Epsom and Ewell: Digital engagement for the town centre masterplan
At a time when the borough is facing growth pressure, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council (EEBC) has had to find ways to reconcile its sustainable development needs with scepticism from strong voices in the community. EEBC wanted to gauge local sentiment about planning and development more accurately by achieving much wider participation in its public planning consultations.
The Epsom Town Centre Masterplan project was an ideal opportunity to do this. The council successfully bid for funding from Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership to prepare an Epsom Town Centre Masterplan. It joined this project with funding from the Department for Levelling Up’s “Proptech engagement fund round 2” to develop an online engagement platform and a digital advertising campaign. The aim was to encourage a wider range of people to participate in an early consultation on the masterplan.
The consultation allowed people to engage, meaning a much higher response rate than the council would otherwise have generated. It was co-designed with the community and designed to get complicated questions across in a simpler way. It was easily accessible on mobile phones as well as computers and tablets. EEBC used independent marketing expertise to target traditionally excluded people on social media. In addition, it made the consultation more appealing by, for example, using an interactive map for people to say what they thought about specific places in the town centre.
This innovative digital consultation has produced a masterplan for the town centre which has been informed by broad a range of different interests. This has been an important step towards delivering sustainable development in the borough with community buy-in. This new approach generated a very high response rate –1,979 people responded – and a more representative report on people’s sentiment towards development. It has brought about a step change in EEBC’s approach to public consultation and embracing digital ways of working.
The whole community has benefited. 55% of people who responded to the consultation said they had not responded to a planning consultation before. It has raised awareness in the local community about what the council does and has made people feel more empowered. It also increased the diversity of participation:
- Younger people – a much broader age range of people have had their say on the development of the masterplan than in previous consultations.
- Women – just over 60% of people who responded to the consultation were women.
- Ethnic minority groups – participation was higher than in previous consultations.
The project has also demonstrated to EEBC how digital technology can drive efficiency as well as better outcomes. It enabled the council to achieve one of its most successful response rates to a consultation using minimum resources. In just under six weeks it surpassed what it had previously taken five months to achieve.