Commcomm UK

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Commcomm UK's best practice article

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.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett, MP
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles, MP

www.commcommuk.com

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
FACTS ABOUT
COMM COMM UK
»Managing Director:
JessicaStewart
»Founded in 2013
»Based in London
»Services: Planning
communications consultancy
»No. of employees: 8 full-time,
7 part-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 usthrive.
The current state of planning
communications
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
perception.
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
professional accreditation.
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
KOKO, Camden
The greatest
challenge for
the
development
industry is
negative
perception
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
development projects.
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.
Change is
needed, change
is coming and
change will be
good
Barry Biomass, South
Wales
Sea Containers House,
Southwark

www.commcommuk.com

This article was sponsored by Commcomm UK. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister