The importance of mobilising the ‘silent majority’
It is a widely acknowledged frustration that while controversial new developments (and even some relatively straightforward schemes) usually face a barrage of outspoken opposition from objectors, it is very difficult to encourage people who support the scheme to stand up and be counted.
In the majority of cases, it is those who oppose a scheme that make the loudest noise. A small band of committed protestors can produce a highly skewed perception of local sentiment, especially if they are adept at manipulating the traditional media, and more relevant currently, know their way around Twitter and Facebook.
For this reason, the elected members who make the decisions on these planning applications are usually bombarded with information and opposition from objectors. This can be problematic for developers, especially if in reality it is not the view of the community as a whole.
Similarly, there are very rarely more supportive than negative comments on the planning file during the pre-application stage. This fact alone means that any support, let alone a noticeable percentage, can have a direct and very influential impact on the chances of a positive outcome at a planning committee.
The key therefore is addressing this balance in views expressed to key figures and influential members.
Identifying local supportive individuals and groups is not easy – many supportive people don't engage with local authority consultations as they have no concerns to register. A clear local engagement strategy, however, can utilise certain tools to identify where areas of support might lie. The trick is to encourage these supporters to contact their local ward member, write to the planning department, or engage the local media setting out why they support a scheme.
This dialogue has to be handled carefully, as it is always a fine line between highlighting and demonstrating where any benefit might come from this development for potential supporters, and not disengaging them by asking them to commit too much.
Identifying and then mobilising any support within a local community is increasingly critical in this age of 'Localism' where positive and proactive community input in planning is sought after and highly prized.
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