By Douglas Johnson
Coronavirus is making all forms of social interaction almost impossible, especially with the lockdown now in place – we could literally be fined if we physically socialise with anyone outside our household. The same is true for public consultation. We’re pretty sure organising and attending public exhibitions doesn’t come under the essential jobs list.
In response, people across the country are getting creative to socialise safely. From virtual pubs to livestreaming yoga, technology means it’s more possible than ever to spend time together while apart. What’s true for yoginis can be true for consultees. We’re all used to collecting feedback online, but tools like Zoom, slido and GoTo make it possible to host webinars and online Q&As. Just as concert halls and museums are taking their events online, you can invite consultees to a virtual exhibition.
At the same time, it’s important to make sure that consultation remains accessible – not everyone uses the internet. Writing to consultees directly, inviting them to phone surgeries and maintaining dedicated free contact lines will help demonstrate that you haven’t disadvantaged these people.
While these are all great tools, you do also need to make sure your consultation still complies with requirements. Talking now with the relevant planning authority – whether local or PINs – will help you show that when you write the consultation report.
During this uncertain time, and how long it will go on for remains unknown, authorities will need to work with applicants to agree new approaches to consultation – ensuring that projects can continue to move forward and that everyone can be heard in this strange new environment.