Transparency the only way to build trust

Barrie Cunning is managing director of Pentland Communications
Barrie Cunning is managing director of Pentland Communications
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BY the middle of this century, Edinburgh could become Scotland’s largest city. That startling prediction from city council chief executive Andrew Kerr has huge implications for the Capital, not least the desperate need for additional housing. The challenge will be to not just attract additional growth, but to manage it in a sustainable way.

More development means more construction, more construction means more intrusion in local communities, and for residents and local businesses this can be a real cause for concern.

But the question that needs to be asked is how can Edinburgh best take advantage of the increase in population and the wider economic benefits it will bring, while ensuring that local communities are fully involved in the process?

Walk through any part of Edinburgh and you will see some form of development taking place. From the regeneration of the former St James shopping centre to new hotel and student accommodation developments across the city, Edinburgh is ripe for development and the conditions for investing in the city are not only favourable – they are very strong.

Currently, developers which propose a major development – those defined as being 50 units or more – have a legal obligation to undertake community engagement to inform residents and others of any proposed development in the area.

But effective community engagement must be seen to be more than just a tick box exercise or something that developers must do to get planning permission.

The vast majority of developers understand the importance of effective community and stakeholder engagement and ensuring that the local community voice is heard.

But too many times we have heard stories of proposed developments across the city or in other parts of the UK, where the local community has accused the developer of not listening to them, not understanding the area’s character or heritage, or refusing to take on board concerns over designs or the impact the development will have.

When developers find the local community is opposing a proposed plan, it’s often because there has been a lack of understanding and clarity of message. Effective community engagement requires effective communication and that means undertaking a proactive response to community concerns.

The reality is that there is no such thing as a non-contentious development.

The onus is on the developer to engage with the local community and businesses to inform them of any proposed development and the benefits it will bring to the area.

It’s also important to recognise that, by default, many people are cynical of property developers who they believe put community interest behind the push for profit, and, as such, effective messaging is often undermined by local hearsay.

The real challenge for developers is overcoming that perception which is largely held by the community, and the starting point has to be recognising the vital role of local residents, and engage with them in a spirit of openness and transparency.

Barrie Cunning is managing director of Pentland Communications.