The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Commcomm UK is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.
Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles
35COMM COMM UK |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE 2019
Ilona Rose House, Westminster
Our valuable team at Comm
Comm UK with Managing
Director Jessica Stewart (centre)
Comm Comm UK is a communications consultancy firm
specialising in the built environment and community
relations, primarily supporting planning applications.
They work on behalf of both private and public sector clients on
projects including new homes, university and research facilities,
energy and infrastructure projects and leisure and office
redevelopments. They often act as an intermediary between
communities and developers, ensuring that these projects
benefit both parties. Managing Director Jessica Stewart explains
the history of the firm and recent changes to the sector.
I have worked in planning communications for over 20 years across private, public
and agency roles. When I started out in the late 1990s, the focus was on lobbying
decision-makers. This resulted in planning communications becoming a natural
extension of public affairs. Over the past few years, developers and decision-makers
have come to understand and accept that it is a distinct and invaluable part of the
planning and development process. There is still an overriding negative perception
of developers within planning and a lack of trust continues to exist within local
communities about planning consultations and applications. The idea that developers
can buy consent is still pervasive, despite the fact that there is a strict process in place
that is scrutinised in detail. We often hear that communities and councils want more
consultation but don’t trust the process or people undertaking and reporting on it. This
needs to change fundamentally if we are to deliver much-needed new homes across
the country and to continue to build, quite literally, a successful nation and economy.
We see our role not as representatives of developers trying to persuade, cajole or
hoodwink local communities and councillors into approving planning applications
COMM COMM UK
»Founded in 2013
»Based in London
»No. of employees: 8 full-time,
»No. of clients: 50
Comm Comm UK
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
36 | COMM COMM UK
which will simply line the pockets
of developers. Rather, we are vital
intermediaries representing and
explaining the concerns of local
communities to developers, while at
the same time communicating the
benefits of the potential development
to these same groups. This, in turn,
supports the local communities and
decision-makers in understanding the
benefits of the potential development.
I founded the company in 2013
because of the gender pay gap within
the sector and agencies’ tendency to
protect their pipelines. Our immediate
success and subsequent growth
have established us as a major player
within the field. My team is interested,
motivated and expert. They approach
the work creatively, ethically and with
rigour. I believe that this approach,
coupled with our can-do and friendly
attitude, has seen usthrive.
The current state of planning
I have spent many years thinking
about why my industry is not widely
respected or understood. I believe that
a small number of less scrupulous and
old-fashioned operators have sullied
its reputation. I believe that this has
contributed to the continued lack of
trust in the process and in the people
undertaking and reporting on it. Many
agencies have continued to perpetuate
the “it’s who you know, not what you
know” myth, which has resulted in
protectionism being maintained.
To be successful, it is clear that this
couldn’t be further from the truth, and,
if told this by a practitioner, you should
walk away. Process, transparency and
honesty are planning communications’
real currency and we need to focus on
these to build reputations and respect.
Current legislation and policy, including
the Localism Act 2011 and the
National Planning Policy Framework, all
recommend consultation. However, it is
not a statutory requirement and there
is very little guidance about how to carry
out planning consultations, with all local
authorities interpreting the guidance
differently. It is little wonder that there
is no handle on standards or quality.
Battling negative perceptions
and improving reputations
The greatest challenge for the
development industry is negative
We must assess how planning
communications and consultation
are positioned within the industry
and how we can move forward and
develop a respectable place within an
industry with a poor reputation. It is
still uncertain whether this ought to
come from increased regulation or
Planning communications certainly
needs to professionalise. We also
need more specific formal guidance
to set standards for consultation, with
thought and input needed on this point
from national and local government,
communications professionals, planners,
developers and communities.
Communities need to expect to have
a good experience, where they trust
they are being told details about a
37COMM COMM UK |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE 2019
scheme in an honest and transparent
way. They need to believe that their
views are being represented to inform
and improve the design of the scheme,
enhancing its community value. This
will encourage positive participation
and help to secure a good scheme that
delivers a healthy return on investment
for the developer.
Recruiting and inspiring talent
Another difficulty within the sector
is sourcing the right talent. Although
we are a communications company,
I always endeavour to employ people
who are truly interested in the built
environment. We don’t hire people
who think we are a route into politics.
Our stakeholders do include some
politicians, but the overwhelming
majority are simply members of the
community, including residents,
interest groups and businesses.
I believe that ethics and good practice
in the workplace spill over into client
work. We have developed our own
ethics and wellbeing policies and
are in the process of becoming an
employee-owned company. We aim
to provide our employees with the
same care we give to the clients and
communities we work alongside. By
continuing to adhere to these central
principles, we successfully recruit the
very best candidates and continue to
expand and grow, ensuring that we
can support worthwhile and beneficial
Ways of working are changing
There has been a big change in ways
of working for everyone, with mobile
phones and laptops increasing flexibility.
This shift gave me the confidence to set
up on my own. Developers no longer
feel the need to hire a big agency.
They want to work with individuals
who they know and trust to deliver.
This has opened up entrepreneurial
opportunities across all disciplines and
means that experts in smaller companies
can compete. There is also a well-
developed network of complementary
companies out there who want to
work collaboratively. We have worked
with other practitioners and agencies
since day one, sharing projects and
clients for everyone’s benefit.
Change is needed, change is coming
and change will be good.
I believe in our work, approach, processes
and, most importantly, team. It should
never be a race to the bottom: protecting
client lists by buying in work and
delivering the bare minimum. Planning
communications and consultation
should be seen as core professional
elements for all developments.
Engagement should improve schemes
in terms of design, local relevance and
community benefits. Finally, developers
should seek out the best possible
practitioners to deliver them.
is coming and
change will be
Barry Biomass, South
Sea Containers House,
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review
This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.
In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.
We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.
With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.
And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.
As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.