BCSC: Localism requires honesty and trust

Local authorities and developers should not fear localism, but honesty and trust are the key to success, according to industry experts at the annual British Council of Shopping Centres conference in Manchester.

Charles Miller, director at Jones Lang LaSalle, who chaired a seminar titled 'The Localism Dilemma – What it means for future urban development', said the localism agenda is already "ingrained" in the industry.

The Localism Bill, which was unveiled by the Government in December last year, is passing through the latter stages of its parliamentary process and is likely to receive Royal Assent later this year.

The Government said the new legislation will cut red tape, give local authorities more power, revolutionise the planning system, and give communities control over decisions.

At the seminar in Manchester, industry experts argued that, with the economy stagnant and banks unwilling to lend, virtually all development that is not under way is unlikely to be delivered for several years, with worrying consequences for a private-sector led recovery.

Developers must be prepared to approach local authorities with "honesty and open minds about sharing the benefits" if they want support for their projects according to Sean Harriss, chief executive of Bolton Council.

Harriss said: "You've got to be prepared to listen and adapt. Councils are not against growth, but they won't allow growth at any price. We want quality schemes with good quality partners.

"I have seen developments go ahead or halt at the first meeting because developers have to turn up and have a sense of knowing the area they are in, and the politics of the place. Developers who have an open mind about how things will turn out are more successful than those who have fixed ideas."

A panel also included Nick Carter, chief executive of West Berkshire Council, Alistair Shaw of Stanhope and Andy Wallhead, Wakefield Council's corporate director for regeneration and economic growth. They pointed to successful regeneration schemes in Wakefield and Castleford involving the local community, as well as imminent schemes in Hereford and Parkway Shopping Centre in Newbury.

Wallhead said a new footbridge linking a previously disconnected community with Castleford town centre showed what could achieved when residents were genuinely engaged. He said the council had worked very closely with residents right from the start, and as a result people had taken the bridge to their hearts.

Wallhead also spoke of the success of Trinity Walk in Wakefield, which created 1,500 jobs after investing its own money into the scheme and saw a return on its investment within two years.

He added that more than 80% of the new jobs went to local people and half of the new recruits were young people taking on their first job.

The panel agreed that "strong leadership" was needed to push developments forward and sell the long-term benefits of regeneration projects to local people.

Carter, from West Berkshire Council, said the key to localism's success was for local communities to feel they could really make a difference. He said the Parkway shopping centre, which is due to open next month had brought a "new energy" to the town.

Alistair Shaw of Stanhope had a warning for developers who think localism will not translate into well-organised local opposition.

"If you think you can stay in London in your ivory towers, the private sector better wake up," he said, "it's not enough to send some consultants down you've got to be there yourself talking to the community.

"We felt the full force of localism in Hereford – a political party was set up as a result of our proposals.

"Honesty and trust are at the heart of it and if you don't have that with the local authority walk away because you are going to be working together for a long time."

Shaw said the experience of Hereford also showed how a highly organised and passionate minority can speak loudly against a development when in fact the majority of local residents agreed improvements had to be made.

Edward Cooke, executive director of BCSC, said: "What is absolutely clear is that developers and local authorities need to be prepared to listen, to each other, to communities. But equally we need strong leadership that is prepared to sell a vision to residents who can often be sceptical about change.

"Honesty, transparency and trust, whether it is between developers, local authorities and residents, is going to be key to successful developments in future."

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