MPC secure first successful Estate Regeneration Ballot in London for MTVH

In November 2018 Metropolitan and Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), with MPC as its communication advisor, became the first Housing Association to successfully navigate an estate regeneration ballot held under the new guidelines introduced by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Through meaningful engagement, over a number of months, MPC was able to build and maintain strong relationships with residents of the estate. This contributed to a high voter turnout with 66% of residents casting a vote. The result was emphatic, residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of regeneration. In total 75% of votes cast were supportive of the redevelopment.

MPC used a range of engagement methods to build relationships with residents and understand their needs. These included; hosting design workshops, drop-in exhibitions and events, delivering regular newsletters, door-knocking, and even sharing the occasional cup of tea in the homes across the estate. As this was the first ballot of its kind, MPC was in untested waters and we played a central role in appointing an independent scrutineer to oversee the ballot process, drafting the Landlord Offer document, as well as liaising with independent tenant advisers, who were able to provide external advice to residents regarding the proposals.

With estate regeneration ballots looking likely to be a permanent fixture in the process of delivering homes across the capital, it is imperative to approach the ballots with a clear plan of how best to engage with residents. Below are five key areas which MPC learnt from in order to gain the support and trust of the residents of Westhorpe Gardens and Mills Grove estate, and which we believe ultimately contributed to our successful ballot result.

1. Commitments

The project team needs to be clear from the beginning what they are committing to in terms of consultation. (i.e. what is the scope, what can residents influence, what activities are going to be undertaken and what are the time frames among others.) Where commitments are made, the project team have to be conscious of following it through or being honest and transparent about why things might change as the design process or other factors begin to influence the shape of the proposals. Openness and transparency with residents is essential from the outset, as trust will form the basis of future communications when it comes to ensuring they are bought into the positive aspects of the regeneration.

2. Existing communication channels

It is inevitable there will be existing channels of communication open between the developer, council or housing association and their tenants. These need to be maintained, however they must also be carefully managed, to ensure consistent messaging is put out and everyone knows the facts. It is important to maintain services throughout the programme of consultation, so maintenance and repair issues should be followed up properly and in a timely way. This helps to build trust and accountability with the residents. Ultimately, residents need to feel assured that a professional team of consultants are working towards the best outcome for the future of the estate and that better homes for the existing residents forms one of the central components to that work. Anything that is done to provide those assurances to residents will create a positive environment for the project team to make constructive and meaningful progress on the plans.

3. Presence on the estate

Having a presence on the estate at key points in the programme is clearly vital – knowing what is going on, spotting the residents who are seeking to influence the vote and understanding their issues is important. The project team should always be conscious that the plans impact on the place these residents are living and the community they form part of. Being respectful of the community on the estate and not stifling debate amongst residents but also ensuring that everyone has the right information about the plans is important.

4. Consultation focus

Design is important; however, it always needs to relate to residents’ day to day experience. It is important to show floor plans, examples of landscaping and materials to be used in order to demonstrate the improvements the regeneration would bring for them. Residents need to be able to visualise what their future estate might look like. Once the design is more or less supported the focus must then shift to commitments being made on housing issues, such as a Resident’s Charter with simple commitments that will form the basis of the Landlord Offer.

5. Independent scrutineer

Distancing the process of the ballot from the project team is critical so that we are able to avoid any criticism that the process is flawed, similarly it allows the project team to maintain the work on the estate in door-knocking and proactively promoting benefits of the plans.

As specialists in community consultation and engagement, MPC is always mindful that every community is unique, with its own local constraints and opportunities. How each estate responds to plans for regeneration will be dependent on a whole range of influences. Whilst estate regeneration ballots have come under criticism by many who see them as a potential roadblock to delivering homes, it is clear that no matter what your stance, a robust programme of meaningful dialogue with residents is vital for anyone considering plans for redevelopment. Clear and consistent messaging throughout, alongside proactive engagement should be at the core of any communication strategy being implemented.

Daniel Barry Account Executive MPC