The controversy surrounding the planned new ablution facilities at Onrus beach is a textbook example of the importance of proper public participation.

This issue is but one of many examples in the Overstrand of the extent to which residents choose to be part of the planning processes of local government. Other examples that spring to mind include the Fernkloof Management Plan, the safari park near Kleinmond, the De Mond development and the Hermanus Bypass, to name but a few.

Residents need to familiarise themselves with the public participation policy of the municipality. It can be found under the Policies tab on www.overstrand.gov.za.

One of the cornerstones of this policy is the Ward Committee system, which has proven to be successful if properly run by the local government, with the buy-in of civil society organisations such as homeowners’ and ratepayers’ associations and business chambers.

As a matter of fact, the Western Cape is one of the only places in the country where Ward Committees have proven to be successful. But while this system does work, it also has its shortcomings. Often Joe Soap has very little idea of what is on the agenda at these committee meetings and even less knowledge on what projects are contained in the Independent Development Plans for their suburbs. While it is the task of the committee members to, in turn, inform their constituents as to what is being discussed and planned, the system is not infallible.

And while there are great expectations of the municipality to ensure public participation, there is only that much they can do to inform residents. For this very reason, The Village NEWS has over the years often reported on public participation projects in order to bring it to the attention of residents. It forms part and parcel of our duty to inform our readers.

But between the Ward Committees, newspapers, social media and various other means of communication, it often happens that information does not reach those who expect to be informed about certain issues. For this reason we urge our readers to become active citizens and make a point of reading Council and Ward Committee agendas, to interact with the various community pages on social media and to support their business chambers, homeowners’ and ratepayers’ associations and any other civil society organisation.

Make it your business to know what is happening in your town; it is your right and your duty. In the same breath, Ward Councillors and the Municipality must ensure that they are continuously in discussion with their constituents. The importance of newsletters, social media groups and WhatsApp forums cannot be stressed enough. There needs to be continuous and clear communication from the side of local government on all issues that are of concern to residents.

Let us talk and listen.

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