Project: Whin Croft, Goole.
Client: Peter Ward Homes
Skills: Media monitoring and management, intelligence gathering, stakeholder engagement, public consultation.
When a resident opposed to one of Peter Ward Homes’ proposed developments started kicking up a fuss in the media, there was a chance other members of the community would join him in trying to get the development stopped.
He sent several letters against the proposed development to local media, and letters of objection went to the council. A reporter working on one of the paper’s eventually admitted to me that the man was ringing the newsdesk on an almost daily basis, trying to spin negative stories about the development and our client.
At the time we were retained by Peter Ward Homes to manage the media and other stakeholders during the planning process for all their developments, to help market new homes to the public, and to ensure the profile and reputation of the business remained high. It is a contract we held for more than seven years.
During those years we managed many objections to planning applications, but this man was proving particularly persistent in his campaign against a development that in reality, would have little direct effect on him.
As this development was in a small community, the man’s persistent campaign stood a chance of gaining some traction, so we had to act. Several ways were proposed to do this:
- Ignore him and hope he burned himself out.
- Threaten legal action.
- Engage with him to see if we could placate him in anyway.
- Engage with the local community more, to get them onside.
We decided ignoring him was not an option, as there was always potential his campaign could spread. Option two seemed heavy handed at this stage and could lead to him claimed persecution by the developers.
It was agreed a combination of three and four was the best way forward, although we decided not to stage a public event yet, in case he should turn up and tried to hijack it.
Burning the shoe leather
The only option, therefore, was to hit the streets and door knock local residents – a technique we had perfected in our days as journalists. In his letters to the local paper, our man claimed to have the local community behind him. Our first task was to find out if this was true.
One evening, when everyone had had chance to get in from work, we worked our way down the street on which our detractor lived, asking residents what they thought of the development.
Overwhelmingly, they supported it, believing it would clean up the scruffy area of land it was proposed for, and bringing additional and much-needed new housing to the town.
When asked what they thought of the man who was causing us bother, they unanimously said they didn’t like or support him, and that he was a local crank with nothing better to do than cause trouble.
Facing the objector
While we were working our way down the street, our nosey objector decided to come out to see what was going on, and after hearing the views of his neighbours, we couldn’t resist sharing them.
We politely asked him why he was so against the development when he out of everyone on his street would be least affected. We asked him who in the community supported him, given the views of his neighbours that we’d just canvassed.
He had no answers and decided to go back inside. But he also knew he’d been rumbled and that he could no longer claim the community was on his side.
No more letters
From that moment on, the letters to the newspaper stopped and we began the public consultation in the proper way. The man didn’t turn up to any of the consultation events or make any further fuss.
The development was granted planning consent on first vote and work began shortly afterwards and we organised a visit from the local MP, Andrew Percy, to show what a great development it was. Now, it is a bustling community and an attractive addition to the town.
Had the man been allowed to continue his course of objection, it could have been a very different outcome.
It just goes to show the importance of local intelligence gathering, and public consultation, even if that means turning out and knocking on doors and speaking to people one on one.
We carried out similar work for the developer on their other sites around East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, successfully managing any issues around those. But this man stands out as being particularly persistent, so we’ll always remember this successful campaign.