Giving people in Leeds a say on their Transport Network
By David Janner-Klausner | Tue, Jul 7, 2020
3 min read
Leeds City Council used Commonplace to engage with their community to find out their views and opinion about an ambitious transport planning project they have earmarked for investment.
Leeds City Council, assisted by West Yorkshire Combined Authority, are planning major investments in key routes leading into the City of Leeds. The prime objectives are to improve connectivity while supporting greater use of buses and healthy travel options.
WSP were appointed to deliver the planning and public engagement for five routes plus initial proposals for Leeds City Centre. Public engagement is a key component of Leeds Council’s strategy with both the City and WSP placing a premium on wide reaching, continuous engagement to deliver a high level of transparency, communication and trust.
“Connecting Leeds was regarded as a leading approach... it was the finest example of engaging people in the UK”. Nigel Foster - Chair, Leeds Transport Advisory Panel
Commonplace provided a collection of nine linked websites - five to serve specific transport corridors and three for specific locations. The ninth was a regional Community Heatmap, enabling respondents to post location-specific comments anywhere within the area. All the sites were accessible through a Leeds Transport Commonplace Landing Page with links to them from the Leeds City Council’s website.
The engagements were open to the public for three periods, each at a different stage of the scheme’s development. They were supported by public meetings and publicity. Commonplace’s built-in news feature was used extensively to inform residents when a new phase was opened and to encourage sharing via their social media networks.
The third phase introduced “Initial interventions” - specific designs for aspects of two of the routes. Engagement at this stage had been particularly substantial because it built on the high involvement of the earlier phases.
Reaching out to the community
The “continuous engagement” offered by Commonplace echoes the way many people engage with news in their personal life. Social media means that the people you are interested in and the topics you care about are always within reach. Commonplace takes this approach to the local public realm. As Connecting Leeds shows, local planning engagement can be provided openly and constantly, meeting the “always available” expectations of the public.
Social media traffic referencing the Connecting Leeds engagement was very high, providing over 10,500 referrals to the websites, almost all through Facebook.
Developing continuous engagement
The Leeds Commonplaces represent a significant shift from traditional stand-alone consultations to an emphasis on engagement. Leeds City Council has created a specific branding - Connecting Leeds - for this major infrastructure project, which is also used by Commonplace. The resonance is not just through the graphics, but also, the ongoing presence of the online platforms.
These are not surveys that disappear from view once completed. Rather, Commonplace is providing always-available information and communication sites for engagement, which at specific times also offer interactive consultation.
The use of highly accessible tools for illustrating proposals and for receiving
feedback is central to this engagement. Through using Commonplace, Leeds City
Council and WSP have set out to be as open as possible and to enable residents to see each other’s comments and so hold their local authority to account. The
combination of physical presence through WSP’s public meetings and the transparency and durability of the Commonplace websites, create a template for open communication in a sensitive setting.
Feedback received via Commonplace has been used to refine and develop each scheme. In some cases, this means minor tweaks to maximise benefit or limit impacts. In other circumstances schemes have changed entirely. This type of engagement, aligned with the Gunning Principles, promotes positive community involvement, gives decision makers confidence and clarity, and helps designers clearly understand the needs of the community.
With the massive uptake of social media, the way promoters engage the public and stakeholders in the planning and design process is changing dramatically. The Commonplace platform has helped us to ensure the voices of as many of those who stand to benefit from, or are impacted by, schemes are heard. The benefit of Commonplace is the adaptability of its service allowing us to mould and shape the platform to maximise engagement across a range of quite different engineering schemes. Tom Hacker, Transport People Lead WSP
Learn more about the Leeds Transport Commonplace