The current COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it brings is undeniably changing the way we all live our lives, and it presents a unique set of circumstances for engagement and consultation.
Steve Quartermain CBE, Chief Planner MHCLG in his March newsletter stressed to Local Planning Authorities the importance of ensuring the planning system continues to function - "It is important that authorities continue to provide the best service possible in these stretching times and prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy. We ask you to take an innovative approach, using all options available to you to continue your service. We recognise that face-to-face events and meetings may have to be cancelled but we encourage you to explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead. We also encourage you to consider delegating committee decisions where appropriate."
It is very encouraging to hear from many of our planning colleagues, the effort that is being made by many Local Planning Authorities (LPA's) across the country to keep functioning by finding and adopting innovative ways to enable the decision making process to continue – this is no mean feat with stretched resources, huge pressure and demands on other domestic services and of course technological constraints.
What a difference a week makes, progress is fast. Section 78 of Coronavirus Bill 2020 amends the Local Government Act 1972 Schedule 12. This new act makes provisions for “persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place.” This means any Council and sub-committee meetings, including planning committee meetings can be held remotely.
We all have a role to play in ensuring we help and support the built environment to keep moving forward and engagement and consultation must not and cannot grind to a halt due to the current ‘no touch’ environment. However, care needs to be taken with a natural and immediate response to adopt a ‘digital by default’ approach, as relying solely on online approaches is likely to exclude a significant proportion of the population including the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and digitally disconnected.
Here at Barton Willmore, our Stakeholder and Community Engagement team can offer a predominately digital led consultation programme, giving our clients the comfort that the utilisation of digital tools, can still deliver a robust consultation programme which will be acceptable to LPA’s.
Here is a taster of some of the services we can offer:
- Websites – from single pages to multiple interactive pages
- Online feedback capabilities
- Bespoke software to record and analyse feedback responses including demographics
- All project materials including videos, audio presentations
- Updateable FAQs section
- Updateable News Section
- Sign up/registration capability to generate a database for further communications (GDPR legislation will apply)
- Fully responsive website which works on all mobile devices and screen sizes
- Virtual consultation and exhibitions - a platform that provides an opportunity to engage and consult a wide audience from their computer or mobile device at any time during the consultation period. See example, provided by AECOM.
- Webinars with the project team and webcasts
- Dedicated telephone hotline and email address
- Video conferencing using MS Team, Skype for Business for Councillor and Stakeholder meetings and presentations
- Printing and distribution of mail shots to consultation
- Graphic design for all consultation materials and branding
- Local Media advertising both online and offline
- Offline project presentations available to public on request
- Offline feedback capabilities e.g. ‘Tear and staple’ feedback forms
Please do get in touch with your local contacts or Kate Greatrix, Community Engagement Director (mobile: 0776 608 6738) to discuss your requirements and we can tailor a digital consultation programme to suit your needs and budget.
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Virtual Engagement, Digital Consultation, Public Engagement, Lets Find a Way, #letsfindaway, Covid-19