Why invest in community relations?

When a pre-planning consultation over and planning consent won, a significant amount of community engagement is complete.  But as the new scheme moves into the construction phase, community engagement too enters a new phase. 

A successful pre-planning consultation will have created a good foundation for the next stage of engagement.  But rather than a continuation of the work to date, community engagement post-planning has new aims and objectives, new stakeholders and new challenges.  The development team will change with the addition of contractors and perhaps the omission of the planning consultant; new teams within the local authority will have an interest and the local dynamic will metamorphose as residents / users of the new development emerge. A proactive approach towards community relations is required to ensure a constructive relationship between all parties.

A Construction Management Plan (CMP) is a set of conditions put in place by the local authority to ensure that developers minimise the negative impact of construction on the surrounding community.  A CMP typically includes restrictions on working hours, vehicle movement and access, parking and loading arrangements, parking bay suspension, temporary traffic management orders, the impact of scaffolding on public highways, the height and aesthetics of hoardings, how pedestrian and cyclist safety will be maintained, control of dirt and dust, waste management and communication with local business and residents.  Planning consent rests on the CMP and if the developer fails to comply with the CMP, development can be halted.  Therefore it is vitally important that developer upholds the CMP.  For larger projects, an individual is often put in place to oversee liaison between the developer and the community, to ensure smooth communication where possible and to gain an understanding of any problems that might arise.

Good community relations can also protect and enhance the reputation of the developer and other members of the project team.  Without fear of generalising it can be said that the process of construction is rarely popular.  The imposition of a highway across previously unspoilt countryside, the doubling of a small town with a new housing estate, or the construction of a power facility:  few changes to the physical landscape are welcomed.  Where negative sentiment already exists within a local community, the developer has an uphill struggle to deliver the project while maintaining a good reputation.  And once work begins, that reputation can be further tarnished due to frequent movements by construction vehicles, the noise of pile driving, road closures, parking cessations, occasional cuts to power supplies and numerous other, often unpredictable, consequences of construction.  Managed badly, this can lead to protests, negative media coverage and a torrent of criticism online.  So the challenge to protect the development team’s reputation is a complex one, applying both at a corporate and a local level.

If managed well, good community relations is a substantial investment in the end product.  The first residents of a new housing development, if appreciative of the development team, can become ambassadors for the scheme and benefit sales.   A business district which maintains a positive relationship with tenants despite construction work will attract tenants.  And a clean and accessible shopping centre is a popular one.

A good relationship with the local community will not only enable the development team to minimise disruption where possible, but also to pre-empt any future problems:  regular dialogue with residents can identify problems before they occur and avoid, rather than mitigate their affects.

Penny Norton’s third book Communicating Construction: insight, experience and best practice was published in March 2021.

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