COMMENT PLATFORM: Smoothing out the planning procedure. The ability to discern party factions makes public affairs a valuable ally in the planning process, says Mark Pritchard
Unlocking the door to those coveted words ’resolution to grant planning permission’ can often owe a large part to the work of public affairs professionals.
Unlocking the door to those coveted words ’resolution to grant
planning permission’ can often owe a large part to the work of public
For when it comes to obtaining planning permission, some might say, that
town planning is the science of which public affairs is the art.
The true public affairs professional is not just someone who sits on
over-lengthy council meetings, but is rather more likely to be a
strategic thinker who offers clients strategic analysis with the
experience and knowledge to implement the advice.
This advice should ideally be based on the conclusions of a political
audit which has assessed the likely levels of support for a scheme.
While some opponents may never support an application, there is case
evidence that the power and size of an opposition lobby can be greatly
diminished by public affairs professionals effectively creating
awareness and understanding about a scheme - at worst, moving some
people from active opponents to passive opponents and at best,
mobilising a significant support group.
This is done by using a wide range of proven PR techniques such as
direct mail campaigning, public exhibitions, community relations and so
on, which can be used to inform key opinion-formers and decision-makers
as well as the electorate at large. Much progress can be made when the
agreed strategy is to objectively inform members rather than trying to
subjectively influence them. It is important to remember that it is
often a lack of information about a scheme which produces ignorance and
Another key consideration in any campaign is the potential for
misrepresentation in the media. Indeed, the media plays an increasingly
important role in informing people about what is happening in their
communities - alas the demise of the town crier! It is essential
therefore that the public affairs adviser is someone who is both
familiar and comfortable with the media, knowing their likes and
dislikes, and knowing when, where and what medium to use for maximum
Similarly, crisis communications experience may be required if a project
becomes particularly controversial and encourages site trespass or
What public affairs advisers need to remember is that the relationship
with the journalistic fraternity is a process of reciprocation - both
parties need each other - but this needs care and attention. Most of
all, a working knowledge of the media can allow a client’s project’s
downside to be minimised and upside maximised.
Despite strict guidance to councillors from the Local Government
Association and following the Nolan Committee recommendations, the UK
remains a democracy and, approached in the right way, companies (often
bringing significant employment to an area), have as much right to
communicate with their elected officials as the public. The planning
consultation process therefore should not exclude reasonable dialogue
between members and those who wish to do business in their
Public affairs specialists usually offer a broad range of expertise;
however, perhaps the most important contribution they bring to any
development team is their knowledge and assessment of how much
’politicking’ there may be on a particular council and how, if at all,
it is likely to impact on a client’s application. Their ability to
discern factions within party groups as well as where the balance of
power lies can often be the critical factor between planning success and
This article was first published on PR Week UK
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