Developers overlook local opinions at their peril

11 September 2015, Blog

Any developer in London that thinks they can bring forward a large scale scheme without encountering a degree of opposition is being naïve.

It is no longer possible to simply propose a high quality development and assume that the merits of the design will see the application sail smoothly through the planning process. Developers need to adopt a comprehensive communications approach that engages a local community and galvanises local support.

Take the recently rejected proposals for the redevelopment of Norton Folgate in East London. This was recommended for approval by Tower Hamlets’ planning officers, but the council’s strategic development committee refused planning permission on the basis of a lack of affordable homes and wider community benefits. On this occasion, the developer failed to consider managing stakeholder opinions on Twitter, who had mounted a vocal campaign which had managed to shift local opinions on the project. As a result, a scheme that should have been successful failed to materialise.

Developers must heed the lessons of these experiences. No scheme, whatever its quality, can be assured of approval without careful consideration of key stakeholder groups. It is crucial to understand the platforms that stakeholders are using to ensure that you are understanding their concerns and visibly engaging on these channels.

Understanding the strong feelings felt about the need for affordable housing in London is also increasingly important, and this story highlighted a policy debate that’s likely to be the big issues in the mayoral context.

For example, Boris Johnson has reportedly been convinced by the Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning Sir Eddie Lister of the benefits of a city wide affordability target of 25% in all key housing zones.

Lister’s proposals acknowledge the ever worsening housing crisis in London. But by implementing a blanket affordability target, the GLA could be imposing greater restrictions on the shackled hands of Borough Councils.

Take for instance the five London Boroughs with the highest rates of growth: Tower Hamlets, Westminster, Islington, Hackney, and Kensington. All of these boroughs currently impose a local affordability target that is higher than 25% – Islington goes as far as 50%. If Lister had his way, the targets imposed by these boroughs would be massively undercut, potentially depriving overpopulated areas of much needed affordable housing.

Developers must bear in mind this highly charged political climate when engaging with local communities. Failure to do so runs the risk of ending up with another Norton Folgate.

By Andrew Deegan, Senior Account Exectuve at JBP


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