By Nick Kilby
The pressure on the development sector to build new homes is matched only by the pressure on councillors from local communities to vote against development proposals.
As a newbie councillor in a London borough, I was amazed at the force of the emotions that could be generated by a proposed new development. It really was one of the best ways to unite a community.
Too often the strength of local feeling was the result of developers coming forward with a scheme that was supported by the planning department but where the councillors had rarely been contacted. When we were, it was to tell us why we should support the plans, how wrong the objectors were and how baseless their fears.
A few years later I started working with developers and found out how much money was invested in a planning application. It made me all the more determined to see the development sector engage more effectively both with the community and with local elected members. In all my four years as a councillor I was only ever contacted once by a planning communications agency. What all the others, who had allegedly spoken to councillors and community representatives (as stated in the Statement of Community Involvement), were actually doing I couldn’t say.
I said we would do things differently at Cratus. We are not the only agency you can entrust with your investment, but we promise you that we will actually engage the key decision makers and work with local communities to win you genuine support from politicians and residents alike. It’s your vision and we strive to secure you planning permission from councillors who have been well informed, who don’t surprise you with their questions, who enjoy hearing your vision for their community and who have the confidence to vote in favour of your application on the night. Cratus has one of the most respected leadership teams in local government. Our Chairman, Sir Merrick Cockell, was the Leader of Kensington and Chelsea from 2000 to 2013 and has become a leading voice in local government finance and pensions. Our Deputy Chairman, Chris Roberts, ran the Royal Borough of Greenwich from 2000 to 2014 and has a passion for regeneration and development. On our Board we also have the support of Bob Neill, who was the Minister for Planning and Local Government from 2010 to 2012 and wrote the NPPF.
It’s clear both from my experience as a councillor and from my time at Cratus that investing in genuine political engagement and community consultation helps to turn what is often a combative process into a more collaborative one, involving much less expenditure than the legal costs of appealing a decision. Indeed, not only can it enhance your individual investments by securing planning permission more quickly, it can build your reputation with the local council, meaning that for your next site you are welcomed back with open arms – not open hostility.