Today’s laws ensure that large scale developments include community engagement within the planning process. However, whatever the size of development, we believe that developers should consider getting their local community involved. Good developments are those that work well within the surrounding area and local people can provide understanding on how a place works and functions.
When businesses invest in a new product they carry out market research to ensure that it is fit for market, developments should be no different. Local communities can provide valuable knowledge on the area and if people are given the opportunity to shape the future of the place they live in, it can lead to minimising risks and conflict that often leads to delays.
Good engagement should not be a tick box exercise and needs real commitment and a clear process to be of value for all those involved. A ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be used for community engagement, as every village or town is different, however here are some points to consider:
Timing is key
Develop a clear timetable at the start, outlining when people will be made aware of the plans and when they can have their say. Be realistic and provide sufficient time for people to give their views and allow time for you to review the feedback, so they can influence the design. Often by involving people early in the process, it is more cost effective to make changes to the development.
Be clear what is fixed and what is up for debate. Make sure you interest the local community, but also manage their expectations and explain how their feedback will be used.
When engaging with the public, make sure you are in contact with the wider community. Mrs Smith may always attend your consultation event, but does she represent the majority of the community? Think about those harder to reach groups within the community and allocate your resources to attract their views. Use a wide range of methods to communicate with people, working people may prefer online surveys, where the older generation may like face to face contact at exhibitions.
It’s a two way process
Engagement is a two way dialogue, which openly shares and exchanges information. You must be willing to listen and respond to suggestions. It is important to build relationships and develop trust to the mutual benefit of all those involved.
Continue to engage
If people have taken the time to give you their views, make sure they know about the end result. Even though you may have achieved planning permission, good neighbour relationships need to continue through construction and you never know one of the people who gave feedback could become a purchaser!