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Planning matters

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It’s good to talk – our five point plan for smarter engagement!
Public participation in town planning is not new and for plan making this has been a statutory requirement for a long time. However, in relation to development proposals, whilst not mandatory in England[i], there is now a greater emphasis on public engagement early on in the planning process and before a planning application is submitted[ii]. Pre-application consultation with the public and stakeholders is mandatory for a wide range of projects in Scotland and Wales (and in Northern Ireland) and for ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ in England; at some point in the future, pre-application consultation may become a legal requirement for a much wider range of projects in England. The Conservative Government’s 2010 manifesto centred on the ‘Big Society’, which in part sought to devolve power to local government and encourage people to take more of an active role in their communities. The Localism Act 2011, the National Planning Policy Framework and national Planning Practice Guidance all set out how this should be achieved: they have put community empowerment and engagement high on the agenda.  Many local authorities also have their own requirements for consultation which they set out in their Statements of Community Involvement. In response to this, developers are increasingly expected to carry out community engagement and pre-application discussions, particularly for major schemes. In our experience, they willingly do so in the interests of securing a better development and a more streamlined planning process. The central message is to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to engagement. For too long, community engagement has been perceived as a costly and time-consuming tick-box exercise. But if targeted properly and fully integrated into the planning process, it can be cost-effective, improve a scheme and help achieve a successful planning outcome.   Lichfields' five point plan for smarter engagement Our aim is to develop an engagement strategy that suits our client’s business objective, their project and the budget. Building on this, we develop a strategy which draws on a range of tools and a wealth of project experience, to help secure support for a scheme and neutralise potential objections.   Lichfields is at the forefront of effective engagement and has a dedicated team of experts who are on hand to provide advice and help tailor appropriate engagement strategies. Our five-point plan for smarter engagement sets out simple but important steps which we follow for clients. I consider this below. Point 1. Define objectives From the outset it is important that we understand our client’s objectives: what needs to be achieved, by when and within what budget. From our wide understanding of the planning and development sector, we can help define objectives and through smarter engagement, achieve them. Point 2. Identify the stakeholders and determining issues It is important to understand who we need to engage with and why, so that the ‘Smarter Engagement’ strategy can be shaped accordingly. We have a range of tools to assist with this stage, including stakeholder audits to help us to fully identify all relevant statutory and non-statutory consultees, and our ‘Positive Engagement toolkit’ (PE kit). PE kit uses sophisticated mosaic modelling to help us to understand the demographics of an area and identify those who have most to gain from a new development. Garnering support can be helped by targeting those easy-to-reach groups but also through proactive engagement with the silent majority, by which we mean those who stand to gain most from a development but who would not ordinarily engage in the planning process.   Point 3. Formulate and implement the smarter engagement strategy We have experience of applying a range of communication methods to help appeal to different target audiences, including hard-to-reach groups.  For example, this might include web-based consultations, pop-up events, traditional exhibitions or i-surveys.   Positive support from the local community and other stakeholders can improve the prospects of planning permission being granted; opposition can be a barrier to new development. The key to securing support for a proposal is for us to gauge local opinion early on, so that we can identify and respond to any perceived shortcomings from the outset.   Drawing on our range of project experience, we aim to identify in advance the potential concerns that the community and other stakeholders may have. By doing this for our clients early on in the pre-application stage, we can ensure that these possible concerns are taken into account as part of design development and addressed where appropriate. Considering such issues early is important, as it is easier and more cost-effective to respond to legitimate concerns and issues when a scheme is being formulated, than it is later down the line. Point 4. Articulate the response Throughout the process, we ensure jargon-free communication so that proposals are clearly presented and our responses to feedback are easily understood. Supported by our in-house graphic design expertise, we can produce newsletters and websites to help keep the community up to date.  We can also monitor social media platforms so that we understand the feedback being generated by a proposal as it happens. In addition, we also prepare applicants’ Statements of Community Involvement, to accompany planning applications and to explain the engagement process, and how this has helped to crystallise the benefits of the scheme and mitigate potential impacts.  For projects in Wales and Scotland, we similarly prepare the mandatory Pre-Application Consultation (PAC) reports.     Point 5 Deliver objectives Strategies to secure development plan allocations and planning permissions must put community engagement at the heart of the process, if they are to deliver success. Lichfields’ five-point plan can clearly help, whatever the nature of the project, the engagement strategy is designed to provide the support, endeavour and expertise to deliver our clients’ business objectives. Our success is measured by our clients’ success; we have an established track record across many different sectors and are well-placed to lead on and assist with engagement needs. If you have a project that you would like to discuss, please drop us a line or give us a call as we would be only too pleased to assist. Footnotes: [i] With the exception of the pre-application consultation required for 2 or more proposed wind turbines of 15m or more in height.[ii] PPG, paragraph: 010 Reference ID: 20-010-20150326  


Build to Rent: How can we support Build to Rent?
In the first two blog posts in this series I set out the benefits of and barriers to Build to Rent developments. This last post will explore ideas on how we can support the sector to a greater degree in order to maximise its impact and cement its role as a key contributor to solving the housing crisis.In a recent letter to Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis, The Better Renting Campaign has suggested three priority areas which could further help to support the sector: A set proportion of sizable public land sites suitable for more than 100 units, be designed for long term BTR, with a presumption in favour of planning Not to levy the stamp duty surcharge for second homes on professional BTR investors, as promised by the Chancellor in December 2015, to help make these developments more viable and attractive to investors. Provide recognition of Discounted Market Rent (DMR) as a form of affordable housing for BTR schemes. I agree that the release of some public sector land for BTR housing would significantly help the sector and reduce the competition with build-to–sell housing. I advocate the use of BTR quotas in Local Plans, if based on an objectively assessed need and resulting housing requirement, or as part of a brief for the development of public sector land. All of these measures would help to ensure that BTR housing is reflected in land prices and as such, would help to reduce the viability gap.An exemption in relation to the stamp duty surcharge would help the sector and encourage investment and ultimately housing delivery. However, with investment in the sector reaching £50 billion over the next five years it is no surprise that the Chancellor wants some of this value to be captured, to help fill Government coffers. Whilst the stamp duty surcharge will no doubt impact on viability, it is generally considered that this in itself will not undermine growth in the sector. This was explained by Philip Nell, Fund Director of Vista UK Real Estate Fund, the residential property fund established by Hermes Investment Management and Countryside plc: Through adept negotiations with developers, we believe that the impact of higher stamp duty on rental properties can be mitigated. This, combined with continuing policy support for PRS property development, greater pressure on smaller-scale landlords and the persistent demand and supply imbalance in the UK rental market, should ensure that investment opportunities in this sector remain compelling. The call for greater recognition that DMR should qualify as ‘affordable housing’ for BTR developments is critical, as providing traditional social rented accommodation within BTR developments, managed by a Registered Provider, is not a realistic proposition. The BTR model works because the developer is responsible for the management of the entire building: a proportion of units being managed by another organisation is not seen as an acceptable proposition. On the BTR schemes that I am currently involved with, there is acceptance that DMR is a means to ensure that a BTR scheme can offer an ‘affordable housing’ contribution. This is an approach which has been applied on a number of schemes across London, for example M&G/HUB Residential in Ealing, Dolphin Living’s scheme in Westminster and Essential Living’s scheme in Swiss Cottage - it appears already to be the accepted approach in London.Whilst DMR housing will not necessarily provide homes for those residents on a Council’s or social housing provider’s waiting lists, the discount offered will make those units more affordable for those on lower incomes. In some schemes across London, innovative approaches are being taken forward where the discount is linked with income, creating ‘Living Rents’. It is important that the BTR sector is encouraged to explore such models, in the interests of helping to house those on lower incomes and thereby help to retain the capital’s workforce.There is clearly a range of mechanisms which could help overcome the viability issues faced by BTR developers – some which can be done today, some which need greater government support. With the sector set to triple in size by 2020 and the industry knocking on the Government’s door with suggestions of how to unlock its potential, there seems to be a real prospect that BTR could help to ease the housing crisis – but to what degree? Only time will tell but the future is looking very promising indeed for the BTR sector.