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Bristol experts team up to produce ‘invaluable’ online property sector public engagement tool kit

A flexible online tool kit has been developed in Bristol that gives developers, planning consultants and architects much more control over the often-difficult public consultation process.

Called Consulting You, it allows developers, planning consultants and architects to meet their engagement obligations, speed the consent process and deliver better developments.

The tool kit is the brainchild of Bristol-based planning engagement consultant Jenny Gee and website developer Ralph Media, also based in the city at the Tobacco Factory, and has been developed to provide a simple, flexible and cost effective solution.

With public consultation now an integral part of the planning process and a requirement of the Localism Act, significant extra requirements are put on anyone seeking planning consent for larger projects.

Jenny Gee has spent the past year developing and refining the tool, with a number of local planners and architects taking part in ‘road testing’ it.

She said: “Community engagement has moved a long way in the 12 years I’ve have been involved in this sector.

“Our research shows people like the accessibility of an online resource for consultation. A one-off event is fine, but we’ve proved that people want access to information to review in their own time – they feel it is more transparent.

“Consulting You was designed in collaboration with planning consultant and architects – it gives them complete oversight of the engagement process in real time. From a community stakeholder’s perspective, it ensures that concerns can be lodged easily, you keep fully abreast of public events and you can monitor each stage of the consultation process.

“It doesn’t replace face-to-face engagement or exclude those who are not online from the planning process. Instead it complements and streamlines all the other forms of consultation, and enables far more dynamic engagement with the public.”

Chris Askew of Askew Cavanna Architects Bristol described it as “invaluable” and added: “This is a great tool for developers, planners and architects, and plays an important part in helping steer a development successfully through the planning process.”

From the perspective of planning officers and members, it makes the public engagement process more transparent and demonstrable, which could make the application process less time consuming. It also meets local authority planning protocol requirements; and, if necessary, feedback can be interrogated and assessed at any time.

The platform provides users with a tool kit which includes a flexible website template that can be personalised to each development, allowing information on the proposed project to be shared quickly and easily.

There are no set up costs and the complete service costs just £80 per month, only while the site is live, making it a low-cost way to share development information with stakeholders. Users can add as many pages as they wish to each site, together with images, plans and links to other pages or websites.

Sitting behind the website is the hub of the system: an easy-to-use desktop that allows users to upload plans, undertake questionnaires, capture feedback, promote events and download reports in various formats. Multiple users can have access to the back end of the site to add new information or obtain reports on progress.

The above article by Robert Buckland appeared in Bristol Business News on October 28, 2016.
Click here to see the original article.