Anthony Jelley: How can property developers win the trust of the community?

A guest post from Anthony Jelley

National newspaper headlines scream about massive population increases and housing crises. Local newspapers scream about local protests to new development, greenfield or brownfield . The circle seems impossible to square, yet something has to give.

Perhaps the answer is to show people photographs of different places and ask them where they would prefer to live or go on holiday. I believe it would be the exceptional person who would chose the 1960s housing estate in preference to the bustling market square or Georgian street. If developers want to get people on their side, why don’t they ask people these questions? I doubt the answers would surprise them. Planners, architects and developers are viewed with enormous mistrust by the general population. And rightly so.

princesIt is currently is a massive fight. Everyone tries to gain territory for their own agenda in the PR battle. Pressure groups go haywire, councils court unpopularity and get voted out, developers get most of what they want and move on to their next battle and local communities as a whole are left with the results. The issues narrow down to ‘for or against’. Opinion is usually ‘against’, but ‘for’ usually wins.

If the government and developers want to get people on the side of new development, trust needs to be nurtured, and the process needs to become collaborative, not adversarial.

In the South Fulham riverside regeneration area, there were attempts by the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community to bring the various sides together in collaboration, although even this was opposed in some quarters on both sides. The results of their work are yet to be experienced in full. But it became clear during the process that the planners and developers only entered into collaboration when they were forced to do so by the elected side of the council. But old habits die hard, and the process was still a battle – maybe just a more subtle. Trust is lacking and needs to be nurtured by example.

Although it is just outside the borders of Fulham, I notice the World’s End Estate seems to be emerging as the next big battleground. This is a prime example of a 70s tower block development. That would now get everyone so vexed if a developer wanted to build one, de novo. It was designed to be separate and separated from its wider Victorian context. An inward looking brave new world, its tower blocks play no part in the street. The design discourages passing pedestrians from entering or wandering around. It looks different, and it differentiates its residents, visually. It patronizes the poor by letting the world know it is a council estate and therefore its residents are council estate residents. But still the pressure groups go haywire, and residents fear what might replace it.

I suggest, again, show some photos and ask people in what kinds of places they would like to live or relax on holiday. And give them what they love.

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