Anyone who has an idea is in a minority of one. If it’s an idea they want to pursue, then they have to convert others to the same point of view.
In the world of buildings, others have to believe in the benefits, the quality, the mitigation of inevitable construction side-effects. Above all, they have to know the answer to the question: “What’s in it for us?”
The conventional developer response is: “Trust me, I’m a developer – with an option on the land, funding in place for the application, policy on my side and a track record.” But that shouldn’t be enough. These things are personal, this is someone’s back yard, the euphemistic Englishman’s castle.
The local community is immeasurably diverse in its opinion, its ability to express itself, its facility to judge and willingness to engage. It’s unrealistic to assume that recycling the world’s rainforests into community newsletters can ever be passed off as consultation, but sadly it does tick the now inevitable boxes.
If policy formation is top-down, it will certainly exist, in triplicate, but it may not be locally owned and loved. Ultimately developments exist locally, their impacts are local and they need local support.
And then there are all the other stakeholders – and dealing with them can feel like a slow death.
So, in the event of a major planning application, to whom does a developer turn for local opinion? To the local authority, of course, but remember that in the background may lurk an out-of-date policy, a unitary development plan, an emerging local development framework and the chair of planning’s particular passion for that thing the chair of planning is particularly passionate about.
Dealing with all the other stakeholders can feel like a slow death
If this is a major project, the local authority will want to hear the opinion of design champion CABE. CABE may have quite a bit going on at the moment – it has other pressures and understandably can’t accommodate a review. Not to worry. It’ll write formally (and publicly) when the scheme is designed and the application submitted.
Don’t forget the listed building that’s being retained – this will need input from English Heritage. Then there’s the Environment Agency – we ought to speak to them. And that highways issue needs to be resolved or we’ll never get on site. The town centre forum people are a pretty vocal lot, best not forget them. We do intend to be an integrated neighbour. Still, with 20% intermediate key worker affordable housing, we should be popular with the local police, once the car park is Secured by Design.
And at least the Civil Aviation Authority are happy now that the height of the tower is 200 metres, so that is as good as approved now the cycle path is re-routed.
And then the dreaded final question: “Did anybody speak to the existing residents about what we’re offering them? It’s the stock transfer vote tonight, we need their support.”
Is the development industry suffering death by consultation? Never. The truth is it’s great fun working with challenging and informed opinions, where consensus has to be built, options investigated and positions conceded. As designers and developers we cannot expect and do not deserve to succeed with our ideas unless we are able to convince others of their merits. If we can’t, we’re dead anyway.
Peter Vaughan is director at architect Broadway Malyan