Council must learn listening skill

Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
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Listening is a skill that not many people seem to possess these days.

The rise of social media and the demise of face to face conversation has inevitably led to people saying more, but forgetting to utilise their ears.

Everybody seems to have an opinion on everything, from sexist shoes to Big Ben’s bongs, and they demand to have their voice heard.

But with so many people talking, who is truly listening anymore? When you listen you often learn something new, whereas when you talk, you mostly repeat things you already knew; I was taught that at school, I think, but I am not sure, because in those days I didn’t pay attention.

People probably think I talk (rubbish) for a living on the radio but I listen far more than I talk, especially when I am interviewing somebody; a guest’s tone, demeanour or choice of words can often lead me to a question that was never even dreamt of by a producer.

Interviews often go off in completely different directions than was at first anticipated, just because I bothered to listen to the answers, rather just move on to the next question on the piece of paper.

I have spent the last 10 years of my life on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, creating reasons for people to listen, using a mixture of sound, silence, drama, confrontation and jeopardy.

By listening to our audience and providing the sort of radio they want to hear, we have managed to build record audience figures in every time slot we have occupied, at breakfast and mid-morning.

However, I fear that if Peterborough City Council were a radio station they would be broadcasting to deaf ears; so out of step are they sometimes, with the public in this city.

I had hoped that the solar farm debacle in Newborough and Thorney (Marco’s grand plan) would have taught certain councillors that it is not only ‘good to talk’ but that it is also good to prick up your ears from time to time.

Just because you are in charge doesn’t always mean you know best and if you fail to convince public opinion, then your plans are doomed to failure.

You might have the best idea in the world, that can save the city millions and provide everybody with free gin and crisps for life, but if you convey that idea in a conceited, dictatorial way and fail to heed the concerns of the public, then you are heading for a fall.

The scheme to knock down the dilapidated Rhubarb Bridge is a case in point; we all know that the iconic structure is well past it’s sell-by date and that a replacement system needs to be put in place.

Quite right then, that a consultation should take place on the best way forward; maybe we should have a replacement bridge, a series of Toucan crossings (the council’s favoured scheme), or perhaps a Willy Wonka style lift system, that can transport pedestrians, cyclists and motorists safely, around one of the busiest junctions in the city. It’s a debate that everyone should be involved in, a debate where everyone’s concerns and ideas should be heard.

But how can you have a discussion when the decision has effectively already been taken?

Skanska have been awarded a contract to carry out the works and that was signed off before the public consultation had even taken place!

It may be the best scheme, it may be the cheapest, but how will you know if you don’t listen to anybody else’s point of view?

It seems some people have failed to learn from past mistakes, some people need to do a lot less talking and a lot more listening.