In March of this year, my colleague Gabriel Abulafia wrote about consultation in the digital era, looking at speed of digital adoption and how this led to a remarkable and accelerated shift in the way in which we engage with stakeholders on planning applications.

Fundamentally, the principles of engagement have not changed as we near 18 months since the start of the pandemic – nor should they!  As conversations over the future of places become more important than ever, we have seen an overwhelming response to dedicated consultation websites, webinar sessions and stakeholder meetings. A number of large and significant planning applications for proposals throughout the country have been granted throughout the pandemic, and Redwood has played a pivotal role in several of these, helping to bring communities on a journey and ensuring that all parties have the opportunity to have their say.

In the second quarter of this year, we continue to be busy advising on a number of planning applications for redevelopments and repositioning schemes across the country, including a number of schemes in London and the South East. Some of these projects remain at the pre-application phase, and in recent weeks we have begun to run our first, socially distanced face-to-face meetings in line with national Government guidance, with a number of doorstep conversations with residents being welcomed. Taking the time to visit and understand neighbourhoods from individual communities’ perspectives will always be a stronghold of our approach, and we are seeing real appetite for a blended engagement – with individuals of all ages and demographics keen to attend ‘webinars’ – finding them to be convenient and offering an opportunity for in-depth discussions with members of the project team – as well as providing feedback online.

Redwood supported a further two major planning consents where digital techniques were the primary engagement methodology. Both projects – in Coventry and Basildon – were named amongst the top ten biggest housing schemes to be granted approval according to findings by Planning Resource (The biggest permissions February-April 2021 PLUS who applied and who advised | Planning Resource).

  • In Coventry, we delivered a public consultation for Shearer Property Group (SPG) on plans to transform Coventry city centre with Coventry Council. The mixed-use destination achieved outline consent in April and will bring over 1,000 homes to the city centre for the first time since WWII, revitalising the city centre.
  • In Basildon, Sovereign Centros and Leslie Jones Architecture have brought forward proposals for Eastgate Shopping Centre, which achieved outline consent in April 2021. We supported the project team to deliver a multi-faceted consultation strategy that utilised digital engagement tools and called on the local community to share their thoughts and views about plans to reinvigorate the shopping centre to form the new Eastgate Quarter.
  • We have recently started working for Tiger Developments on a redevelopment project in Guildford, where we have employed a hybrid engagement approach – running online webinars while also engaging neighbours of the scheme on the doorstep.

Inevitably questions are now being asked about what the future of consultation looks like. In June, I was invited as a panellist for Profile Network’s session on ‘Hearts & Minds: How to leverage the digital conversation’, (alongside other experts including Liam Ronan-Chlond, Head of Engagement at First Base) to give our insight on how the pandemic has accelerated change in consultation, and how we will be shaping our engagement approach for the future. Put simply, our approach will not be a ‘one size fits all’, it will be aligned to the communities who we will be speaking to, and the best ways to reach them. The biggest change has been the way in which we communicate with stakeholders, not just for regeneration projects, but also for construction programmes, perception audits and media updates. We will still need digital consultation, but intertwined with more familiar methods as we continue to work towards change.