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FEATURES - COUNTDOWN TO A NEW BEGINNING

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The local elections are just the start of a long and complicated struggle for Burnley BC. Last summer's troubles pu...
The local elections are just the start of a long and complicated struggle for Burnley BC. Last summer's troubles put an uncomfortable spotlight on the town's housing, education and community failings,

but, says Gillian Taylor, things are on the way up

After today's elections, when the votes have been counted and the media has gone home, life will return to normal in Burnley. The media's interest is obviously based on the town's social and economic problems, but now it wants to be in the headlines for something other than riots and deprivation.

The people, their representatives, and the bodies responsible for Burnley have a huge task ahead of them. But it is one to which the town is totally committed. Following last summer's disturbances, and the Burnley Task Force report, Burnley BC's approach has been to engage actively with Burnley residents and build a consensus that informs everything we do.

This week Burnley publishes its Community Cohesion Plan. It is a statement of work in progress and it sets out an ambitious plan for how communities and individuals can work together at every level in innovative ways to share ideas, plan together, understand each other and build a positive future for Burnley.

The plan strongly advocates the use of local partnerships, backed by councils, to drive effective change and create a framework for a new approach to communities. But community cohesion is not a separate, isolated activity. The council is committed to ensuring that it informs every decision made and action taken. It is now at the heart of all the strategic planning processes.

Now more than ever we must convey a strong vision of the council's long-term ambition to people in the area. We must explain where the town is going, how we intend to get there and whether we are successful in those ambitions. We must bring everyone with us so the plans are owned and driven by the people they will affect. Community cohesion must become the context in which all renewal and investment decisions are taken, particularly in our most deprived areas.

If last summer's disturbances taught us one thing it was how complex and multi-layered the causes were. There are clearly no easy answers or quick fixes. But the last nine months have seen programmes actively developed to tackle the problems of fractured communities, economic decline and housing market collapse. Despite these long-term challenges, there have been a number of significant short-term successes.

Chronic housing conditions and private housing market failure characterise and define the areas of Burnley affected by the disturbances last year. We have already begun a comprehensive ten-year mixed programme of clearance and improvement. We are ensuring that all arms of government understand that the town will not achieve a more cohesive community without addressing its housing problems. We are working closely with registered social landlords to support new housing developments and ensure that action on suitablesites is more speedily and effectively progressed.

Addressing Burnley's environmental problems will help in the fight against crime and disorder, including a rapid response to clearing rubbish in the back yards of empty properties and securing empty properties. Over 600 houses have already been targeted with a tougher line on illegal dumping.

The sale of drugs was an important factor last summer and a lot of the last nine months' effort has focused on cutting waiting times for treatment.

The Burnley against night-time disorder initiative brings partners together to target those involved in assaults, drug supply and use with a 12-month ban to make pubs and clubs safer for everyone.

Ofsted and the Department for Education & Skills have recently approved Lancashire CC's education and development plan for the borough that reviews education policies and provision with a particular emphasis on community working and understanding.

Burnley now has a Youth Council, with 150 youngsters drawn from families of different incomes, race and culture and last Easter saw the first Burnley Shout programme - a Home Office funded scheme to raise multi cultural awareness among young people.

But despite early successes, community cohesion must be built into everything we do. This means having a locally agreed definition of what community cohesion entails. In short it is 'a state where different communities live and work confidently alongside each other, recognising each other's differences but sharing a sense of belonging and common prosperity'. All public sector agencies are ensuring this definition is now at the heart of their strategies. To mainstream community cohesion we must make it the cross-cutting theme in all plans and decision-making. And we must measure and monitor whether it is working -including assessing participation in civic life and developing governance and leadership, alongside more traditional indicators such as community safety and employment opportunities. The Community Cohesion Monitoring Panel, comprising colleagues from the council, the police, the voluntary and community sector and Burnley College is taking this work forward to constantly review and evaluate the borough's approach.

Building a stronger, cohesive Burnley is a complex, sensitive, long-term task. We have made a good start. Whatever happened at the local elections, we need to look at community cohesion as a process requiring energy, commitment and vision. When people wake up today, everyone in Burnley will know that process has just begun.

Gillian Taylor

Chief executive, Burnley BC

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