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Taking a deep dive into the Thames Valley


Good engagement and social impact were the key topics on discussion as Meeting Place dived into our Reading Lido event, exploring the built environment’s potential across the region and its role in delivering growth and prosperity.
We called on 50+ representatives from across the sector to join us in our workshops – asking how we can engage closer with the silent majority and get better at communicating the positive social impact development can deliver.

Take the plunge because “it’s gonna’ get good”

The event kicked off with an optimistic keynote speech from sector champion Chris Young KC, who gave a critical assessment of the way the current government has given way to nimbyism. He suggested the scrapping of housing targets has abandoned the younger generation’s aspiration of home ownership, with the government prioritising short-term votes from an older home-owning generation.

However, his overall message was a positive one; that a likely future Labour government would be bold on housing from day one, particularly with their recent messaging about the ‘grey belt’ and longer term with new towns.

He encouraged developers to start putting in their applications and appeals now, to coincide with a likely Labour government later this year.

The challenging economic situation the new administration will find themselves in stands in stark contrast to Labour’s last entry to power in 1997, which will see them heavily reliant on sectors like the built environment to deliver the much needed economic growth.

Making a splash with the silent majority

Our first workshop topic – ‘What does good engagement look like?’ – was introduced by a panel featuring Meeting Place Managing Director, Nikki Davies, Senior Development Manager at Hill, Glyn Mutton, and Buckinghamshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Homelessness and Regulatory Services, Cllr Mark Winn.

The discussion focused on fostering greater public and private sector partnerships and engaging with the silent majority. It covered topics including the benefits of a cabinet master-planning process, (like what has been introduced at Winchester City Council), how best to work with ward councillors who are under pressure from residents to oppose proposals, and how key benefits of proposals (as well as the costs of not undertaking them) are sometimes undersold to the public.

This topic was then discussed amongst our workshop tables, which included the following recommendations:

  • Invite councillors to completed sites that you have worked on in the same authority, to see the finished product and benefits it brings, as well to meet residents and constituents who have recently moved in to tell their stories.
  • Remember that councillors have other priorities above engaging with developers, like attending council meetings and dealing with casework, so you need to go out of your way to engage in a way that is convenient to them.
  • Engage indirectly with councillors through BIDs and resident groups who will then feed issues back to councillors.
  • Ensure the level of consultation is proportionate to the scale and strategic importance of the site so as to not over-consult and draw disproportionate levels of opposition.
  • Early and regular engagement is key to ensure that feedback from councillors and the local community can actually be considered into proposals and they can feel like the consultation process is worth them engaging in.

In at the deep end on social impact

The second workshop focused on social impact and the potential of the built environment to address inequalities in society, and how to effectively communicate with decision makers.

The panel – featuring Ian Woodward, Development and Management Lead at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, Chiedza Mupfumira, Social Impact Lead at CEMEX UK, and Brendan Williams, Chief Executive at
Building Heroes – discussed the need to insert social impact benefits at the masterplan stage, rather than to shoehorn it in towards the end of a project.

They also discussed the benefits of closer engagement with local charities to help deliver social impact, rather than developers doing it themselves, and the potential the sector can play in reskilling people into the industry.

The topic was then discussed across the workshops, which recommended:

  • The need to go beyond policy compliance in many cases because policy keeps catching with what were once seen as ‘benefits’
  • The importance of working with a community to see how social impact can deliver improvements to their area that they actually want, rather than a developer proposing benefits that they think an area needs
  • How the loudest voices in a community are not always correct and the most in need of social impact benefits so developers should work to seek out widely across an area
  • The importance of real-life case studies, which are often more impactful to communicate to local communities rather than focusing on metrics and data
  • The need for local government to have more experts in area of social impact so planning reports can go into more detail on the benefits of social impact proposals
    A productive and refreshing morning of discussion about the future of engagement and social impact, we’d like to thank all of our partners in the sector, as well as our panellists, for taking the time to attend out of their busy schedules and contribute meaningfully to the topics.

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