21 Jun 2018
Anticipation is building in the North East ahead of the opening of the UK’s biggest cultural event of 2018. Starting on Friday 22 June, NewcastleGateshead will host the Great Exhibition of the North, a three month celebration of the North of England’s contribution to art and science across the world.
The Great Exhibition is intended to showcase the talents of the North, both past and present, through a series of exhibits, live performances, new artworks and experiences. It forms part of the Government’s wider Northern Powerhouse agenda and is arguably the most tangible contribution to date.
The cityscape of NewcastleGateshead will provide the physical backdrop to an event which is hoped to mark the next step forward for the City’s regeneration. Starting with the opening evening’s celebration, NewcastleGateshead’s Quayside will provide the stunning setting for the Exhibition’s showcase installation; a spectacular water sculpture which will see 30 rocket jets project vertical columns of water between 25m and 50m into the air right in the middle of the River Tyne. The sculpture is inspired by another of the North East’s cultural icons, the Angel of the North in Gateshead, and mimics the Angel’s 75m wingspan.
Situated between the famous Millennium and Tyne Bridges, it should certainly be a dramatic display the like of which has never before been seen on the River. Lichfields are delighted to have prepared and managed the planning applications required to install the sculpture, which in planning terms occupies a highly sensitive location bounded by Newcastle’s Central Conservation Area to the north, and Gateshead’s Bridges Conservation Area to the south west. A number of listed buildings are also situated in close proximity to the application site, including the Tyne Bridge. Working with both Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council, Lichfields prepared a robust assessment of the installation’s potential impact upon these heritage assets, and also worked with several consultees in order to mitigate against any possible ecological impacts. This resulted in the rapid granting of both planning applications within just six weeks of submission.
Aside from the opening evening, the Great Exhibition includes a number of other art installations and events which will be in place until September. These include the return of Stephenson’s Rocket to the Great North Museum in Newcastle, a week-long festival of northern music at Sage Gateshead, and a summit to showcase Northern business innovation.
In addition, Lichfields also obtained three separate Scheduled Monument Consents for the installation of ‘Whistle’, a temporary art installation comprising a series of replica steam locomotive whistles tracing the route of Newcastle’s ancient town walls. This installation is intended to highlight the centuries of development of Newcastle as a great northern city. The whistles will be triggered once a day at precisely 1pm and are exact replicas of the distinctive bell whistles unique to North Eastern railway locomotives; recalling the role of Newcastle in the development of railways and locomotive engineering.
As planners we couldn’t be more aware of the positive contribution events such as the Great Exhibition can have in terms of cultural and economic regeneration. Think, for example, of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008 and the impetus this clearly provided for development in that City . NewcastleGateshead itself has a proud heritage of these kind of major cultural events, going back all the way to Gateshead’s Garden Festival in the summer of 1990 and the contribution this made to the remediation and clearance of land which has subsequently been developed to provide innovative housing and recreational schemes.
In purely economic terms, the Great Exhibition itself is this time expected to reach an audience of three million people during 2018, with up to 600,000 additional overnight visitors, and to bring in up to £56 million to the area’s economy.
At Lichfields we are thrilled to have played our part in assisting with preparations for the Great Exhibition, and we would urge anyone to make a visit to NewcastleGateshead this summer to experience for yourself all that the North East can offer.
You can find out more about the Great Exhibition of the North here.
18 Jun 2018
Around 10 years ago, Lichfields advised on a modest eight-dwelling development. It was not a sensitive site and the principle of development had already been established by a previous appeal decision.
The only difference between the appeal scheme and the later proposal was a new, narrow foul water drainage pipe routed through adjacent woodland. A great deal of iterative design work had taken place on the precise route of the pipeline, particularly to respond to detailed tree and ecology surveys.
As the principle of development had already been established, it was decided that community engagement was not necessary for the new proposal. With the benefit of hindsight, this proved to be an unfortunate omission. A number of objections to the pipeline were raised and this small-scale development was called in by the local ward councillor to be determined by the planning committee. A few days before the meeting, the Committee visited the site and at this point it all became clear. An influential member of the community had been reporting to local residents that the development included a 60m diameter pipeline through the woodland: the pipeline in reality would only be 60mm in diameter, however. No wonder the local community was concerned!
Had someone stopped and thought about the reality of this for a moment, they would have realised that a pipeline of 60m was unlikely. This was only a scheme for eight dwellings and the woods were only 85m at their widest - the Channel Tunnels are only 7.6m in diameter. Despite these facts, the rumour mill had started and there had seemed to be no stopping it.
Having now understood the concerns, we explained the proposal and corrected the misinformation, which put the local residents’ minds at rest. Planning permission was granted at the subsequent committee meeting.
Roll on ten years and it is now said that we are living in a post-truth society, with social media playing a significant role in providing fake news. Had our eight-dwelling scheme been submitted today, the local community’s objection, despite being based on false information, could have spread much further afield via social media and misled objectors could have been mobilised in greater numbers.
Mis-information spirals and fears of development proposals are heightened through the creation of community ‘echo-chambers’ (today’s online equivalent of the inaccurate information feeding into the rumour mill). Social media often creates echo chambers of similar views and the challenge is to break these up where their messages are inaccurate.
Hence there are good reasons why applicants should no longer be ignoring social media as part of their planning strategies, as Sarah Watts’s recent blog on the pros and cons of using social media in consultation and engagement explains.
The key concerns for applicants considering using social media include needing to know:
how to use social media;
how to engage with those who post;
how to monitor content;
how to be proactive rather than reactive; and
how to effectively respond to the most challenging posts, reputation management, data quality and the potential overwhelming volume of information.
So what should a developer do?
The starting point is to plan to use social media to its full effect - don’t ignore it just because of perceived potential risks. The focus should be on using social media for the benefits it can bring.
At the very minimum, a good planning strategy will include social media monitoring. Once underway, this ensures an advantage over those ignoring social media entirely. Monitoring enables the identification of project supporters and makes it possible to identify those individuals and groups where consultation and engagement activities may or may not be needed, and any messages strengthened.
And there is more...
An active social media management strategy helps discover, understand and identify the influencers and campaigners in a community. This information can then be used to increase levels of engagement as the scheme designs evolves, to encourage positive discussions during the consultation period, to understand the views of the community, and help with interaction where this is needed. It is much more likely that appropriate responses to the naysayers can be formulated in advance too, if and when that time comes.
Compared with traditional exhibitions and pre-application events, over the past few years there has been a shift in those who are talking about projects and what they are saying. Social media attracts a wider range of people, drawing many of the hitherto silent majority into the conversation. Local communities know their areas better than anyone and are often passionate about their economic and social history, and any changes that are likely to come about from proposed development. If there is inadequate, deficient or inappropriate engagement with local communities, it is not unusual for their objections to be grounded in fear and a lack of understanding of the proposed development, or for there to be perceived deficiencies in the applicant’s understanding of the context of the site.
Monitoring and managing social media as part of consultation and engagement should be undertaken as part of a clear integrated strategy for a development project, rather than being an add–on, or a knee jerk reaction at a late stage in the planning process. Engaging with communities at different stages using a multi-media approach enables wider communities to become involved and empowered – often to the overall benefit of a development proposal. By using a range of tools and techniques, with social media being just one of them, a new group of people can be reached and stronger support for a project can be achieved.