Key Stakeholders, Focus Groups and Client Teams

Whenever something’s proposed for Greenwich (or indeed the rest of London), ¬†developers these days always virtuously cite their consultations with local focus groups, client teams, stakeholders, ‘local residents’, interest groups, committees and a whole host of other unnamed people who’ve apparently had their two penn’orth on the final plans.

I find myself wondering who makes up these groups, how they’re chosen and how much say these representatives of the rest of us actually have.

So today I’m curious. Are you on any kind of focus group/committee/stakeholder’s forum or interest group? How did you get on it? Do you think you have any notice taken of you? Have you had any personal influence? Or do you feel you’re a mere fig leaf for the developer’s embarrassing parts?

I don’t necessarily need details, either of yourself or your project, it’s just a question I’m throwing out to the ether this morning.

20 Comments to “Key Stakeholders, Focus Groups and Client Teams”

  1. Darren says:

    Through my work I often get asked about road alterations and in particular the use of speed humps for traffic calming. We always give the same response, speed humps damage vehicles and impact on all vehicles (some of which we all need to go faster and ideally more smoothly). Our point has always been ignored, I suspect this is a similar experience to most “interest groups” that are consulted.


  2. Franklin says:

    Who do you work for Darren? Top Gear?

    Maybe your advice is ignored because traffic humps work at slowing down traffic and thus save lives, and only damage cars that are going too fast.

    Sorry, back to the topic: I’m a member of the Greenwich Society and the Society’s views are routinely sought on planning applications and major developments in the early design phase.

    Sometimes the Society’s views are listened to and taken on board by designers, architects, the planning department and/or planning board. However, I would have to say honestly that rarely if ever do they have a decisive impact. Rather, they form part of the broader picture that developers and the planners take into account when drawing up plans and making planning decisions.

    The Society’s arguments are usually most effective when couched in the legal and policy framework that frame these kinds of decisions – and the G Soc planning sub-committee (of which I am not a member) spends a lot of time and energy in reviewing proposals and drafting comments that fit within those often very complex legal and policy frameworks.

    And yes, developers do take every opportunity to publicise and at times exaggerate the Society’s support for their proposals.

  3. John says:

    I work in housing and we have a few “stakeholders” which is organisations like Housemark and the Chartered Institute of Housing.

    I think cyclists groups get asked a few questions when there are transport issues e.g increasing the speed limit in Greenwich Park to 30mph, but that’s probably just lip-service.

    While we are on the subject, I’ve always wanted to know who my community leaders are as politicians love to speak to them.

  4. Carl Bennett says:

    The way focus groups are supposed to be recruited depends on a lot of things, but the first thing is the purpose of the groups.

    Groups are supposed to generate ideas. They aren’t to find-out people’s opinions because that needs statistical validation to make sure they represent the people you can’t interview, which is most of them. But thanks to media’s fixation with them they’re used for everything. Which is wrong. You’d need at least four groups of the same kind of people (e.g. same age, background, area) to show any kind of consensus at all, not the one or two usually used for a gloss-over.

    But above all, it’s not what groups are for, which is to generate ideas for further validation, so next time they’re proposed, ask loudly “Why?”

  5. Nelson's Left Eye says:

    Franklin, I don’t think Darren is opposing all speed humps but just those that are extended across the entire road.

    The problem with these is that that they make bus travel uncomfortable (buses are not usually associated with speeding) and also slow down emergency vehicles (~5-10 secs per hump). They may also exacerbate the injuries of those in ambulances, such as spinal injuries.

    The preference here is the ‘speed cushion’ which is a square mound that still forces cars and vans to slow down but allow the wide wheelbase vehicles to straddle without slowing down or causing discomfort.

  6. Franklin says:

    *Desperately trying not to derail this post*

    Ahem, perhaps we could consider ourselves a focus group on speed humps and related traffic calming measures?

    Sure, speed humps are no good for buses, but how often are they (or speed cushions) proposed for roads that buses use? I can’t think of any roads in central Greenwich that have buses and humps (or cushions).

    5-10 seconds per hump sounds a stretch, but I stand to be corrected.

    Speed cushions are effective as long as (1) they are regularly maintained and (2) the road is not wide enough for cars to swerve around them – as they routinely do while speeding down our quiet residential street which has a 20 mph speed limit (the reason for my interest in this topic). I’d much prefer to have great whopping speed humps that would strip the undercarriage out of any car (or more likely van) that rockets down at 50 mph, as they now do.

  7. scared of chives says:

    @Franklin – precisely, well said.

    You listening Greenwich Council? (no)

  8. Meirion says:

    When Hadley Mace signed the deal last June to build 645 flats at the Heart all their projections must have been that prices would fall or be flat. Instead over the last year the estate agents are saying Greenwich prices have gone up. If you said a rise of £10,000 an apartment that would be conservative and would leave them with an extra £6 million in profit. They can probably afford the extra million to build a swimming pool rather than a paddling pool.

  9. Meirion says:

    Oops wrong column – posted it in the road humps discussion rather than swimming pools.

  10. Franklin says:

    The road humps discussion! LOL!

    Sorry Phant! ;-)

  11. Capability Bowes says:

    I think you will find that “Key Stakeholders” are generally the people preparing to spend enormous sums of money in the Borough.

    “Eltham Renaissance” (otherwise known as The Cathedral Group) bought Grove Market Place in Eltham, closed down all the shops and turfed the residential tenants out before submitting redevelopment plans which, some five years later have only just been approved (and then after all sorts of chicanery) by our friends at the Planning Department are “Key stakeholders” on the Town Centre Management Committee. What was the Market Place has been a hideous eyesore in Eltham ever since. Hundreds of objections were made by local residents, The Eltham Society etc but because they were not “Key Stakeholders” their voices were ignored.

    I rest my case.

  12. Franklin says:

    I’m surprised that the Eltham Society is not classed as a “Key stakeholder”. Are they asked to (and do they) comment on local planning applications?

    I was curious so looked up the planning applications, and have to correct you on one point: the application that was approved in 2010 – after the 2007 application was rejected – only had 55 objections, not “hundreds”, although 648 consultation letters were sent out.

  13. James says:

    I’m a Lewisham council Leaseholder and have been going to council meetings on and off for 10 years. These meetings can be useful for information but on the big issues it’s useless I’m afraid. For example Major Works. We can all raise objections (is it necessary / design / cost) and at the end of the day they always quote the line that we have signed the Leaseholders contract and the council can do Major works. Some of the Major works even by the council’s own surveyors is not required but the council is doing all the blocks on the estate . I always feel it’s a tick in the box exercise.

  14. Miffee says:

    I was chosen to join a Focus Group to bump up the numbers, and being the organiser’s Mum!!
    I felt I was listened to,and find that the Focus Group feedback had taken notice of our ideas and thoughts,and taken action on them,but then, my daughter is a professional.OK I am biased.

  15. Capability Bowes says:

    @ Franklin “55 objections” – yes, but how many people did each of these objections represent?

    1 was from The Eltham Society – no idea how many people are members but there must be a good few hundred.

    1 was from the Central Eltham Residents Association – again, membership well into the 300 – 500 households range, if not more.

    1 was from the Eltham Park Residents Association – membership well above 250 househoulds, I should say.

    So thats 3 objections, which cover getting on for a thousand people? I’m sure there were more local groups involved, each making one complaint. Of course, our friends on the Planning Committee, heavily influenced by Cathedral Group who offered a new GP surgery on the site even though it was patently clear that the local GPs were perfectly happy where they are, just count those three objections as three objections.

  16. Darren says:

    Franklin, Stadium Road, the main access to QE Hospital has speed humps and busses. Also quite a few Ambulances (surprisingly), no sign of Richard Hammond there though!

    We object because they’re indiscriminate and there are better ways of managing traffic than dumping a load of tarmac in one big lump, better, just not cheeper!

  17. Franklin says:

    @CB. Fair point. I don’t know anything about this development (or Eltham, for that matter) but I’m surprised that the Eltham Society, the Central Eltham Residents Association and the Eltham Park Residents Association aren’t treated as ‘key stakeholders’ by the Council. They clearly are key stakeholders. Perhaps those society’s need to register with the Council to be considered as such?

    @Darren. I did carefully say ‘central Greenwich’ ;-)

    I take your point, humps are not ideal for all roads – particularly those used heavily by ambulances – but I’d welcome them as a cheap fix to the major speeding problem we have on our residential street.

  18. Suzanne Miller says:

    Rather than dotting speed bumps everywhere, wouldn’t it be better to try to change attitudes towards speeding? Being variable, some speed bumps crossed even at 20 mph damage cars, whereas pinch points slow people down without doing damage (assuming the driver knows how to aim between two posts). Pinch points plus a strictly enforced 20-mph limit in all residential areas (to eliminate confusion over which speed zone one is in and to lessen the death rate when accidents do happen) would keep us safer. I suppose enforcement might cost more to begin with, but suspending would-be killers from driving and giving them huge fines could gradually change the culture.

  19. Rob says:

    You could presumably make a FOI request the next time a developer makes such claims. It would be interesting to see when these consultations supposedly took place and who was present.

  20. Mike says:

    Surely the whole point of a speed bump is to damage cars at 20mph. Just slow down… (it’s a limit, not a target).

    After keep left, one of the most important road rules is to drive to the conditions. If there’s a bump, slow down. Simple.

    I would have thought their biggest unintended consequence was the noise from people slowing down and speeding up (on no, that’s right, they don’t slow down and then complain about the damage they’re doing to their own cars…)