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At the inaugural meeting of the advisory group for Community Consultation for Quality of Life (CCQOL), teams from the universities of Reading, Cardiff, Ulster and Edinburgh had the opportunity to discuss the project with its supporters. These include the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), the British Property Federation (BPF), the Royal Town Planners Institute (RTPI), Power to Change, Urban Rooms Network and more.

The advisory group, chaired by Sadie Morgan, will provide a bridge between the local community pilot projects, universities, industry and government.

There was agreement on the fundamental need for communities to be involved in determining their own futures, but also the many challenges involved. Those challenges ranged from the tendency for a self-selected minority to get involved to a fundamental distrust in the system — that any consultation will have any real value for the people involved. The very language of community consultation and engagement is fraught, denoting a statutory, tick-box exercise on the one-hand and a longitudinal approach on the other.

Here are just some of the views from the discussion that took place:

  • “It’s much easier to regulate consultation. What sits beneath it is the quality of engagement that allows them to take part in the consultation and have confidence to take part.” Kate Bentley, Director of Planning at Belfast City Council.
  • “How we can deepen relationships around engagement to facilitate the statutory process of consultation? The process of community activation versus community consultation often involves different professionals.” Vidya Alakeson, CEO, Power to Change and Deputy Chair, Office for Place
  • “Trust is incredibly important if you want to create a snowball effect. A lot of the projects I’ve seen work well are a good partnership with the public and private sector.” Alex Green, BPF
  • “The design elements are key to unlocking engagement and participation and ongoing interest in a particular process.” David Waterhouse, Head of Design and Planning Reform, DLUHC.
  • “There are lots of discussions about hard to reach communities, but ‘hard-to-reach’ tends to be most people.” Stephanie Edwards, Founding Partner, Urban Symbiotics
  • “The public isn’t interested in whether something is a matter for the local plan. They just want to see better places.” Richard Blythe, Head of policy, research and practice, RTPI.
  • “To build trust you need to have that conversation earlier and more broadly, and have members of the community, artists and others talking about the history of a place. That storytelling part is key.” Max Farrell, Founder & CEO of the LDN Collective and Project Leader for the Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment
  • “People want to live in a good place, but you have to talk to them before the cranes come. The moment you ask people they start to engage.” Diane Dever, Chair, Urban Room Network
  • “This isn’t going to be easy. The process we’re embarking on and we’re engaged in will need lots of energy, support and passion to make things happen. There are so many things that aren’t right that need fixing.” Sadie Morgan, Chair, Quality of Life Foundation and Founding Partner, dRMM