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Planning for planning – don’t forget the neighbours!

I learned the hard way – and the expensive way – about the perils of not fully engaging with your neighbours ahead of making a planning application.

Over 16 years ago, we wanted to extend our childrens’ two box bedrooms over the garage of our modern detached home, in exactly the same way as many others on our street had already done.

We showed our next-door neighbours our architect’s plans – and they were happy, but we failed to speak to the neighbours opposite – and they weren’t happy.

Like the uninvited guests at Sleeping Beauty’s Christening, they cursed our project, rallying the Parish Council to make a site visit and submitting their objections, with force, to the District Council. The houses behind would lose their views … the extension would create more space for more people in our house, which would mean more cars creating congestion in the street (utterly bizarre), and it was quite likely that we would convert our garage into further accommodation too … and so it went on.

The planning application was refused but, determined to win, we lodged a request for the case to be reviewed by the Planning Ombudsman (as it was then). The decision to refuse was upheld on the grounds that the developer of our new home had, seven years previously, agreed to install a “hipped roof” for the amenity of the older properties some distance behind.

Now, several thousand pounds out of pocket we were back to where we started. Actually, worse than that, it was money we could ill-afford to waste and our neighbours opposite refused to speak to us – or even look at us. We ended up moving house!

This lesson has stood me in good stead for the advice and services my team and I at KOR now provide to our clients. From landowners and landed estates, to project promoters and homebuilders, we will always strongly recommend genuine, two-way engagement with neighbours, communities and stakeholders; whether it’s the development of new homes, new hotels, renewable energy installations, landscape scale environmental projects or a cross-Channel electricity interconnector, time spent researching, mapping and engaging with anyone and everyone who has an interest in the project is time, and money, very well spent.

Over the past 12 years, we have delivered, on behalf of our clients, highly effective community consultations which have enabled people to have a say in shaping the future of their local area. By establishing the objectives and benefits of a project, we begin by forming a strong and consistent narrative with clear key messages that are used in communications with local people, the media, stakeholders such as local councillors, and at presentations to planning committees. We also help to analyse the potential pitfalls and provide advice on that too.

We run consultation events; from designing the exhibition boards and consultation websites to producing the feedback questions, we ensure that visitors are heard and have their questions answered by teams of specialist consultants. We actively encourage feedback which is then returned to the project team to refine the proposals ahead of a planning application.

Our Statements of Community Involvement are not just a tick-box exercise, they are thorough and demonstrate clearly the steps to which our client has gone to present their initial proposals, listen to feedback and respond to concerns or ideas given.

We know that significant amounts of money are invested in bringing forward a development project and we also know that the planning process is long and complex. What officers recommend is not always what the local community representatives approve.

The results of our work over many years have shown that investing in top quality community engagement promotes understanding and support, smoothing the way to a planning consent and delivering a quicker return on investment.

If you would like to discuss your project, please contact Annette Richman or Andrew Howard on 01392 466733. You can read more about our work here.