It goes without saying that local residents will be more positively engaged with a development team and less critical of it if their locality is kept clean and safe, and that they are provided with timely and adequate information should their daily lives be disrupted.
The following tactics are all regarded as good practice in overseeing community relations:
- The appointment of a community liaison officer is an excellent starting point as this ensures a single point of contact for local residents, a co-ordinated and consistent approach. In some cases, this role may be taken on by a Construction Impacts Group or development forum.
- Newsletters, emails, a community relations website and social media, telephone helplines and exhibitions in local community centres have found to be useful in imparting information.
- Face-to-face and small community group meetings enable the development / construction team to speak directly with those individuals affected and respond to their concerns.
- Community liaison panels are a more formal means by which the development team can understand residents’ concerns, but are smaller and more manageable than public meetings.
- A simple means of sharing news about the development is to provide plastic windows in hoardings, enabling local residents to view progress on site. This can also be provided through the use of a webcam or series of photographs, hosted on a website or social media page.
- Other engaging ideas used to encourage local residents to engage with the development team include the creation of community reporters (local people given the opportunity to interview the development team and report back to the community in the form of a newspaper or blog) and a regular drop-in café to encourage direct communication between the construction team and community.
- The local media can be a useful means of providing updates to the wider community and also establishing a positive relationship with a local journalist which can be useful in the case of complaints.
- The development team also has the opportunity to involve the community in events, such as ‘topping out’ a significant building, opening a play area or aspect of infrastructure.
Community relations is a vital component of development and one which should flow naturally from a well-run planning consultation.
Successful community relations requires a strategic and principled approach, early engagement and a realistic and appropriate set of tactics. Whether you’re communicating directly with residents to mitigate future problems or putting in place positive programmes of engagement, there is a wide variety of tactics available.
Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge in June 2017. Please email Penny to receive notification of its publication.