Public consultation as a safety valve mechanism

At a recent public exhibition I had some time to talk through the process of consultation with another consultant. Inevitably the question of "why do we bother?" came up. At the time, this was understandable: we had both spent seven hours on our feet in a draughty village hall speaking to hundreds of residents not all of whom, it would seem, were as open-minded about the proposed development as we might have hoped!

It's easy to fall into this way of thinking, particularly when the political climate or community feeling is against a proposal. During these times it's important to understand that exhibition events are not just places to gather support, they can also be used to minimise objection and calm potential crisis and act as an important 'safety valve' mechanism.

This scheme in particular had inspired a small grassroots campaign who objected to a small aspect of the application, whose cause had gained some momentum within the community, particularly with some local politicians.

These campaigners attended the event, who although were polite and friendly, did voice their concerns loudly enough to get other attendees at the exhibition to start offering negative feedback and concentrate their questions on the one, contentious, part of the scheme rather than the whole of the development.

Remarkable took the decision to organise a 'sit down' at the exhibition with the campaigners and project manager, with the aim of calming the small protest in the immediate situation whilst also using this approach to try to find a way to gain some long term benefit for the client.

The conversation went better than could be imagined. The protest was calmed and the campaigners' feedback was noted, resulting in a slightly amended scheme being submitted to the planning authority. These plans were then openly supported by the same, previously opposed c ampaigners which, in turn, satisfied any concerns their local representatives may have had.

The exhibition did its job. It took a potentially harmful situation for our client and gave Remarkable the opportunity to turn this situation round and gain even more support for the proposals. None of this would have been possible without meeting the public to discuss the proposed scheme: a valuable lesson for anyone looking to bring forward an application in a potentially hostile environment.

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