Insights article

Community engagement: Four aspects that raise support for your construction project

Sebastian Weise
Published: 28/10/2018

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When planning the master plan for a new development, it is natural to have some doubts about which aspects of the design may turn out to be controversial to the public. Will the proposal fly or tank? And if it’s the latter, what are the main objections? 

Generally speaking, larger development projects are likely to attract greater interest and can also receive objections on a wider range of grounds. In this article, we discuss how an engagement process can pick up on local concerns, communicate and enhance value-add from a development project, and ultimately garner support. 

Let's face it, any proposed planning project has both benefits and potential draw backs. It is important to show the benefit that are planned, and understand whether those views are shared. If they are not shared, negative feedback is valuable, too, as it helps to understand concerns and identify opportunities for improvement that raise support. 

Relate to local residents' concerns

Residents are not naturally opposed to new development. A study by market research agency YouGov and Shelter on the ‘silent majority’ established that an astonishing 69% of respondents were positive or neutral about house building in their area. Even across age groups, supporters tended to outnumber opponents by 5 to 3, subverting the common notion that new developments are immediately viewed negatively by the community. 

YouGov and Shelter’s research suggests that it pays to consider what elements in your development proposal appeal to specific stakeholders and communicate that clearly.

The YouGov study asked respondents to imagine a proposal for a new housing project in their area and choose amongst a range of scenarios that may make them more likely to support a project.

We have summarised these scenarios into four broad categories: 1) neighbourhood improvements, 2) the architectural design, 3) aspects relating to proposed tenures, 4) and the inclusiveness of the design process (see below).

Where to focus your engagement messages

Based on the insights from the study by Shelter and YouGov, think about the positive local impacts the development project will have along those four areas: 

  • Neighbourhood improvements (41% more likely to support): New development projects can have a strong positive impact for an area. Improvements to local infrastructure (roads, community facilities, services, improvements to local people) are crucial aspects to attract support for a project. Sometimes, small improvements are equally important, such as fencing and similar smaller investments. In addition to direct financial contributions, consider indirect outcomes, such as the protection of local services (e.g. post office, bank facility, doctor practices) and the provision of new jobs.
  • Design of the project (30% more likely to support): This relates to how your development will be experienced, both by occupants and those visiting the area. For garnering support, build quality is an important concern. This includes the design of new public spaces and how the proposals connect and enhance the existing neighbourhood. Environmentally friendly designs are increasingly popular. Projects can consider access routes, green space, and other public realm improvements.
  • Project tenure (23% more likely to support): The project has a greater chance of support if includes an element of affordable housing or social housing available for local people. Generally, it suggests communities prefer mixed-use developments that also provide suitable new living space, for instance, for young families.
  • Inclusivity of the design process (12% more likely to support): This can be an important additional component in garnering support for your project, especially if the existing site is inhabited. While the least likely to generate support, it can still be a deciding factor in some cases and may be more relevant to larger projects with a social contribution, such as estate regeneration projects in urban areas. Generally, it is recommended to engage early on and show a level of appreciation for reasonable concerns raised by local residents.

Takeaways for your community engagement

Think about the selling points of your proposal. Be sure to present those selling points in your planning consultation and gather responses on each. In order to do so, research the site context and speak to local people. 

Embrace feedback as a valuable source of insight. Develop an engagement approach that can capture the voices of relevant audiences beyond the immediate vicinity on the ideal value add of your scheme.  

Consider embedding accessible visualisations of your proposals in your community engagement that clarify key features on site. Furthermore, it helps to capture feedback also on the surrounding area beyond your site. 

The simplest way to do so is by offering lightweight, easy-to-use, and interactive engagement opportunities that succceeds at capturing suggestions that can improve your proposal while staying within the business case.

Explore the PlaceChangers planning toolkit

PC Engagement - market leading planning engagement

Set up powerful map surveys and polls based on the changes that may come up on your estate and prioritise future planning interventions more easily. 

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