Trust deficit opens up on town centre strategy

Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy
Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy

Preliminary Findings

Camden Town Strategy Community Consultative Process

A trust deficit has opened up between Camden Council and stakeholders in the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy. It threatens to re-shape Camden’s sense of place and community identity, according to preliminary research conducted by UOW academic Dr Ian Willis.

Stakeholder cynicism has developed for some around the community consultation process. Suspicion has taken hold around an apparent lack of transparency. Some in the community do not feel that they have an effective seat at the table or ownership of changes.

The community consultation process does not line up with the Grattan Institute’s international research for community engagement on urban planning issues. Its 2010 report ‘Cities: Who Decides?’, which looked at the governance of eight overseas cities, found that residents must be involved in decisions. The cities that made, and implemented, tough choices, had early and deep public engagement.

The Grattan Institute findings have been incorporated in new NSW planning legislation that is currently before parliament.

It is unfortunate that the community engagement process effectively commenced with a story in the Camden press about a decked car park in May 2014. The decked car park is a particularly problematic urban planning issue in Camden. It has had a vexed history that raged for over a decade fromthe mid-1990s.

Camden Council might have been better advised to have engaged the community in planning charrettes in the early 2013 strategy discussion.

Early and deep community engagement by council might have better built community confidence. An open up-front community engagement process from the initial formulation of the town centre strategy in 2013 may have been a more positive approach.


University of Wollongong historian Dr Ian Willis has summarised the 2006 decked car park proposal in a paper called ‘Democracy in action in local government, Camden NSW’. The paper is @ https://www.academia.edu/6315782/Democracy_in_Action_in_Local_Government_Camden_NSW

Dr Willis has also prepared a draft discussion paper on the community consultative process around the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy. Interested parties can request a pdf copy by contacting Dr Willis on chn(at)live.com.au



Democracy, Place and Local Government

Camden Council Head Office, Macaria, Camden.

Local Politics

Local politics is a special beast. It is particular, local, small fare and accessible. It is parish pump politics at its best.

Local politics is where active citizenship at a local level makes for more effective democracies and better government.  Local government is small scale, specific  and administrative in nature, for example, pot-holes, dog-bites and long grass.

Parochialism and localism are common characteristics of local government politics that can have positive and negative effects.

In this context parochialism refers to the over-emphasis on the particular at a local scale and prioritises the local to the exclusion of the wider community. Localism, which can re-enforce parochialism, is anti-centralist, and in rural areas looks back to the rustic traditions and values of the pre-industrial viliages, it shares many of the elements of rural ideology.

In Ian Willis’s article ‘Democracy in Place’, he examines the role of parochialism and localism played out in the 2008 New South Wales local government elections in the Camden Local Government Area. In his article ‘Democracy in Action’ he undertakes an historical analysis of the influence of parochialism and the competing role of rural gentry and townsmen.

Willis maintains that there is a strong anti-party sentiment in local politics and that this related to parochialism. Resident action groups are perhaps an exception as they have successfully harnessed parochialism to foster their form of local activism.

Local government politicians are known by people at a local level.

Local politicians are often local identities who are well known to the community and are highly accessible to members of the local community. Local patriotism is often the mark of success of a council politician, and national party affiliation or membership is seen with suspicion. Often local councillors are small businessmen who are self-made, self-sufficient, independent, hard working and conservative. Successfull local councillors have local networks of power based on business connections, membership of local clubs, and family and interpersonal networks and hierarchies.

In the Camden community rurality and the area’s bucolic nature have been part of mantra of local politics for a number of decades. This situation is typical of rural communities of Sydney’s metropolitan fringe that are under pressure from the city’s  urban growth. Willis details how parochialism silenced council candidates around controversial issues.

Willis’s analysis of the various stakeholders in the local political process including the country press (civic journalism) and  community organisations (active citizenship) illustrates the important place of parochialism in these small closed communities.

Read more on these issues:

Ian Willis: Democracy in Action in Local Government, Camden, NSW

Ian Willis: Democracy in Place, Parochial Politics and the 2008 Local Government Elections

Results of the 2008 NSW Local Government Elections

Camden Council