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Taking action with Action Groups

Things are going well. The council officers seem very pleased with your plans for a new development. The site has been allocated and they are short on numbers and your scheme will really help.

There is an action group called SMASH – South Merton Against Shabby Housing – but they have no clout or do they?

On the day of the committee meeting, you get an anxious call from the case officer saying that some of the members were not happy. One was complaining about traffic, another about the level of affordable housing and another about the loss of green space.

They all spoke of SMASH and said that they had made some very good points. At the meeting that evening, SMASH are out in force and have packed the public gallery. Despite an excellent presentation by the case officer you scheme goes down unanimously. So off you go to appeal with all the expense and time wasted that it entails.

So how do you deal with a situation like this. Well, as they sayin Cork when you ask for directions: “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.”

Let’s roll back the clock to the time when you acquire the site. You go to the post office and buy half-a-dozen first class stamps. Then you write a personalised letter to: The Residents’ Association (if there is one); the Parish or Town Council); the local ward member(s) and the Chief Planner. There may be others, each site is different.

You will have done your research to find out who the key players are in all these organisations. Naked plug coming up: here at the CCP, our consultants, all politicians know their territories and who’s who.

The letter should be short and give very a very general outline of what you’re planning. There’s no need for a masterplan, just a simple outline of the site. You sign off (in blue ink) and  give you mobile telephone number.

But why a letter and not an email? Getting a letter nowadays is so unusual that one is bound to open it and read it. Emails are impersonal and get stuck is spam filters and the delete button is always just a finger tap away.

A couple of days later, you telephone these people and ask if they would like any more information and if they would like to meet so that you can explain your plans more fully.

Now you have opened a dialogue especially with the locals. You listen to their concerns. Some will remain totally opposed and they will go and form SMASH. But others, who are more reasonable will see the benefits your scheme could bring: the new community centre; the sports field; etc.

If you don’t tell them, no one else will.

To me, this is all obvious and simple. But how many are doing it?

The way to deal with an Action Group is to take Action.

Have good week,

Tom