The Localism Act has placed the onus on developers to pay more than lip service to community consultation during the pre-application planning stage, and will make the degree of consultation a material consideration at the determination stage.
In this post, we will be explaining why developers need to stand up, take notice, and engage with the increasingly enfranchised local community before submitting an application as failure to do can have a negative impact on the scheme and your reputation.
Consultation and why it matters
Experience suggests that well thought-out consultation programmes (particularly those for contentious applications) are welcomed by local planning officials and councillors, with a 12[-]week consultation period recognised as best practice. That said, the situation on the ground and the area’s commitment to bottom-up decision-making can have profound effects on a consultation strategy and timeframes.
Introduced in March 2012, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) forms part of the Localism Act and places planning in the democratic arena by providing local communities with the tools necessary to shape the places they want to live in. While the NPPF’s success to date is debatable, it nonetheless provides a framework in which ‘people-planning’ is encouraged and enshrined in law with Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs) among the most effective tools available to local communities.
"Neighbourhood planning will allow communities, both residents, employees and business, to come together through a local parish council or neighbourhood forum and say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go – and what they should look like."
Should an NDP be adopted in a developer’s area, the proposed scheme will have to be compatible with the neighbourhood planning criteria to stand a chance of being approved. Engaging and consulting with a local community from the outset will ensure any areas of tension or incompatibilities are resolved, so establishing a consultation strategy prior to any launch will be vital.
In 2012, Roland Dransfield worked for house builder Taylor Wimpey to communicate its proposals for a 250-home housing development in Preston that had been refused planning permission two times. By using social media and crafting a campaign that went from reactive to proactive, the prevailing negative sentiment of the locals became more positive within a few months and the planning application received permission.
Although the area didn’t have an NDP in place, the above example highlights the importance of viewing public consultation not only as a reactive exercise, but also used as a tool to garner and mobilise support, which is particularly important for contentious planning applications.
Effectively implementing and maintaining a social media strategy will work to invite the views of those that tend not to engage the traditional process, while experience in dealing with the media will help to maximise positive messages and minimise negative issues.
Before launching any proposals, regardless of how positive these may seem, we’d recommend the following considerations:
- Timing: think local elections, term time, public holidays – after all, you don’t want to be accused of holding events at unsociable times.
- Political make-up: targeting the political group in power will be a priority, but if the site ward is controlled by the opposition, you’ll have to ensure the proposal doesn’t become a political football.
- Local demographic – the lifestyle, income, age, and background of the local community will determine which key messages should be emphasised to demonstrate the compatibility of the proposal with present and future needs.
- Third party stakeholders – don’t underestimate the power of third party endorsement or criticism; identify which groups are likely to support and oppose the scheme and then communicate and prioritise them accordingly.
The days of scanning the council’s Statement of Community Involvement policy in order to do the bare minimum are drawing to a close, and the expectations of decision-makers and enfranchised locals are growing.
A thorough consultation can help to positively shape the future developer/community relations, should planning permission be granted, and contribute to the overall perception of the developer and its values. The result? A two-way relationship characterised by trust and co-operation, which in itself is a positive key message for the developer.
Please feel free to share with us your experience of community consultation and engagement. Did it have a positive or negative affect on your scheme or perhaps it felt a bit pointless? Let us know.
And if you'd like to learn more about using exciting digital tools to connect with the people that matter to you, be sure to check out our new eBook on content marketing for housebuilders.
Images courtesy of Images Money, English Property Market and Niall Kennedy on Flickr.