Specific focus is required to ensure that neighbours to your proposed project are fully informed and consulted. People who live immediately adjacent to or within a few kilometres of your project site may have specific questions or concerns. Engaging with these community members should be a high priority task and be undertaken with careful planning.
Main topics covered in this article include:
Why engage neighbours
Most of the reasons for engaging with neighbours are the same as the reasons for engaging with the general local community. However, the benefits and consequences of your engagements are more dramatic. Neighbours need information and consultation the most because they are more likely to be affected by the project. They are also more likely to be fearful of the project.
If neighbours to your project are determined objectors, you may not be granted planning permission, and you won't be able to proceed at all.
Identifying project neighbours
One of the most important things you need to do is to accurately identify every neighbour. Accidentally leaving some people out can result in a bad relationship from the start.
Run a title search
You can do a title search and purchase title, land owner and address data for a small fee from your state government.
As an example, the Victorian Government land services website has an interactive map which allows you to zoom into your site, measure a distance from the site, and click on properties, adding them to a list. You can then view the addresses for all of these properties.
Other governments have similar services; just search 'land title search' and your state or territory.
How to engage neighbours
Building support amongst your project's neighbours should follow the same general strategy as building support amongst the general community. Neighbours should feel listened to, and involved with the project. If neighbours are engaged from the beginning and kept up to date with what's happening they are far more likely to be supportive of your project.
It's a good idea to door-knock all houses within at least a 2-3 km radius in groups of two to speak with local residents about the project and hear what they have to say. If residents are not home you can leave a letter explaining the reason for your visit and providing information on how to contact you.
While resource intensive, personal visits are one of the most effective ways to engage with the neighbours through listening and responding directly to any questions they may have. Before you embark on any personal visiting make sure that you have a comprehensive pack of information about the project and are familiar with frequently asked questions.
A familiar project contact person
It is also worthwhile to make sure that project neighbours can contact one person involved in the project who is local to the area as this builds an element of trust and familiarity.
Regular information and updates
It's important to provide regular updates by post to each neighbour of the project updating them about the project's progress and informing them of developments. Use these opportunities to ask for any feedback or ideas from neighbours about the project or ways that the project can better benefit the local neighbourhood area.
It is also beneficial to post all your information on a local community noticeboard so that everyone can see it. If your local community does not have a public noticeboard you could consider installing one for local area.
Creating ownership and benefits
It's vital that the project's neighbours can understand the project's benefits not only for the wider community but for them personally. Often neighbours may feel that one or two landholders are receiving direct benefits from a project through commercial arrangements and this can lead to resentment and division.
Consider ways that you can encourage all your neighbours to become more directly involved with the project. You may need to employ a range of strategies depending on your type of project but ideas could include offering free membership of your project, providing local community grants, inviting a local resident to join your committee of management or providing a subsidy for renewable energy power bills. In some countries a radial system of payment has been adopted for residents living near wind turbines and this involves monetary payment based on the proximity to the wind site.
Creating a sense of shared ownership is very important but is also a difficult task. Be creative with your ideas and strategies but mindful of any longer term implications for your project.
Dealing with opposition
Neighbours to the project may be opposed to the development and so offering to meet and discuss concerns can provide an important opportunity to improve relationships. More general information is available in the article; Dealing with opposition to your project.
Building community support
Surveying the community
Influencing and working with local government
Running a successful street stall
Running effective public meetings
Dealing with opposition to your project