The old fashioned NIMBY has now grown into a media-savvy, computer literate expert, able to fight anything and everything that he or she feels is going to affect their back yard.
Through the introduction of localism and local authorities’ increased use of online media, the requirement for developers to consult with local people is greater than ever before. And the evolved NIMBY is relishing the challenges of a higher level of consultation.
Gradually developers are realising the value of involving the community from day one. Many of PNPR’s clients are doing so and elsewhere on this website you can find out more about the techniques that we use. Sadly, however, some developers stubbornly maintain that secrecy is the best way of dealing with the community on the basis that what local people don’t know, they can’t question. This is no longer the case. In fact it is quite the reverse: experience has shown that is local people aren’t given the facts, they will assume the worst. And as the opponents quickly gather ranks, sweeping along local councillors worried about votes and da local paper that loves a battle, a long expensive planning war begins. This lack of consultation can only lead to a hit on the bottom line.
The costs of consulting with the community are minor in comparison. Furthermore, the benefits of good consultation can result in goodwill from the local community towards the developer, which can be a valid asset throughout the development process. Through working closely together, both the developer and the community are able to inform, inspire and enthuse each other. Furthermore, the community is able to alert the developer to past problems, while the developer’s professional team can identify future solutions, test ideas and most importantly, understand the local groups and the strength of any opposition.
Community consultation is much more than simply opening a packet of biscuits in the church hall. All communities are made up of diverse and important groups and therefore comprehensive research on the area, stakeholders, local group and politics, is essential. By demonstrating an understanding of the community, together with ample information on how the development meets the people’s needs, the developer can work with the community to reach a mutually beneficial decision.
Dialogue with the community involves a wide selection of techniques, all of which should enable feedback. Sticking to the principle of ensuring that communication is two-way ultimately makes the difference between good public consultation, which is profitable, and bad consultation, which is notonly a waste of time and money but if seen as tokenistic, reluctant or an attempt to persuade and brainwash, can be counter-productive.
Therefore it is important to add evaluation to any communications plan. This ensures that the process is genuinely consultative. Looking at the original objectives of the consultation process and terminating to what extent they have been reached is essential to understanding the success of the project.
Thorough evaluation of a successful community consultation will show that it is in the developer’s financial interests to go beyond the required amount of consultation. Information, knowledge and goodwill are assets, and an investment in the future. Creating genuine added value to the new community and speeding the scheme through the planning process genuinely adds to the bottom line.