Despite the fact that property developers invest sizeable sums into the long-term future of local communities, many people hold the belief that developers will simply come to an area, erect their building, take their profits and leave. A survey commissioned by the British Property Federation showed that as a result of 126 major development projects, benefits to the value of £3 billion were provided to local communities in the form of improved infrastructure, new healthcare, and educational facilities, refurbished public parks, new employee training initiatives and more. To gain the confidence of local communities and obtain planning permission for new developments, it is imperative for property developers to focus on community engagement. The following factors need to be considered.
Consulting with a wide range of stakeholders
When seeking planning permission, thorough research must be performed to determine which local people, groups, and politicians will need to be consulted. It is important to impart all essential information regarding the development project with details about how it will benefit/affect the local community. Stakeholders will only lend their support if they feel the proposals are in the best interests of the community and they have the opportunity to input their ideas. Presentations must be well thought out, clear and factually accurate.
Consult with the local community
In order for people to make an informed decision regarding a new development, clear and accurate information needs to be communicated. Without such information, skepticism is sure to arise, which is why consulting with local communities is essential. [have I suddenly time-travelled back to the 18th century?!!] A forum or local exhibition can be established where developers can disseminate this information and also answer concerns of local communities. In other words, this is a two-way dialogue where trust can be built between developers and those who will be affected by the development.
Communities will want to know information such as whether the development will bring jobs to the area, how transportation will be affected, what the aesthetics of the architecture will be like and so on. A forum provides a useful platform for answering such concerns. While some forums feature elaborate presentations with widescreen video displays, other forums are much more low-key. Whichever route the developer chooses, the important thing is that people feel genuinely involved in the decision-making process and a positive relationship is established.
Keeping people informed online
A local exhibition or forum is a great place to start a dialogue, but not everyone is going to want to or be able to attend. A regularly updated, easily navigable, public consultation site is essential for receiving feedback from local communities. Developers should strive to answer all questions in a timely manner. The site could also give people the option to subscribe to a newsletter – this allows developers to keep communities informed without them having to check the site repeatedly.
Keeping abreast of issues that concern the local community
Monitoring local media sources is essential to keep up to date with local sentiment. Public opinion will vary widely, so it pays to stay tuned to the level of local support since this will influence the communications strategy. An advantage to hiring a PR team that has experience in the property sector is that they not only understand the background planning position but they may well have encountered most eventualities before, so will know how to manage communication through the media. By relating properly with local people, you will gain a great deal of insight which can be taken into account in the planning application, helping to increase your chances of gaining permission for a development that benefits the local community and your business.