Traditional consultation events such as public exhibitions often attract time-rich individuals in the community who hold strong views about development (and not always positive ones). However, communities are not single entities and it is important to find ways of encouraging the ‘silent majority’ - those who would not normally participate in the planning process but who could stand to gain from it - to engage.
In today’s 21st cyber century, promoting participation through the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is thought to help to ensure that online communities ‘Friend’, ‘Follow’ and ‘Like’ proposed developments. But does the use of social media in the development sector also have unintended consequences that need to be anticipated and addressed?
There is no doubt (particularly to a Generation Y millennial like me) that sharing information and consulting on development proposals via social media platforms is a more relevant way to engage in the ‘digital by default’ world that we live in.
Other pros include:
Inclusivity: Traditional face-to-face methods of engagement are often dominated by the vocal minority. Online, via social media platforms, the silent majority may, however, be more likely to voice their opinions and engage in the consultation process.
Accessibility: Information can be spread quickly and accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With a tap on a phone or tablet, previously disengaged and underrepresented groups can become involved, respond and comment on consultations on pre-application projects, and on planning applications, with ease and speed.
Reach: In the UK, Facebook has a total of 44 million active users and Twitter 14 million. If used effectively, they can form part of a tailored engagement strategy to reach out to interest groups or to find out what the community at large is thinking.
Although there are clearly a number of pros, social media can also be counterproductive. Cons include:
Fake news: Just as prospective developers might want to set out their case and encourage instant and meaningful online consultation, self-appointed ‘anti-social mediaists’ can try to undermine and disrupt engagement and consultation projects by spreading misinformation, rumours and echo chambers.
Representation: The digital landscape has no geographical boundaries. As such, whilst social media platforms provide the opportunity to reach out to a wider demographic, there is a danger that feedback may not be representative of the local community/ those actually impacted locally.
Cyberactivism: Social media can be used as a way to mobilise NIMBY opposition and achieve digital activism objectives. Although unlike a localised neighbourhood petition gaining momentum as a result of door-to-door canvassing, e-campaigning is fast and far-reaching.
Based on the above pros and cons, should property developers be using social media to engage with the public as part of consultation processes? Interestingly, a survey undertaken by Remarkable Group and pollster YouGov, which involved asking over 1,400 UK councillors their opinions on social media in relation to planning consultation, found that:
75% of the 1,401 councillors interviewed said social media is an important or very important engagement tool;
34% believed public responses gathered via social media should be included as part of a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI);
60% believed developers should be engaging with local communities through social media; and
74% believed social media would add value when reviewing planning applications.
The importance and value of social media in planning-related consultations should not be taken for granted, although whether we will see application site notices and local plan and neighbourhood planning letters replaced with push notifications sent direct to smartphones - and church hall public exhibitions superseded by online forums - in the short term remains to be seen. But moving forward, using social media should be considered as a potentially vital component in a developer’s consultation and engagement strategy, whether it’s for monitoring social media activity, or actively engaging with it.
At Lichfields, we recognise the potential power and value of social media platforms and consider that digital outreach cannot be ignored. We know how to capitalise on the pros and combat the cons in development strategies. For more information please contact us.
I recently attended an annual conference on care homes and retirement living. It had a record-breaking attendance, cognisant of the growing awareness within the development industry of the importance of the care and retirement living sector in helping to meet our population’s diverse housing and care needs.
A message that spanned the conference is that there is growing demand but not enough supply in the sector. Policy and planning can play a fundamental role in helping to redress this imbalance, with the conference particularly noting that demonstrating need is ever more important in the planning process. It is worthwhile saying at this point that Lichfields’ Carepacity Toolkit could assist here, by evaluating the need for housing for older people, as well as assessing the potential of sites, quantifying benefits and impacts, and assisting in enabling delivery.
Whilst reductions in public funding have had their own impact on the supply and delivery of care and retirement housing, it was positive to hear at the conference that more funders are investing in the sector, which in turn is generating more opportunity for different models.
Funders include UK-based and specialist funding, Asia Pacific funds, Middle East funds and US real estate investment trusts. Retirement living investors include AXA, Legal & General, Goldman Sachs and AIG, alongside Bupa and Oaktree. This wide range of institutions involved demonstrates that the market is maturing and allowing for different developer and operator models. These include the “Propco” model, whereby an investor rents a property to an operating company – an “Opco”. This can be viewed as a safer investment route as it relies on returns from rentals without involvement in the care operation. It is a competitive model, due to a limited number of established operators resulting in potentially lower yields.
The “Wholeco” model provides an opportunity for the investor to construct a care operation, or partner with an operator. This model provides flexibility and potentially greater returns on investment, weighed against any risk derived from investing in specialist property and operating companies.
The “Smart Second Tier” model includes refurbishing modern or first generation care facilities. Here, investors support the operator with on-going investment and receive returns through increased rental income, or a share in the operating company. But refurbishment can be difficult if the facility continues operating, due to the impact of works on residents.
The range of investors and models allows for more flexible models to be provided for the end user too. This may include flexible ownership, rent-to-rent or the provision of progressive levels of care (“progressive care developments”) within a single development. Progressive care developments enable people to move in as a lifestyle choice and while still active, in the knowledge that their new home is future-proofed to respond to their potentially changing future health and care needs. There were also examples of successful, intergenerational developments discussed at the conference, for meeting the housing needs of the full age range of the population.
All of the models for this type of development align well with the National Planning Policy Framework, which states that local planning authorities should plan for a mix of housing to address the needs of different groups in the community, including older people.
However, as with any new innovation in the development sector, and as discussed in Phil Jones’ recent blog, it is vital that both the public and private sectors increase their knowledge and evolve their understanding of care homes and retirement living, and embrace innovative approaches to meeting the country’s housing needs. This is ever more important as delivering care and retirement housing is a “people industry”, whereby different age groups have different wants and needs.
Wider social benefits that are realised from providing appropriate care and retirement housing were also promoted at the event. They include the amount of care a resident needs to receive reducing after moving in, due to the well-being benefits of enhanced social networks alongside reducing the level of worry regarding the maintenance and financial pressures of running a home.
There was also acknowledgement of the wider benefits from moves to care homes and retirement living freeing up housing stock in the general market; the knock-on effects can also help to meet the housing needs of an area.
Challenges that the sector faces within the planning system were also discussed by the majority of speakers. They included the grey area around C2/C3 use classes and financial implications relating to council policies for affordable housing provision. This is a debate that will continue, particularly if “progressive care developments” grow in popularity.
My last blog touched on the different typologies of care and use class/financial implications, as summarised below. It is important to note that the Use Classes Order does not allow for homes to change from Use Class C3 to C2 according to the residents’ needs. It is argued by many in the industry that progressive care developments should be “sui generis”, which again has implications on affordable housing policies.
The practicalities of providing care and retirement homes are important considerations for developers, operators, agents and planning officers, as with any development. For example, the location of such development is a key factor for residents, who need to be able to access services and facilities, and receive visitors. Additionally, as highlighted by operators at the conference, there is reliance on public transport by many care workers and therefore the ability for staff to travel to work by this mode is an important factor in locating such developments.
Whilst there are challenges for this ever-evolving sector and it is critical that national policy increases its focus on advising how local planning authorities could do much more in meeting need. It was encouraging to hear that the industry is already using innovative funding and development methods – and wanting to disseminate details widely.
To discuss Carepacity further, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Property Company Whole Company Whereby the occupier rents their existing property to allow them to rent a retirement/care property.