The development landscape looks different today than it did only a few days ago, with most organisations’ entire teams now working from home. The measures implemented to ensure that the NHS can weather the COVID-19 storm are quickly changing how we go about our daily lives and conduct business.

These times present many challenges to the sector, including how we ensure enough homes are delivered to keep the industry moving and to address the housing crisis that the country has faced for many years.

TFA is conducting a survey of clients in respect of the current crisis, establishing the issues most likely affecting their business and to understand how best to pragmatically address them. We will encapsulate this into a briefing to key contacts in Government both at a ministerial and backbench level as well as with officials.

Whilst delay to decision making is likely at the moment, with many local authorities already cancelling or postponing planning committee meetings, developers are still often contractually obliged to meet deadlines for application submissions and are targeted to achieve results to keep their organisations building homes or selling land.

As the Government works with authorities to ensure decision making effectively takes place, particularly where delegated decisions may not be considered appropriate, TFA continues to engage with decision makers promoting the interests of our clients.

Going digital

Pre-application consultation has often included public meetings and gatherings of large numbers of people including workshops, exhibitions, community groups, drop-in events. All are inappropriate and against Government advice.

The solution is undeniably to better harness technology to enable effective engagement to take place. Project websites can become more interactive, Facebook adverts and even Facebook ‘live’ Q&A sessions can create positive debate wrapped up by online questionnaires.

With towns, parishes, stakeholder groups and members the use of tools such as Google Hangouts, Skype and Microsoft Teams will enable large enough groups to convene via video calls where presentations can also be made and discussed. These may also become the way which planning authority and town and parish meetings can continue to take place.

These tools better enable engagement with a wider demography, given that the number of people not online is now quite limited, and these newer technologies allow us to target groups which are often unrepresented during traditional public consultation.

Keeping with the traditional

Of course, some people will not be able to use or access technology and may struggle to use these tools in order to engage in the process.

To mitigate this, leaflets or feedback postcards and hotlines will still be important to enable all to engage in the debate about shaping development in their local areas.

TFA use resourceful printers who, following all guidance and advice issue by HM Government, now use an antimicrobial sealant that kills harmful microorganisms that help to spread bacteria and viruses.

Working with communities

Many authorities have a Statement of Community Involvement that advise how they advocate the industry engages with residents. These are of course a guide and not-adhering to these guidelines cannot in itself create a reason for refusal, although members in local planning authorities do consider that undertaking robust consultation is essential.

In these challenging times, TFA considers that the wheels of the planning process can continue to turn and that those who work to ensure they promote the most effective engagement campaign are more likely to win the favour of communities and their elected representatives.