Community sanctioned development

By Pearce Branigan, Senior Account Manager

The Government has made its most significant intervention to-date on the direction of housebuilding in the UK, with Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove signalling that the 300,000 homes per year manifesto target is now an advisory goal.

Among the other key proposals, we will see the consideration for resident views playing a more influential role in the determining of planning applications.

The gravity of this change in direction should not be underappreciated. Three years since the publication of the Planning White Paper which aimed to radically improve the delivery of new homes, the Conservatives now promote policy designed to ‘give local authorities the power to stop new development’.

And what of the announcement?


Community Control

The crux of this sees housing targets move from mandatory to advisory. Critically, local housing need will not need to be adhered to if the local authorities demonstrate reasonable constraints for achieving this.

The concerns of existing residents have been prioritised, with their views now determining how many homes are agreed to be built in their local authority. Equally so for aesthetic tastes of future homes, the introduction of local design codes and Street Votes will be guided by the opinions of existing residents. The latter allowing for ‘gentle densification’ through airspace development and upward extensions on properties. This policy attempts to weave together the need to increase domiciles, while avoiding the unproven criticism that more homes will lower existing homeowners property value.

In a bid to ensure local homes go to ‘local people’, council tax will be increased on empty homes. Gove has also signalled his intention to table an amendment at the Report Stage of the Bill for a registration scheme on short lets in England.


Local and Neighbourhood Plans

Local Plan amendments are the most positive element of Gove’s letter. The announcements are designed to reimbue local authorities with the energy to restart their Local Plan process without any penalty.

The most significant changes are the removal of presumption in favour of development and the consideration for areas that have overdelivered their historic targets. This is intended to ensure up to date local planning guidance, without the implication that unmanageable development will occur. The beneficial elements for local authorities include the removal of the rolling-five year land supply and 20 per cent buffer for those local authorities that have already delivered a sound Local Plan.

The localist drive is further evident in ending the ‘duty-to-cooperate’, potentially making housing policies of neighbouring authorities becoming even more indifferent to the realities of the local demographic geography.

Gove has offered a two year grace period for Local Plans to be revised to incorporate these amendments. To safeguard against ‘speculative development’ during this time, the period of available land being promoted will decrease from five to four years.

Neighbourhood Plans too will have their powers enhanced to include new protections, such as the doubling of the time period against developer appeals, increasing from two to five years.


Damning developers

 Gove is unapologetic from his criticism of developers in the letter, who he perceives need to be held to further account. Additional measures targeting developers are populist in nature, with an added a financial penalty for slow build out and an increased fee for retrospective planning applications that breach planning law.

The most worrying element is the intention to allow local authorities to refuse planning, if they feel the developers character is poor. This arbitrary power potentially traps developers in a cycle where poor performance cannot be redeemed.

Encouraging developers to prioritise brownfield build out is a key component of the proposals.  Local authorities will be allowed powers to set preferential Infrastructure Levy rates for brownfield over greenfield development. New protections against development will also be given to agricultural land used for food production.


What does this mean for the sector?

With residents now poised to have an even greater say in deciding the level of development in their communities, those in development sector will need to reach a much broader audience than previously. Far from relegating it, the need to foster grassroots advocacy has never been more crucial.

As witnessed as recently as during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has displayed a readiness and effectiveness at meeting new requirements to engagement. Now, faced with this more permanent challenge, community consultation will need to adapt and to innovate to meet it.

Close to 75% of businesses expect to expand the types of major change initiatives they will undertake from 2020-2023, but 50% of change initiatives fail. Ronan Cloud, Director of Economic Development at Copper, explains why.

Now, more than ever, we’re living through a period of change. It’s happening in every industry. From adopting digital-first approaches to implementing policies that support the race to net zero, organisations are restructuring the way they do things.

Building resilience to change itself is also becoming more prevalent, with many businesses taking a data-led approach to stimulate, predict and facilitate internal change.

However, half of all change initiatives fail.


Many change initiatives are imposed upon employees, reducing their longevity as they are not tailored to and embedded within company ethos. Employee sentiment plays a pivotal role in change initiatives, so engaging them in the journey is key.

  • Change generally isn’t communicated effectively to employees and the benefits aren’t demonstrated convincingly.

A dedicated communication strategy for rolling out change is often overlooked in favour of advancing operational models, which often leaves communication by the wayside.

  • Change management efforts fail to be tracked, evaluated and adapted.

The success of a change programme is largely based on employee reception and an organisation’s ability to adapt accordingly. This step can be the difference between ignored and accepted.

  • There is a lack of executive sponsorship or leadership.

A top-down approach is often not considered, resulting in a lack of senior buy-in and advocacy. Change is about vision and inspiration, which needs to be driven from the top.

Building change to last

While operational change is the key to changing business models, the real shift in people comes from behaviour change. That’s why we recently launched our change management solution – C:change.

C:change enables organisations to build momentum for their change programme by engaging stakeholders and bringing them on a journey. The five-step model takes a co-creation approach, working with your audience to develop and deploy change management programmes, ensuring we build advocacy at every step.

Capture the imagination

Communication remains avital aspect of articulating and demonstrating the benefits that businesses are making. But, more importantly, it’s the platform for companies to explain why the change matters and to showcase their vision for the future – capturing the imagination. After all, people are far more likely to come on the journey if they know the destination.

Striking the right balance

Change management programmes must strike the right balance between driving advocacy and empowering change. This stems from having a rich understanding of employee behaviours and attitudes, which can help futureproof change strategies. Essentially, taking more of a psychologist’s view will ensure change lasts.

For change to be successful, a behavioural shift is required – both in how you operate and communicate.

Find out more. Contact Ronan Cloud, Director of Economic Development at Copper.

Learn more about C:change.

The logistics sector is the backbone of the UK economy. It accounts for £55bn of the UK GDP, 1.7m jobs, and underpins how we function day-to-day, both in business and our everyday lives. But what does the public think about the sector and how do communities respond to large-scale logistics hubs?

Changes in shopping patterns alone have accelerated the growth of the logistics industry. COVID-19 shifted the onus onto online shopping, with more and more people abandoning district centre shopping in favour of ordering from their laptop or smartphone.

The likes of Amazon and other online retailers were the main beneficiaries, whilst supermarkets also adapted. In total, online sales grew by over 20% during the period of lockdowns between 2020 and 2021.


53 football pitches

To accommodate the growth in demand, more and more land is required for warehousing and logistics hubs. In fact, the equivalent of 53 football pitches is required across Europe to fulfil demand in the next few years.

However, it’s clear that our planning legislation has been slow to catch up. Local Plans are still very residential focused, with employment (or commercial) land sometimes counted as an after-thought when local authorities draw up their development frameworks. As well as this, public attitudes towards logistics development does not always align with the growth in demand.


Economic gains drive support

To help understand the challenges facing the sector and also to provide insight on how best to work with communities in developing logistics proposals, Copper commissioned detailed research into how the logistics development is perceived by people across the UK.

Our findings have uncovered some interesting considerations and with it helped us in providing some key recommendations:

  • There is broad degree of understanding that the development of employment land is necessary:
    • 67% would support the development of logistics centres because of the employment opportunities they would bring
    • 61% cited economic growth as a reason for support
  • There is a degree of misunderstanding about how the logistics sector functioned, meaning educating communities on what logistics is and how it functions is required.


Changing perceptions

To assist with tackling these issues, we have developed four key recommendations for the sector based on the research we commissioned:

  1. More collaboration with local authorities is required to develop shared goals and objectives
  2. People are largely supportive of the economic importance of the logistics sector and therefore should be front and centre of any proposals
  3. There is a degree of misunderstanding about the sector, therefore an education programme on its importance and way it works is required
  4. Early engagement is key. Working with communities in developing proposals and schemes will minimise challenge and problems.

Now, these steps are not a magic bullet for all logistics development. However, we are introducing these thoughts as part of a conversation to build stronger collaboration between the sector, communities and local authorities. It’s clear that demand for logistics development is growing, but without the necessary land or planning approvals the sector will stall.

It’s clear that there is a huge amount of opportunity for the logistics sector to work with communities and local authorities to meet the growing demand for logistics development. However, engagement and positioning is key to ensure proposals are welcomed.


To find out more about our research and findings visit Logistics-Report.pdf (

The £2.35 billion Towns Fund is at the heart of the government’s Levelling Up strategy, enabling economic growth and regeneration. And LEPs are involved in many of the 790 projects now planned across the country.

In 2020, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities appointed the Towns Fund Delivery Partner (TFDP) to provide expert advice and support to the 101 towns involved in the fund, to secure and deliver their Town Deals. Now that the TFDP contract has ended, we reflect on the legacy it left for LEPs.

The TFDP represented a new way of working for government that would help shape future funding programmes. This way of working encourages collaboration with organisations, such as LEPs, to gain a richer understanding of local economic growth opportunities.

The TFDP engaged with 101 Town Deal Boards (TDBs) in total. Many TDBs are formed from a diverse group of local entrepreneurs and businesspeople, and many involve LEPs from their respective towns, demonstrating how the fund is committed to encouraging leadership from within communities themselves.

A major part of the TFDP, Copper Consultancy offered tailored community engagement support to towns. Working one-on-one with councils and TDB members, the company helped tackle a range of stakeholder engagement challenges, such as how to engage with local businesses and the private sector – two areas where the LEP Network was a key participant.

Through its work, more than 2,000 meetings with towns were held, 150 resources created, 129 blogs written, 400 service requests fulfilled and 792 projects started. Copper also helped shape Town Investment Plans (TIPs) and Business Cases to help towns build community involvement and offered advice on branding and how to carry it out, which can be viewed here.

  • Through its work, the progamme gave towns: Collective knowledge and capabilities through peer-to-peer place-based learning
  • New personal skills and training accreditation
  • A platform to collaborate and solve common challenges

For local people, businesses and communities, the TFDP Supported the creation of an environment where people and LEPs can shape the future of their towns and build confidence in new capabilities. While there is a lot still to do and hundreds of projects to realise, the groundwork for a lasting legacy has been laid.

To find out more about how Copper Consultancy can support your LEP with communications and engagement, please contact

How do you deliver major road projects while driving towards net zero?

In our new series, The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero, we’re exploring the oxymorons of infrastructure – those roles that, on the surface, seem to be anything but sustainable.

Today, we speak to Stephen Elderkin, Director of Environmental Sustainability at National Highways, about the challenges he faces in delivering huge road building projects across the country.

“This is a huge challenge and there is so much left to be done. But I’m surrounded by great people doing great things, so I generally sleep well at night.

“And that’s what this requires, a huge joint effort across our industry, supported with the right policies. I am encouraged because I see good decisions being made and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Stephen is at the heart of National Highway’s net zero and Roads for Good efforts, which are focused on three clear milestones:

  • Net zero corporate emissions by 2030
  • Net zero across maintenance and construction divisions by 2040
  • Net zero travel across the network by 2050

Cutting corporate emissions by 2030

“80% of our corporate emissions come from electricity, so we’re investing more than £100m to swap all of our lights to LEDs,” explains Stephen.

 “We’re also moving 1,300 vehicles to electric. We also own around 30,000 hectares of land that isn’t farmed, so we’ve committed to plant three million trees. In combination, you can see we have a clear path to drive the necessary reduction in our corporate emissions.”

The hardest part – net zero construction by 2040

When it comes to road maintenance and construction, no one knows the exact solution, but it’s best to begin by understanding where emissions come from. For Stephen and the team at National Highways, there are three key areas: plant, transport and materials.

“We’ve committed to zero emission plant on site by 2030, which requires further electrification of equipment and improvements to recharging. Hydrogen is also being explored. And then we look at what we can control, such as transport. Everything delivered to our sites must be done so in zero emission HGVs by 2040.

 “Looking at materials, people tend to look at big, glamorous solutions – hydrogen powered furnaces for steel, carbon capture storage for cement kilns – but they require major investment over the long-term.”

Asking Stephen about the short-term, is a solution simply to build less?

“We look at the carbon reduction hierarchy – build nothing, build less, build smart, build efficiently – and do all we can to reach the right step for each project. Ensuring high standards of quality control, right first time to reduce rework and cutting materials through lean design are all major contributors to reducing carbon in construction.

 “Technology is also a major contributor to more productive use of our existing assets. For example, digital tools give us better control of the traffic flow. If we can move 15% more flow through our existing network, we reduce the case for needing to build more lane capacity. While that doesn’t apply everywhere of course and maintenance is still a huge requirement, digital roads of the future are an encouraging sign of efficiency, which is what net zero is really all about.”

 Net zero travel by 2050

Of the three milestones set at National Highways, this is arguably the one it cannot control. As an open access network, people will drive what they want, where they want, but the rise of electric vehicles is hugely encouraging, as Stephen explains.

“Fundamental economics have changed dramatically; batteries are 95% cheaper than they were 20 years ago and that will only continue to improve.

 “Then there’s the change in law and the overall cost of electric vehicles, which will soon drop below combustion engine vehicles, I’m sure. And the Government’s Project Rapid, which aims to improve charging infrastructure by delivering fast charging points at more locations across the country.

 “Even my wife and I fight over who gets to drive the electric car. It’s easier, quieter and smoother. Not to mention the fact it’s better for the environment.”

Behaviour is a major barrier

Considering its 2030, 2040 and 2050 targets, you might think it’s plain sailing for Stephen and the team. But there is another major barrier to achieving net zero.

“In my view, one of the toughest challenges is the need for behavioural change. Take concrete; for many, if you need two cubic metres, you mix three. Or you excavate a wider trench than you need and just fill the excess with concrete.

“We need to change this mind-set, not because it’s a cost saving exercise but because it’s a carbon saving exercise. Using quality controlled batching plants for concrete mixes can reduce the amount of carbon intensive cement, potentially saving thousands of tonnes of carbon.

“One enabler here will be seeing carbon added to contracts. Enforcing set requirements will enforce change.

Optimistic for the future

With all that said, Stephen remains optimistic for the future, citing people and innovation as encouraging signs of where we’re headed.

“I attended a partner’s company-wide conference the other day. A business you wouldn’t associate with sustainability. 3,000 people in the room. And carbon emissions was by far the biggest theme of the day.

“While it’s hugely challenging and requires a shift in mind-sets, approaches and technologies, my job isn’t the hardest in net zero because every day I see brilliant people working on brilliant ideas. I am very positive about the future and achieving our targets for the years and decades to come.”

Stephen’s experience raises an important set of questions; how do we change behaviour? What other industries require a similar shift in mind-set? And whose responsibility is it to affect change? If companies like National Highways are doing all they can (within reason) to achieve net zero, where do you draw the line between what you can and cannot control?

It’s clear that no single group can answer these questions but, like Stephen, first you identify the problem and then take steps to solve it. The question now is: are you taking the right steps and who must you influence to deliver lasting change?

Find out more about Stephen and the teams efforts to achieve net zero here.

And stay tuned to Copper’s channels for more articles in our search for The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero.


The Towns Fund is at the heart of the government’s ambition to levelling up places which have historically lacked investment and opportunity, enabling economic growth and regeneration. To support towns with securing and delivering the Town Deals, The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) appointed a delivery partner. It also represented a new way of working for government that of itself would help inform the shape of future funding delivery models and programmes.

The Towns Fund Delivery Partner is a consortium of six private sector organisations working as one with each fulfilling distinct strategic functions and bringing specialist expertise. Arup as consortium lead and with a multi-disciplinary role across the programme and service delivery, was supported by: Nichols Group leading on management and operations; Copper Consultancy as communications and engagement lead; FutureGov, learning and experience, governance and leadership lead; Grant Thornton, funding and investment, monitoring and evaluation, data insight lead; and Savills providing specialist place-based expertise.



Putting the town’s needs first was key. Based upon a town-centric and continuous learning approach to understand towns’ challenges, what they needed and when, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner was able to design and refine the support it offered as the programme progressed. It delivered advice and support at a range of levels that aimed to add value rather than duplicating resources already available to towns.


Overall Strategy

Working alongside the Towns Fund central team and Cities and Local Growth Unit Area Leads, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner was committed to the principle of co-design and co-working with Government. The Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s insights gleaned through its bottom-up approach, helped DLUHC develop its guidelines and requirements, identify the level and type of support provided to help towns that needed it most, and allowed for continuous improvement in delivery. A Total Towns Outcomes Framework questionnaire also gained understanding of towns’ longer-term priorities and desired outcomes.

Copper-Specific Support

We have been an integral member of the Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s strategic leadership group as lead advisor on its programme communications, working alongside the consortium team to deliver timely communication about the Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s services and support to towns. An ongoing commitment to understanding and anticipating both towns’ diverse needs and priorities, and in interpreting DLUHC’s requirements of towns in securing and delivering Town Deals, has been a necessity to manage a complex programme where towns are at different stages on the journey. We established and led the Communications and Messaging Working Group to facilitate a joint approach between the TFDP and DLUHC over the duration of Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s involvement in the Towns Fund.

Our expertise in effective community and stakeholder engagement, market positioning, brand development and use of social and other media has been drawn upon heavily by towns, firstly in developing their Town Investment Plans and then during early-stage Business Case development. This has been achieved through the creation of bespoke Towns Fund resources either as online guides, blogs and webinars or through one-to-one advice and coaching, Check and Challenge sessions and learning programmes such as Place Leadership and Making Connections Count.


Between May 2020 and November 2021, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner helped towns across four cohorts to develop a vision for their towns, produce Town Investment Plans to secure Town Deal offers and provided early-stage support to develop Business Cases for agreed projects. At its height, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner had over 260 team members representing 13 disciplines and 16 topic areas across the breadth of the country.

Worth more than £2.4 billion, all 101 towns that were selected for the programme received their Town Deal offers, paving the way for the delivery of nearly 800 projects across England.


The West of England’s mass transit project aims to transform the way people move around the region, dramatically improving congestion and air quality while reducing carbon emissions.

It represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise travel in the region by providing a high-capacity public transport network with fast, frequent and reliable services that will be developed and delivered over several years.

Copper was brought on board to support West of England Combined Authorities with early stakeholder engagement to better understand the needs of local people, providing evidence of a strong Strategic Outline Business Case.



A history of false starts for major infrastructure in the region meant some stakeholders were sceptical about the likely success of new projects. This was compounded by the project being in extremely early stages, with the concept of mass transit ill-defined. The

There was an added layer of complexity with the project spanning several councils all with distinctive demographics, geography, and politics. The region needed to ‘speak with one voice’ in its support for the project given the competitive nature of central government funding.

To add further challenge, Covid-19 restrictions ruled out face-to-face events meaning all engagement activity had to take place online, with the risk that some community stakeholders might be excluded.



Our approach hinged around early, transparent engagement on the objectives of the mass transport project to establish its purpose and solidify the concept in the minds of stakeholders. In doing so, we aimed to build understanding and trust around the project.


We began engaging stakeholder groups early while scheme options were still in development to understand their priorities for a mass transit system.

The first stage saw us run a series of internal workshops with partner unitary authorities to explore the vision and values of mass transit. We crafted a clear narrative that all partner organisations could sign up to and use in their communications, enabling us to establish a single voice and alignment around views.

We supported live briefings and three webinars with a wide range of stakeholders from MPs to grass-root community groups. In addition, we were careful to select interactive engagement tools to bring new voices into the conversation and enable input and feedback representative of the locality.


By consulting early, we laid strong foundations for future engagement based on mutual trust and respect. Starting a dialogue with stakeholders warmed them up for consultation. It helped us secure meaningful, representative, qualitative and quantitative feedback that reflected the needs of communities and stakeholders and influenced the development of a Strategic Outline Business Case.


Transport East is the sub-national transport body for the East of England. The partnership was developing its first transport strategy, and Copper was appointed to support early stakeholder engagement. Our role was to ensure the Transport East team effectively engaged with stakeholders and the public to create a strategy representative of the needs and ambitions of communities in the region.



A sub-national transport body in the area had been mooted for many years, yet it had never materialised. As a result, aligning political and wider stakeholders with opposing views on infrastructure investment and decarbonisation had the potential to be challenging.

In addition, while adult residents were an important target group, the Transport Strategy spans 30 years meaning young people in the area will feel its impact most. Their needs and views were vital to the project’s success.



Our approach was to create multiple accessible opportunities for engagement for every stakeholder group. However, COVID-19 restrictions necessitated a purely digital engagement strategy. To meet the different communication needs of each audience and ensure input from groups representative of the area, we adapted traditional engagement techniques to the digital environment.


Digital accessibility was a priority. By selecting user-friendly, interactive engagement tools, we brought new voices into the conversation, even those hard to reach.

We also ran a series of online workshops designed to allow as many people as possible to help shape the strategy to meet the needs of the masses, facilitating online meetings with 100+ stakeholders.

With an equal focus on securing input from future users of the region’s transport network, we designed and delivered a targeted campaign for young people aged 11-13 in preparation for future engagement during consultation.

Ensuring the Transport East partnership stayed updated and supportive of plans, we delivered briefings with partner authorities, the Transport East Senior Officer Group and Transport East’s annual Transport Summit.


Utilising our knowledge of the region and large-scale projects, the Transport East team secured meaningful, representative, qualitative and quantitative feedback to influence the transport strategy and set the foundations for successful consultation.

We helped introduce Transport East to a wider group stakeholders in the region, providing a platform for its campaign in front of key figures in the industry and building brand reputation.

We laid strong foundations, setting the standard for future stakeholder engagement in the region, while earning public trust that the Transport Strategy will come to fruition.


Bath and Northeast Somerset Council has an ambitious target to become net zero by 2030. Understanding the critical part transport plays in the region’s carbon emissions, Bath’s ‘Journey to Net-Zero’ set out to identify the transport measures needed over the short, medium and long term to deliver its ambition and the needs of the community. 

To get the initiative off the ground, the Council needed to make a case for the project and generate widespread, representative participation in the public consultation process.



While a high-profile project for Bath and Northeast Somerset Council, it was unknown outside of the organisation and therefore had no momentum among target groups. It was also critical the consultation was inclusive and had the support of hard-to-reach groups traditionally disengaged with the Council’s priorities.

COVID added a further layer of complexity, forcing restrictions on public gatherings, immediately ruling out face-to-face engagement opportunities.



Our priority was introducing the project to the widespread community and instigating insightful conversations with the general public, including hard-to-reach groups, and stakeholders to give them a voice and demonstrate advocacy for the project.

Our content and online strategy focused on creating a compelling, accessible narrative around the council’s vision for net zero and removing barriers to engagement and participation.


We began by developing an audience-focused narrative to tell a compelling story around the project. The narrative formed the backbone of communications and engagement assets designed to appeal to a diverse audience, including an animation, ‘fast facts’ visuals and targeted content.

Online consultation reached all pockets of the community using targeted social media channels. A thought-provoking, sharable content programme maximised our reach and prompted peer-led support for the consultation and vision.

Further engagement opportunities were created via public and stakeholder webinars.


The consultation secured engagement and input from a broad audience representative of the community served by Bath and Northeast Somerset Council. More than 1,000 responses over a one-month period reflected the needs and priorities of a wide community base, including groups usually under-represented, to help the organisation confidently shape a range of solutions.