In 2019 the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority commenced work on the preparation of a statutory Spatial Development Strategy (SDS) for the city region area. This case study describes an innovative approach to community engagement using digital platforms in seeking responses particularly from young people and hard to reach groups on the various issues to be addressed by the SDS.
In 2019 the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) invited groups of local authorities wishing to develop a joint strategic plan to bid for independent support to help with this work. This case study focuses on an innovative approach to community engagement and public consultation undertaken by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) as part of its initial work on the preparation of a Spatial Development Strategy (SDS), with support from consultants Intelligent Plans and Examinations (IPE), appointed by PAS.
As part of its Devolution Deal with the Government, the LCRCA is preparing a SDS, which will set out the strategic planning framework for the City Region, and guide the preparation of Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans within the six authorities comprising the LCRCA.
The LCRCA’s overall community engagement strategy was developed under the theme of ‘LCR Listens’, and the preparation of the SDS provided an ideal opportunity to develop innovative approaches to engagement, particularly aimed at increasing interest and responses from young people and other ‘hard to reach’ groups within the community.
The LCRCA engaged a private sector communications consultancy, Commonplace, with expertise in developing community engagement strategies in the planning sector using digital platforms, particularly on mobile and tablet devices, to produce a digital engagement campaign for the SDS.
Phase 2 of the LCR Listens campaign, entitled as ‘Place Making’, was specifically devoted to the first engagement exercise on the SDS and took place over a 12 week period in late-2019. The approach adopted by Commonplace was to build a specific digital platform for the exercise, built from a ‘landing page’ as the first point of entry to the consultation material. By using hyperlinks users were able to access the various themes being addressed by the consultation, and also to the various other documents being referenced, such as the National Planning Policy Framework, the Devolution Deal and the Local Industrial Strategy.
An example of the themes covered by the consultation was ‘Planning for an Inclusive Economy’. This included a summary of the key issues and challenges concerning the promotion of an inclusive economy within the city region, and then by a series of questions on the theme such as:
“Question 1: What do you think are the main challenges in achieving an inclusive economy in the City Region?”
Each question was then accompanied by a series of relevant keywords, which in this example were:
“Keywords: difficult to access existing jobs; skills shortages; health of the population; lack of public transport; lack of digital connectivity; lack of suitable housing; lack of housing near employment; lack of community services; affordability of housing; lack of suitable jobs; land and premises availability; cost of developing brownfield sites; Green Belt; accessibility of schools and colleges; other”.
Respondents were able to click on each of the Keywords to generate their response, or to click ‘other’ to enter their own personal text.
The digital engagement exercise was very successful, and attracted a high response, particularly from young people. Supported with messages and links on social media platforms, respondents were attracted to the consultation site and its ease of access on mobile phones and tablets undoubtedly contributed significantly to its success.
This digital campaign was accompanied by more traditional methods of consultation including exhibitions and ‘drop in’ events at many locations across the city region, which again proved to be successful.
Main Learning Points
The ‘LCR Listens’ campaign demonstrates that, by using digital platforms supported by social media links, a planning consultation can prove successful in attracting responses from young people and other ‘hard to reach’ groups within a community. Some key learning points from the exercise are more generally applicable to strategic planning work:
- Engage a private-sector communications agency with expertise in digital communications to work with the planning authority to develop a bespoke consultation package for the relevant exercise.
- Keep the digital consultation material as straightforward as possible to enable users to respond quickly, through material such as succinct questions and keywords.
- Extend the consultation over a period such as 12 weeks to maximise the opportunities for people to respond and to attend local events held as part of the exercise.