‘Key to delivery’: how communities can create better outcomes for the development industry

After years of talking about housing numbers – set within the politically-charged context of ‘delivery’ – there is a sense that the tone around housebuilding is changing.

The focus on how many homes are needed is giving way to recognition that how this happens matters too. This is expressed in the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful commission and the GLA’s thinking around estate regeneration in London, which both acknowledge that community buy in is an essential part of the mission to ‘deliver the homes the country needs’.

This is a welcome change in emphasis that the industry should heed. Those who take the opportunity to engage local communities to shape developments stand more chance of success than those who treat this as a stumbling block.

Engagement matters

For those of us who work with the industry to shape developments, this requires a broader understanding that goes beyond the necessary technical detail.

Technical studies, policy documents, data and socio-economic trends all build a picture of what’s possible. Building relationships helps make the possible real.

Our team has seen this working on one of the UK’s largest community-led development projects at Southmead in Bristol, where consultations on the future of the area have taken place over recent years. The area features a large, underused space at the heart of the community at Glencoyne Square, which has been affected by anti-social behaviour.

Working with Southmead Development Trust, a vision for the area which includes 120 new homes has been shaped through extensive community engagement. Density, styles of housing, open space and parking have all featured in discussions – but details unearthed through conversations are helping to create a place that reflects local aspirations.

Discussion with local doctors, for example, highlighted a desire to promote ways to help patients find different ways to stay healthy and well. Proposals to move the surgery within the new development, complete with a café where patients can learn to cook and a space for exercise, is now part of the regeneration proposals.

Another such example is in Taunton, Somerset, where the local authority has worked with the wider community on an approach to addressing structural issues involving more than 200 Woolaway properties.

Refurbishing or replacing people’s homes meant that many residents would have to move, which always needs sensitive and careful engagement. The council has built relationships by giving residents an opportunity to shape proposals over 18 months.

In one example, residents told us how hard it was to find a meeting place and demonstrated to us that a centre within the mix of new homes would be well used by local groups and clubs. We used this feedback to propose converting two ground floor flats into community space for use during the first phase of redevelopment.

A Residents’ Design Group of 25 people suggested changes to road layouts and open space that helped make plans credible, and ultimately deliverable. The youngest member of the group, who was 15 when she started working with us, has been inspired to apply for an apprenticeship in the communications industry. It’s a brilliant example of added value which partners are asked for on regeneration projects.

Key to delivery

Engaging well supports delivery and can shape developments that better reflect local character and ambitions. Bringing the community with you on the journey can also add social value, through training, education and wellbeing.

With the pressures the industry faces, there’s never been a better time to look at how communities can become a key part of the regeneration process. Those who approach it as a tick box exercise could miss vital insights that shape development for the better. And if they’re not careful, this could become a barrier to the ‘delivery’ that everyone wants to see.

Amanda Taylor is Urban Design Director at Nash Partnership, a design, planning and regeneration consultancy for the built environment.