woodlands campaign which prevented a Moray woodland from destruction, and it reinforced my view that even a small band of people can cause big waves with the right leadership. And whilst I have found the same tenacity and drive in the St. Fittick’s Park campaign, I have also found an overwhelming sense of community spirit amongst the Torry people.

They care deeply about their community, its members, and its history. The sense of indignation surrounding the Park campaign and other recent community developments has resulted in the establishment of a Peoples’ Assembly for Torry, enabling the community to come together and plan how they will address local challenges; protect what they care about; and secure what they need.

The numerous community campaigns we have seen this year alone are testament to the fact that a rebalance of power in community decision-making is long overdue. Perhaps Peoples’ Assemblies are a step towards achieving this. As Helen Keller famously said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”.

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