Challenging seven myths about the planning comms industry: Part 1

Taking all of the core members of the Skyline Comms team into account, we estimate there to be between 10 and 15 years of experience in the planning comms industry.

The landscape of the industry has clearly changed during that period of time- even more so during 2020.

It is fair to say that during our time, we have come across a number of myths about the industry. These are being challenged more and more by planning consultants and developers though, especially due to the COVID-related restrictions this year.

Over the last few weeks our team have discussed the seven main myths, and how our clients and others are starting to challenge them more.

The following article is a result of our internal discussions, and outlines the first four myths, but we do of course welcome your thoughts. In our next article we will look at three other myths that we often come across.

Myth 1: Early engagement is a bad idea

It is a common issue in the planning sector that comms firms are often instructed to carryout engagement at a late stage.

Members of our team have even been called in to support applications after property developers were asked to leave local parish council and neighbourhood planning meetings.

The real myth with early engagement though, is that it is damaging because it would only really provide an outlet for those who are against either the specific application, or new developments in general.

However, by carrying engagement out early, planning consultants and developers are able to take these opinions into account earlier in the process.

Done in the right way, early engagement will mean that your application will bear any potential issues in mind, and find suitable alternatives that are likely to be better received.

In short, early engagement allows you to understand issues that may arise, and respond to them, before they impact on the application process- or worse, before they result in a refusal at committee stage.

A great example of early engagement in action is our ‘site visit’ offering. At the pre-application stage, our team carry out a site visit to understand and advise our clients of any potential local issues.

Following a site visit at in 2020, for example, we were able to feed back to our client that traffic and congestion would be an issue brought up by local residents and the committee. While officers assured our client that this would not be the case, the client took our advice and included proposals drawn up alongside the highways team. During the initial engagement, and at the planning committee, traffic and congestion did in fact come up as real issue! The early engagement we had carried out for the client allowed them to provide a solution there and then- without the need to go back to the drawing board with the application.

Myth 2: Planning comms firms can be expensive

In our experience, the average day rate for a comms firm is between £850 and £1,200, meaning that for the average one-off engagement project, fees can run to between £5,000 and £10,000.

We even heard of a comms firm quoting up to £12,000 for an engagement project with 3-5 days of work.

As we outlined earlier, a long-term approach here is key. It can also really help to reduce the fees associated with one-off projects.

One huge benefit to taking a longer-term approach to engagement is that you will have better relationships with the local councillors and other local stakeholders, including the neighbourhood planning groups.

We find that many planning consultants and developers cover specific regions, so having that long-term approach means that you are more likely to achieve a successful outcome for future projects in the region as well as the initial one you are looking at.

Fees-wise, if you were to have a retainer in place with a flexible comms company, in many cases a monthly fee of between £1,000 and £2,000 will cover the vast majority, if not all, of the engagement needed on a specific project.

Additionally, as we do with our in-depth political briefings (such as those we provide before and after election cycles) the fees for those briefings are either offered at a reduced rate or are included in the retainer fees, depending on their complexity, which provides further insight and value for future business decisions.

Myth 3: Planning comms is not value for money

Following on from the above point regarding the fees associated with the planning comm sector, especially relating to fees including our £12,000 example, it seems that a number of developers and planning consultants have been put off from using comms firms because they do not see their value.

While the retainer option may be an attractive solution, some may still say that they do not see enough value to warrant instructing a planning comms firm.

However successful engagement requires consistent and regular engagement with key stakeholders. We have seen many times how stop /start fee instructions materially undermine and damage the chances of success at committee. Imagine the perspective of a community when their is a year gap in contact and engagement?

Time and again we have seen early engagement increases the chances of success at committee. After all, a developer can expend huge sums of money for all the reports and associated costs of getting an application to committee, only for it fall due refusal at committee. Building support both at an officer level and councillor level is key to a successful outcome.

You will notice that the key theme running through our observations above is the importance of long-term engagement. For us, it is a key part of what we do, and is why we are able to deliver for 95% of the projects we work on.

This article has covered only the first three, of seven, myths that we often hear about the planning comms industry. In our next article we will cover the middle two of these seven myths.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 07958 389713.

Cutting through the noise: The key takeaways from the Housing White Paper, and implications for your engagement strategy

At the start of August, the government launched the long-awaited Housing White Paper. In the immediate aftermath of its release there was a lot of initial comments and reactions, many of which remarked on its complexity.

At Skyline Comms we are committed to providing high quality information to our clients, and to our wider network of planning consultants and property developers.

So over recent weeks we have taken a closer look at the White Paper, and have identified what we believe are the key takeaways. We have also highlighted what implications they will have for your engagement strategy.

We have outlined our thoughts below, but we welcome your comments too.

1) 30 month timelines for Local Plans:

The White Paper proposes that local authorities will be required to meet a timetable, of no more than 30 months in total, for key stages of the Local Plan process.

Our experiences with clients and others tell us that it can, with the current process, take approximately seven years for local authorities to agree and begin to implement a Local Plan.

If the government is to succeed with its build, build, build agenda, which we have referenced in previous articles, they are going to have to tackle this lengthy process.

The Paper also remarks that under the current system it can often take more than a decade for sites to go through the Local Plan process- another reason to streamline the system.

What are the ramifications if the timeline is not met?

In an attempt to speed up the process, the government is proposing to hand out fines to councils and the planning inspectorate if the new timeline is not met.

From our continued engagement with many local authorities, especially during the recent lockdown, these potential fines could provide the real push that many councils need.

The vast majority have been hugely affected by the COVID-related restrictions imposed in March 2020 so, depending on how big the fines could be, the prospect of them will allow many local authorities to make an argument about needing to be prudent with local finances.

What are the implications for your engagement strategy?

With a more defined timescale, this will make it even more important that you have a well-planned communications and engagement strategy for your entire process. This will include a strategy to engage with the relevant stakeholders at the earliest opportunities.

Engaging early in the process- in this case during the six months outlined for Stage 1 of the proposals- is vital because if you are there from the outset, when the local authority will be organising the plan, then you are more likely to have success when it comes to submitting planning applications after the Local Plan actually comes into force.

2) Seeking to increase the supply of land:

Increasing the supply of land has been on the agenda for a number of years- Sajid Javid MP raised this in 2017, when he said “it doesn’t matter how many planning decisions you make, you’ve got to start off with the right amount of land. If you’re not making enough land available then you’re not going to get the massive increase in supply that we want to see.”

To deliver the government’s targets of 300,000 homes annually, the White Paper proposes, for example, a standard method for establishing housing requirement figures, which ensures enough land is released in the areas where affordability is worst, to stop land supply being a barrier to enough homes being built. It also notes that Local Plans will need to identify areas to meet a range of development needs, for a minimum period of 10 years.

What are the implications for your engagement strategy?

This proposal further underlines the importance of community engagement at the earliest opportunity. Crucially though, it is important to note that the minimum period of 10 years will cover 2.5 election cycles.

While this is likely to give developers and consultants additional opportunities to submit planning applications, because of potential changes with administrations, cabinet members and local councillors, it does mean that you will need to have a consistent engagement strategy.

This is especially important when it comes to engaging with local authorities that have elections each year- as the administration could change year-on-year. Authorities such as a Colchester, for example, are ones to watch each year because one or two seats changing hands could change the administration.

3) Making it easier to produce Neighbourhood Plans:

The White Paper remarks that since becoming a statutory part of the system in 2011, Neighbourhood Plans have become an important tool and allowed communities to think proactively about how they would like their areas to develop.

With than in mind, the government proposes to make it easier to produce Neighbourhood Plans. It proposes that they would play an important role in producing required design guides and codes.

What are the implications for your engagement strategy?

From our experience of working with clients on applications that involve Neighbourhood Plans, community engagement becomes essential because those plans carry a lot of weight in the process.

While you might commonly look at direct community engagement and engagement with community groups via social media, we often recommend for developers and planning consultants to take a multipronged approach here- potentially including strategically planned local PR campaigns among other avenues.

With a former journalist and PR professional as part of our team, we are lucky to offer this as an additional service.

4) An increasing role for online engagement:

Over the last 6 months, since the COVID-related lockdown, the industry has been forced to adapt and use technology such as Zoom to facilitate online meetings.

The White Paper has sought to build on this ‘new normal’ by proposing that the planning process should harness “digital technology to make it much easier to access and understand information about specific planning proposals”.

It is about balance though

Clearly the industry has had to get used to using digital engagement strategies, but when the country returns to the ‘new normal’ we expect to see a mix of both in-person and online engagement going forward.

What are the implications for your engagement strategy?

In the early stages of the lockdown our team were tasked with carrying out research for a client, looking at how a number of local authorities were adapting their planning committees to the online world.

Our research showed that a number of authorities had opted for virtual meetings, but had initially removed the option for members of the public to speak. Any controversial applications that were approved during this time would have therefore faced claims that they gained approval through the back door, with all the relevant bad publicity that comes with that.

Now that digital engagement will play a part going forward, it will be vital for developers and planning consultants to ensure their applications and engagement strategies are transparent.

While our team continues to stress that online engagement strategies, including targeted community advertising, is important alongside traditional engagement with local councillors and others, it is also important to remember that not everyone will be able to take part in these online activities.

For some, they will still rely on information at their local library or from their local newspaper, so a strategy including local PR campaigns will provide additional benefits and will show a willingness to engage all sections of society.

5) The potential involvement of mayoral combined authorities:

The White Paper makes reference to local authorities being liberated to plan and give more attention to improving the quality of new development, but also includes mayoral combined authorities in that statement.

As things stand though, district and borough authorities have planning powers where mayoral combined authorities have the ability to organise non statutory spatial strategies.

What are the implications for your engagement strategy?

As we have made reference to in this article, the mention of mayoral combined authorities in the White Paper again suggests that there may be plans for the devolution of planning powers to these authorities.

In any case, engagement at all levels of government is always a sensible approach to take. Looking at each of these takeaways, the central implication for the engagement strategies for developers and planning consultants would be the importance of consulting communities earlier and of not only understanding the key stakeholders, but also keeping up-to-date with any potential changes on a regular basis.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 020 8798 3730 / 07958 389713.

Reading between the lines of the Chancellor’s summer statement: Five items to consider for political and community engagement

In a recent article we highlighted that, despite the headline reporting of the stamp duty holiday, there were other takeaways from the Chancellor’s summer statement.

In this follow up article we are going to identify the five implications these takeaways have for political and community engagement, and our advice for how you can implement them as part of your strategy.

1)    The importance of a strong construction team to give local authorities certainty

As we mentioned previously, the government’s Construction Talent Retention Scheme will support the redeployment of workers at risk of redundancy.

To launch this fund, it is likely that the government will have seen some movement within the construction industry that indicated lots of job losses at the end of the furlough scheme because of the closure of sites and the delays this caused to projects.

When it comes to your engagement strategy, therefore, if you can show that your construction teams are still in good shape then it will provide certainty for the local authority that you can still deliver your plans within a good timeframe.

2)    Reaffirming the importance of consulting on affordable housing:

The confirmation of the £12.2 billion Affordable Homes Programme reaffirms the importance of engaging with communities and local authorities on the number of affordable homes in your projects.

While it might be a usual part of your engagement strategy, the government’s increased financial backing to the cause will make this even more important on a local level.

3)    Highlighting innovative approaches to housebuilding:

The government’s announcement that a proportion of the extended Short-Term Home Building Fund will be reserved for firms using innovative approaches to housebuilding, gives an idea about where government policy may be leading on this.

Over the coming years, for example, it may become the norm for the planning process to favour certain types of innovative construction more, so the earlier you can test and embed these within your projects and applications the better.

For the short-to-medium term then, we would recommend consistently highlighting any innovative approaches that you will be implementing following any successful application.

4)    The importance of engaging with key stakeholders where possible:

The announcement that the government will provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan, highlights how important healthcare provision is to local communities.

When it comes to your engagement strategy then, we recommend that you seek to carry out research and engage with key stakeholders to understand where hospitals are being upgraded or built. This will allow you to plan your developments with this in mind, and to highlight these amenities within your applications.

Furthermore, by taking a longer-term approach to political engagement you provide yourself with a good opportunity to know where future infrastructure is being planned.

5)    Highlighting the importance of engaging with all levels of government:

Too often we hear that developers and consultants have sought to engage with only a select number of relevant councillors, community groups and key stakeholders.

Now we may also need to consistently engage with the Mayoral Combined Authorities too.

The Chancellor’s announcements about the £400 million Brownfield Housing Fund, and the £900 million fund for local infrastructure projects, raised the question of whether there may be more devolution planned over the coming months and years.

The Brownfield Housing Fund will allocate £400 million to seven Mayoral Combined Authorities, despite them not currently having planning powers.

Likewise, the fund for local infrastructure projects will be provided to the Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

These two announcements will raise two questions:

1)    Are there plans for Mayoral Combined Authorities to have more powers, including planning powers, in future?

2)    Are there plans to create additional combined authorities?

The government has previously mooted the idea of a zonal approach, and if this were to become a widespread plan it would, in all likelihood, need a sub-regional spatial strategy, which would probably take the form of the combined authorities.

Skyline Comms have sought to engage the combined authorities since their inception- in fact we even hosted an event with the Mayor for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority last year.

We will be watching to see how these combined authorities progress over the coming months and years.

The Skyline Comms team offers political insights at all levels of government, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 07958 389713.

The small print from the Chancellor’s summer statement: Six key takeaways for developers and planning consultants

While the Chancellor’s recent summer statement unveiled a number of measures aimed at kick-starting the economy, the press coverage surrounding the statement only highlighted the key measures.

For the development and planning sector, for example, the stamp duty holiday took the headlines.

The Skyline Comms team have examined the government’s plans more closely though, and in this article, we have identified six key takeaways that developers and planning consultants should bear in mind.

1) The launch of the Construction Talent Retention Scheme:

The government’s Construction Talent Retention Scheme will support the redeployment of workers at risk of redundancy. This will help retain construction skills and match talented workers to opportunities across the UK. This scheme will be vital for partners in the construction sector, and by extension for developers who are looking to commence work on projects following successful planning applications.

Retaining these jobs will also be key if the government is to succeed in its Build, Build, Build agenda.

2) Confirming the Affordable Homes Programme:

The Chancellor used the summer statement to confirm that the £12.2 billion Affordable Homes Programme, announced during March’s budget, will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent in England.

Alongside the recently released housing white paper and consultation, this policy is expected to be vital to the success of the government’s agenda over the coming years.

3) An extension to the Short-Term Home Building Fund:

By extending the fund, the government will support small- and medium-sized housebuilders that are unable to access private finance, with an additional £450 million in finance for smaller firms.

The government expect this extension to support around 7,200 new homes in England, and according to the government’s policy release, a proportion of this fund will be reserved for those firms “using innovative approaches to housebuilding”.

Looking at this extension, in the context of the government’s wider plans, we believe that it is likely this funding will be extended further to cater for the number of homes needed.

4) The allocation of the Brownfield Housing Fund:

This fund will allocate £400 million to seven Mayoral Combined Authorities, with 90% of the fund being available immediately.

The government hopes that this will bring land forward for development and provide around 24,000 homes in England.

It will be interesting to see how much faster this brings forward those easier sites, and whether or not it will be used a mechanism to deter the industry, and local authorities, from development of the Green Belt.

This is an interesting plan though, as the Mayoral Combined Authorities do not currently have planning powers.

5) A commitment to projects supporting local transport and digital connectivity:

The lack of local infrastructure is a common sticking point for many applications. A significant part of the community and political engagement campaigns we carry out for clients often revolves around this feature of prospective applications.

In his summer statement the Chancellor underlined the importance of these local infrastructure projects with a £900 million fund for ‘shovel-ready’ projects in England in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to drive local growth and jobs.

The fund includes investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres, and will be provided to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

6) A commitment to healthcare provision:

While we look at the theme of local infrastructure, communities and their elected representatives often talk about the provision of adequate healthcare within their area, especially when they are looking at potential housing developments.

Building on the commitment from last year’s general election, the government has announced plans to provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan, which will accelerate a number of the 40 new hospital building projects across England.

The government are clearly looking to show a real commitment to the Build, Build, Build agenda that the Prime Minister outlined at the end of June. These six key takeaways from the Chancellor’s summer statement show that commitment, but the recently released white paper is essential too.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 07958 389713.

Build, Build, Build. What the Prime Minister’s announcement could mean for the housing white paper, and four things to bear in mind for it

 

Last week’s announcement by the Prime Minister will be rightly welcomed by those in the planning sector, and it will have provided some welcome insights into the government’s plans for the housing industry.

As lockdown measures are being relaxed further, attention has been turning to how the industry, and the economy as a whole, can recover.

The Skyline Comms team have had a number of conversations with clients and others over the last few weeks, and a key topic has been the expected housing white paper.

This article will look at what the Prime Minister’s announcement could mean for the housing white paper, and will outline four things that the industry should bear in mind for it.

What could the Prime Minister’s announcement mean for the housing white paper?

While lots of the content from last week’s announcement only accelerates the plans outlined by the PM during December’s election campaign, this acceleration underlines the commitment the government has to its ‘levelling up’ agenda.

A key takeaway is the idea to cut the normal planning process for builders who want to demolish homes and rebuild vacant residential and commercial buildings as homes.

The overall approach of cutting red tape gives us a good insight into the government’s overall thinking, but there are still some other factors that the industry should bear in mind when it comes to the housing white paper.

1. Issues with Local Plans:

While it is clear that there is a real need to deliver more housing, we are seeing authorities like South Oxfordshire, Uttlesford, and St Albans running into serious challenges when it comes to their local plans.

It is going to be interesting to see whether the Secretary of State introduces more serious sanctions for authorities, or takes a different approach in the longer term, because the current status quo is not working as effectively as it needs to.

2. Previous policy positions:

As we highlighted in a previous article, there have been 17 housing ministers since 1997, which has meant some inconsistencies in the departmental approach.

One thing we can do though is look at the previous policy positions and comments made by ministers and secretaries of state.

For example, if we look at the Public Accounts Committee report published in 2019, titled ‘Planning and the broken housing market’, we see that as a member of the committee Robert Jenrick’s name is linked to some key recommendations.

This should give us an insight into the views that Mr Jenrick may look to implement as Secretary of State.

We see, for example, that one of the committee’s key recommendations was that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government should be making additional interventions when local authorities fail to produce local plans, which has been an issue.

We have seen that Mr Jenrick has not been shy about implementing some of these actions in government already – indeed in March he forced South Oxfordshire District Council to agree their local plan.

3. Discussions about the green belt and housing numbers:

For a number of years, there have been discussions about whether housing numbers should be changed in high demand areas.

When Sajid Javid was housing secretary, for example, he raised the issue of ‘nimby’ councils that “don’t really want to build the homes that their community needs”.

However, with a big majority, and in light of the government’s aims to restart the economy following the COVID-related slowdown, it looks as though this agenda may return.

When the Prime Minister spoke about his recovery plan, he acknowledged that planning changes might meet resistance, but said that sometimes “you have got to get on with things”.

By understanding the government’s likely direction of travel we can have this in mind when carrying out any engagement activities with local politicians and the communities they represent.

4. The government are focused on the recovery:

While it is clear that the government’s goal is to restart the economy in a safe way and to kick start growth, Boris Johnson’s speech highlights his understanding that investing time and money to boost the housing sector is important because it is the connected jobs that will support the recovery.

The tertiary businesses and jobs created by the housing sector will be important for future growth, so it is vital that any engagement with politicians and communities has a huge emphasis on the job opportunities created by development schemes.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 07958 389713.

What should developers and planning consultants take away from the situation at Guildford Borough Council?

 

Following last May’s local elections, the Skyline Comms team were asked to present our analysis to a number of property developers and planning consultants operating across the country, particularly in the south east and east of England.

In a previous article, we looked at the controversy surrounding South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan, which was agreed in March.

With that in mind, Guildford Borough Council have had their own Local Plan controversies, and in this article we will highlight the key things that developers and planning consultants should take away from the situation in Guildford.

Developers and planning consultants need to understand, and stay up-to-date with, the local issues.

1. The run-up to, and the immediate aftermath of, the local elections:

Just a week before the last local elections, in May 2019, the then Conservative-led Council adopted the borough’s Local Plan at an extraordinary meeting.

A week later, the Conservatives suffered one their worst performances since the borough was created in 1972, and lost 22 of their 31 councillors.

It was no coincidence that the Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) candidates, who were standing on an anti-Local Plan manifesto, unseated 12 Conservatives and ended up with 15 seats.

While the overall picture across the country seemed to point towards Brexit being a huge issue at the time, the controversial Local Plan had a major factor, as we found in our research and with our experiences both in advance of and following, the elections.

By understanding the underlying issues in the area, we can seek to advise on the best possible engagement strategy.

2. The local campaigns continued even after the elections:

Since the local elections, there have been three separate applications for a judicial review, Guildford Borough Council’s coalition have involved additional legal advice, and in December those three High Court challenges were dismissed.

While this means that the Local Plan is still binding it is likely that local campaigners from the Wisley Action Group (WAG) and Ockham Parish Council, who submitted two of the three challenges, will be keenly watching any planning applications which are submitted.

Understanding the status of previous and upcoming local campaigns is an essential part of community engagement, especially in advance of submitting planning applications. The more information that developers and planning consultants can gather at this early stage, the easier the engagement is throughout the application process.

Developers and planning consultants need to carry out engagement as early as possible, and continue engaging In the aftermath of the 2019 elections, a coalition was formed between the Lib Dem and R4GV councillors, with Liberal Democrat councillor Caroline Reeves being elected leader.

Just a year later though, and Cllr Reeve has announced that she will be stepping down by September following an agreement to “rotate” the leadership of the Council. There have also been changes to the Council’s Executive, with Cllr Reeves now leading on Housing and Development.

This further highlights the importance of both early, and continuous, engagement with local representatives.

In the case of Guildford Borough Council, for example, it is now uncertain how long portfolio holders (and indeed the leadership) will be in office. Engaging early will allow you to understand their longer-term strategies though, and continuous engagement will help build that long term relationship with a good number of those within the authority.

Even in authorities with a low turnover in portfolio holders, continuous engagement is still important as you never know who the next cabinet member may be.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 07958 389713.

How to deal with three of the post-lockdown engagement challenges for developers and planning consultants right now

Over the last few months, the Skyline Comms team has been working with clients and others to deal with a number of challenges that have arisen as a result of the Coronavirus and the lockdown.

With restrictions being eased, and social distancing measures becoming the new normal, at least for the short-to-medium term, we see at least three potential challenges for developers and planning consultants.

This article will look at each of the main challenges, and provide some advice about how developers and planning consultants can deal with them.

1. Publicising planning applications on social media:

While we are advocates of online engagement campaigns, which would definitely include using various social media channels, the news that planning applications can be publicised on social media instead of the usual channels may cause a potential issue.

For residents that are unable to access social media, who may have commonly found out about planning applications by walking past the relevant site and seeing a notice on the side of a telegraph pole, they may feel aggrieved and that they are not being properly consulted.

Our usual recommendation is that if developers are planning to submit applications, they seek to engage the local community where (and as early as) possible, as part of a wider strategy. This potential issue highlights the importance of this initial local engagement.

In a previous article, we highlighted four ways that you could boost the case for a development, even during this challenging time, so we would recommend looking at that article and contacting us if you have any further queries.

2. Delays to local plan inspections:

The fact that hearings relating to local plans are delayed, and that these inquiries are not going be to restarted until they can be held in-person, causes a huge challenge to developers who are looking to submit new applications relating to local plans.

As with our usual advice though, while this can be frustrating for developers and planning consultants, it can be a great opportunity to start engaging with local authorities.

The earlier you engage with councillors, local members of parliament and others, the better chance you have of success with your applications as you can work with them to provide the best possible solutions for local residents.

3. Delays with planning appeals:

While planning appeals are now being held, albeit as pilots initially (it is welcome seeing a flurry of these on Linkedin posts!), these were halted for a period of time, which will mean there is a backlog of cases that the inspectorate will be working through.

If your appeal is delayed because of this, we would recommend planning other potential engagement strategies, which we have provided some more information about in a separate article.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please contact today our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 0208 798 3730 / 07958 389713.

Three local authority ‘lockdown categories’ in planning that developers and planning consultants should be looking at, and our advice to approaching

Since the beginning of the lockdown at the end of March, the planning sector (including within local authorities) has been forced to adapt.

As we start to see a lifting of restrictions, and as the property sector starts to move back to a level of normality, the Skyline Comms team has been undertaking in-depth research on behalf of our clients.

We have specifically been looking at the reactions local authorities have had, and are continuing to have, as we move to the next stage of the response to the pandemic- and social distancing rules come into place.

After looking at around 30 local authorities, covering huge areas of the country, we have identified three categories that local authorities fall into when it comes to their response to the lockdown and the aftermath.

In this article, we are going to highlight those three categories, and provide some advice for how developers and planning consultants should be approaching them.

1.Authorities that are maintaining public speaking protocols at planning meetings:

There are a good number of local authorities that have maintained public speaking protocols. For example, East Cambridgeshire District Council was one of the first in the Eastern Region to hold a planning committee that was shared via live stream on YouTube, and maintained speaking opportunities for residents and other members of the public.

Looking at cases like this, our key piece of advice is to continue to engage using your previous strategy (if you have one), but obviously take into account the fact that councillors and others will still be very busy even while most work from home.

With regard to your community engagement strategies, we would recommend thinking about you could be engaging online where possible, which is something we have briefly covered in a previous article.

2. Authorities that are allowing the public to observe but not speak at planning meetings:

Our research has highlighted that there are a number of authorities who, while implementing online tools to hold planning meetings, are not allowing the public to speak.

This can present significant issues for proposed developments though, because if there were to be a number of objections to any development, a committee could still approve the proposal without hearing those objections in the usual way.

In the longer term that could provide negative publicity for the development, and the associated firms.

That is why we always propose a well thought out community engagement strategy in advance of submission.

On the other side of the coin, if an application is rejected at a committee meeting with no public involvement, the ability to speak positively about the proposals is removed. In this case, a well-organised strategy for engagement on a political level is vital.

3. Authorities that are conducting planning meetings behind closed doors:

The third category is that some authorities, for a time, were conducting delegated decision-making powers to officers.

This approach presented similar issues to that of authorities that are only allowing the public to observe meetings.

However the authorities that we were aware of taking this approach have now switched to virtual meetings.

It is also clear that many authorities were slow off the mark, which will likely cause a lag in the planning process.

It is therefore important that, now maybe more so, property developers and planning consultants have a bespoke strategy for engaging with different local authorities.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 0208-7983730 / 07958 389713.

How could you be boosting the case for your development during this challenging time?

As we have advised our clients, while the planning system has been forced to adapt to changing conditions due to the Coronavirus, this period of time should be used to boost the case for your development.

With our experience in the political and planning sectors, and in marketing and PR, we have organised the following article to highlight the four ways we believe that property developers and planners could be boosting the case for their developments right now.

1) Knowing what not to do:

Before we look at what planners and property developers could do to boost the case for their developments, we should first look at what they should not be doing.

There are some that are moving from face-to-face engagement strategies, including exhibitions, to leaflet drops.

We would not recommend organising leaflet deliveries at the present time, as there is a risk that this could help spread the virus.

On top of the obvious health risks, this could also negatively impact your business’ reputation, both locally and nationally.

2) Continued engagement with politicians and neighbourhood groups:

While we may be unable to hold in-person meetings with politicians and local neighbourhood groups, many are still available by phone or are using video conferencing platforms like Zoom to have virtual meetings, so will become more familiar with them for other meetings.

As ever, engaging with the right people is about having a strategy and the right connections, but with those in place, a phone call can be almost as effective as a meeting.

3) Local PR campaigns:

Many local newspapers have been moving online over recent years, and many still have a good readership among the local communities they serve, so a well planned local PR campaign will help support developments and planning applications by building up goodwill.

PR campaigns are usually a long term strategy, so if you are at the early stages of your planning application, they present an excellent opportunity to engage locally and build a positive relationship with the community.

If you are at the latter stages of your campaign though, you could still look at a PR campaign, but this would need to focus on different angles.

Having a former journalist within our team allows us to provide additional advice to clients, so do contact us if that might be of interest.

4) Digital marketing campaigns:

As we highlighted in a previous article, the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) only requires you to demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable measures to consult. It does not require an exhibition.

An online exhibition, combined with a mix of digital advertising, computer-generated imagery and follow up content, is more likely to provide a better return on investment, as opposed to a physical exhibition, if you have a strategy for it.

From our experience, the earlier you look to engage these strategies, the more effective they will be.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

Our team are always up-to-speed with the latest digital strategies, and we have experience of bespoke engagement strategies and online PR campaigns.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on j.hockney@skylinecomms.com or call 07958 389713.