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Pitting your wits against the public

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If you are ever required to carry out a public consultation as part of the design process you should examine your past.

Why did this come about?

Have you recently driven under a ladder and run over a black cat, breaking most of the consignment of mirrors you had on the back seat? Or are you being punished for the sins of a past life? If so, you must have been Caligula.

You have to examine your past, because your future does not bear thinking about.

For the rest of your life you are going to spend every Tuesday evening in a draughty community centre on the set of Billy Elliot , trying to work out what on earth people are saying. Let me translate: 80 per cent of your consultees are saying: 'All I want is a back garden and a nice view of the countryside.' The other 20 per cent are saying: 'I'm not a bigot, but all this estate needs is to kick out the single mothers, the immigrants and the social workers.'

Of course, people do not have to mutter in a proletarian patois to be incomprehensible.

The nonagenarians who form the Felpersham Conservation Committee, and maintain that nothing that looks younger than them ought to be allowed, have a bewildering view of how the world works. 'Your proposal is, of course, completely unacceptable: there is no decent milliner's shop shown, we'd need to see a park with a bandstand instead of this multiplex, and it all should be built of local limestone [from my nephew's quarry].' It is no coincidence that the meetings are held in buildings that double as day centres: you're on their turf; the ancient and befuddled can maintain their hold over planning officers, and therefore over you, by blockading the tea urn and withholding the key to the toilet.

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