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Work Together to Oppose Controversial Development Schemes

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 10 Apr 2013 | comments*Discuss
Community Development Business Council

Have you ever felt frustrated by the way big developers think they can override community concerns, building whatever and wherever they want?

When you're in business, this can present you with particular problems, putting off customers whilst work is underway and perhaps stealing them later. Inappropriate development can also ruin the appearance of an attractive neighbourhood, putting people off doing business there. But as a business owner, you're well placed to take a lead within your community and bring it together to oppose such schemes. You can petition your local council to block the plans and you can even try to change the developers' minds. When you organise a joint protest, you can help to empower all the people of your neighbourhood and, in the process, identify yourself as a community leader.

Organising a Petition

The simplest way to demonstrate the scale of local opposition to an unpopular development is to organise a petition. Keep a copy on your premises where it's easy for customers to see, and ask other local business owners if they can do likewise. You can also create an electronic version of your petition (there are several free services available for this) and advertise it on local community forums. Ask customers if they can take copies of the petition to get their friends, families, and members of social organisations to sign.

It's always helpful to have some famous names on your petition, and getting public figures to sign can be a newsworthy event, something about which you can send press releases (preferably with pictures) to the local papers. If there are any celebrities who live in the area, get in touch to see if they can help. Ask local politicians - even if the matter is not strictly under their jurisdiction - to lend their support.

Staging a Protest

There are two approaches to staging a public protest. One is to do it in a busy area close to where the council which makes your local planning decisions meets. If you can get a lot of people there, this can really get their attention. The other is to hold your protest locally, ideally at the site where the development is intended to be. This will help to make sure that everybody in the local community knows about it. This form of demonstration can be effective even if you only have a few people there, but in either case you should make sure you're well supplied with information leaflets, copies of your petition, and other tools of protest such as stickers and badges to give to interested members of the public.

In order to put on a public protest, you'll need to get police permission. If a large number of people are expected then the police will come along to supervise you, and you'll also be required to organise a team of easily identified individuals (campaign t-shirts are a good way to mark them out) to act as stewards, making sure everyone behaves and dealing with any problems. As you are responsible for the safety of the protesters, you should have at least one steward with first aid skills.

It's worth encouraging community members to create their own signs and banners, but remember that these must be suitable for public display. Try to make up some basic placards which other people can hold. Supplying plastic whistles is a cheap and effective way to ensure that your protest makes a noise. Printed balloons can make it fun for kids.

Forming a Business Lobby

Whilst ordinary members of the community ought to have the loudest voice in a democracy, in practice it's often the interests of business which are heard paramount by councils concerned with the state of the local economy. For this reason protests from the business community can carry a lot of weight. Try creating a separate petition exclusively for business owners in the area. Persuade those business owners to write individual letters of protest to the council planning department, and don't forget to write your own.

Although sometimes it can feel as if all your efforts are getting you nowhere, the truth is that big developers don't always get their way. Community action, led by business, can make a real difference. And even if you fail, your willingness to get involved will win you real customer loyalty.

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