Converting offices into homes is not without its controversies. So how can using a Consulting You website help make the planning application process more effective… and engage voices from all quarters? Lewins Place in Bristol has provided an excellent example.
Bristol, in common with most of our city centres, is undergoing a major transformation as many old and unwanted office blocks get a new lease of life as apartments.
There are may benefits of changing the use of old 60s and 70s offices in this way – not least providing much-needed new homes. But the trend, which has been boosted by the Permitted Development Rights, is not without its critics. There are widespread concerns that large tranches of business space will be permanently lost – changing the character and composition of our city centres.
When plans were worked up by the PG Group for the landmark 1970s, 15-storey tower block Lewins Place to be converted into 149 apartments, community engagement consultant Jenny Gee was brought in to manage the consultation process. A Consulting You website was created to act as a conduit for the engagement: a repository for information, news, events and responses.
With the development so close to the Broadmead shopping centre, local retailers were also engaged, as were other local businesses and residents in the area. A consultation event was promoted and held, a public exhibition set up on the site, and emails and letters were sent to all local stakeholders. Press releases were issued, and the website used as a contact point for all interested parties to express their views.
Engaging widely made simple
Stuart Gaiger, Managing Director of the Bristol-based P G Group and the scheme developer said, “We felt it was really important to engage as fully as possible with this particular application, because this has long been a landmark building that many people will have views on and converting offices into homes does have city-wide implications.
“Having the website enabled us to share information and made the consultation process highly accessible. Another advantage, from our perspective, was that the consultation web site also enabled us prove the support for our scheme to Bristol City Council as the planning process proceeded.
“We drew a great deal of feedback from a wide range of sources – all of it highly positive. The fact that the process also opened up conversations with neighbours of the new scheme, which will help our long term-relationships locally, was an unexpected bonus.
The feedback all went onto the Consulting You website, and was readily downloaded into a single document which became the Statement of Community Engagement.
“It really couldn’t have been simpler – and the Consulting You Website played an important role in that.”