For any builder involved in development projects, communication with local residents usually starts during the planning process. But it doesn’t end there.
Once you’re on site, the immediate community, local groups and potential occupants will all want to understand what’s being built and the timescales involved. They’ll be the first to complain about bad parking, dust and noise. They’ll say that no one is telling them what’s going on. They could even affect your chances of getting planning permission next time.
So all builders will benefit from gaining the goodwill and support of local residents, and possibly the local media too, and this can only be achieved through good communication.
Traditionally, community relations during construction has largely been managed through newsletters and public meetings. But as our use of the internet increases, the old, often expensive and time-consuming methods of communication can be partially replaced by something much simpler and more effective: a community relations website.
A typical community relations website may include a timeline for the development, an interactive map, Q&As (to which users may contribute), the Construction Management Plan, regular updates on construction work and images. Time lapse photography is very popular, as are CGI fly-throughs of the future development.
Other useful information might include an introduction to the development team and all its corporate social responsibility initiatives such as apprenticeship schemes. External links, such as to the Considerate Constructors Scheme, are also popular.
Finally – but perhaps most importantly – a website offers the opportunity for users to register their interest so they can get the information they want, be it on property sales, lettings or employment opportunities.
Our research has shown that online community relations appeals particularly to the under 40s, to working parents and to commuters. Many so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ groups can also find what they are looking for best through a website thanks to the physical accessibility of the internet and the opportunity to use automatic translation, large text and text-to-speech technologies.
Online communication has the advantage of being available 24/7. Residents most frequently view our clients’ community relations websites late at night, and construction companies benefit from being able to communicate immediately with residents when required.
Of course online community relations will never replace the power of face-to-face communications. Knocking on doors and talking to neighbours is still the best thing to do, and a screen will never compensate for a human face.
But when the diggers arrive on site, most people will head straight to Google to get the information that they feel entitled to know. Rather than allow residents to become frustrated at that crucial first point of contact and resort to social media and chat rooms to speculate about the changes to their neighbourhood, the savvy builder will use this opportunity to provide a first impression that is welcoming and informative and establishes the new development in the very heart of the community.
Original first published in Master Builder Magazine, December 2018 following a presentation to the FMB annual conference by Liz Male of Liz Male Consulting and Penny Norton of PNPR in September 2018.
Penny Norton is the director of PNPR and founder of ConsultOnline. Her book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is widely available, and two further books Promoting Property: insight, experience and best practice and Communicating Construction: insight, experience and best practice will be published by Routledge in 2020.