To inform the preparation of a business case for a multimillion pound investment in the streets and spaces of Ballymena Town Centre, Ballymena Borough Council and the Department of Social Development oversaw an innovative process of consultation with the town’s residents and business community.
It was felt that based on previous experience, traditional consultation methods would be unlikely to realise an adequate level of engagement with the town’s population. Town centre business owners, who were understandably concerned at the perceived decline of the town centre, were also cautious that any changes to road layouts and parking, for example, could further jeopardise the viability of their businesses. However, it was unclear how representative those views were of the wider population.
The project consultants The Paul Hogarth Company, with advice from the DCAL Ministerial Advisory Group, developed and delivered a consultation process with the following aims: raise awareness of the town centre’s public realm and strategy for its improvement; provide the context for discussion and feedback from the general public; demonstrate the potential of the town centre’s spaces to accommodate new uses; test the viability of spaces to take on new roles, thereby informing their future redesign.
A series of 12 different consultation activities took place over the summer of 2012. They ranged from the more familiar publication of information boards and focus group workshops, to other ‘experiential’ consultation events taking place outside on the streets themselves. These included a duck race along the River Braid; a street Olympics along Bryan Street; an animal farm on Wellington Court and the reintroduction of bands to the bandstand at Broadway. Another event involved an overnight street makeover, widening a stretch of pavement for 24 hours.