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Early engagement improves planning prospects

September, 2014

Getting embroiled in a battle with local residents is both costly and can significantly delay development on site. Developers need to get their community engagement right first time if they are to avoid a lengthy and expensive appeal, believes Philip Jones, Director of Maxim.

With the UK’s population growing, and with less than a year to go before the General Election, where to house people over the next 20 years is one of the most contentious issues facing politicians.

A growing population requires more houses, and with that comes the risk of ongoing and considerable local resistance to proposed new development from local residents and opposing politicians. 

The perfect storm of: local communities rising up against new housing proposals, emerging Neighbourhood Plans, impending elections and the ubiquitous Internet, means it doesn't take long for an anti-development agenda to emerge, and attract the attention of the local press.

What can be done to mitigate against the situation?

Turning around the inherent and longstanding mistrust that exists between local communities and developers is never going to be easy. The aim has to be to foster a relationship built on mutual understanding to bring about change on a case-by-case basis. Get it right first time, and the next time should be easier. Get it wrong and it’s an ongoing and uphill battle.

It is essential to engage locally, be more transparent, and listen rather than tell, in order to understand the community’s position. This would go some way to tackling the threat of misinformation ahead of any plans going public.

Understanding also comes about through detailed preparation of how your development is going to be received. This involves mapping the local community, its age and social profile, the current and future economy, and the issues on which the proposals may be questioned. This work is fundamental to shaping how a development is presented to the public.

Put yourselves in the shoes of the local residents – and ask yourself: ‘Why could they oppose your plans?’ Could it be because they are concerned about an influx of newcomers? Could their property values be hit by new affordable homes? Are they worried about the loss of agricultural land or public amenity, or that local roads and community services won’t be able to cope with a burgeoning population?

And when it comes to building new homes there’s the other big question to answer: Where are the jobs coming from for the people to afford to live here?

Once you’re able to answer these, and no doubt many other questions, the next step is to brief key stakeholders and organisations. There’s the need to translate this detailed knowledge to help it frame the development proposals, and then brief key influencers and stakeholders, whether MPs or local councillors and key organisations.

And with that comes the other major challenge of ensuring elected members of the local authorities are supportive, regardless of how close they may be to their next election. However, that’s a topic for another day.

Philip Jones - Associate

Philip Jones

Maxim / Associate

posted in: advice, public relations, reputation management,

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