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Charrettes….and Why You May Need One!

By David Jarvis, managing director of David Jarvis Associates Ltd

Why would you possibly want a 19th Century French handcart? Originally, charrettes were used by architectural students to rush their drawings across Paris to meet deadlines. Today the term is used worldwide to represent any method of quickly generating a design solution by the bringing together of as many interested parties as possible into a forum. It represents the latest thinking in stakeholder consultation and involvement and is widely used by urban designers and planners, but has not yet transferred into the mineral sector. However, the ever-increasing requirement by government at all levels for stakeholder involvement means that it may only be a matter of time before mineral planning applications will need to demonstrate that a Charrette (or similar) has been part of the planning and design process.

Recent changes in legislation

The advent of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 has seen a major change in focus and the requirement for planning authorities to produce Statements of Community Involvement (SCI), in which they set out their policies on involving the public in the planning process. In Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1), the Government gives clear guidance that ‘Community involvement in planning should not be a reactive, tick-box process. It should enable the local community to say what sort of place they want to live in at a stage when this can make a difference’.

Current public participation in the large-scale residential planning process

Today there are many opportunities for stakeholder involvement at all levels of the residential planning process. This normally takes the form of a Charrette (often called a stakeholder workshop). There are other variations using trademarked names such as Enquiry by Design or Planning for Real. In essence, they are all collaborative planning workshops – co-ordinated by professional facilitators – that harness the talents and energies of all interested parties. As the Charrette workshops progress, stakeholders are consulted and conflicts of interest are addressed, designs are modified and solutions reached. Often attendees are divided into ‘teams’ or ‘tables’ comprising mixtures of public, local authority officials, professionals, interested organizations and the developing body. Together, these teams identify issues, attempt broad solutions and dissect each other’s suggestions. The workshops often span one or two days.

Current public participation in the mineral planning process

By contrast, consultation in relation to mineral planning generally consists of four techniques:

Liaison groups: These are looked upon favourably by the mineral planning authorities (MPAs). The quarry company is able to discuss and resolve issues at a local level without involving the mineral planning authority and this maintains good public relations. Liaison meetings generally consist of the quarry manager, experts relevant to the topic of conversation and a member of the local parish council. Issues such as noise and operating hours can be discussed. The limitation of a liaison meeting is that it is restricted to a small number of stakeholders.

Public exhibition: This an educational and informative method, presenting a positive face to the industry and allowing people to view proposals and ask questions of the company representatives. The limitations are that the proposals can be perceived as a fait accompli and do not engage people on a participatory level in the decision-making process.

Quarry open days: These provide excellent opportunities for quarry companies to raise public awareness and interest in the quarrying industry. They involve a limited amount of consultation.

Public meetings: These are forums that everyone can attend and have their say regarding proposals that are due to be, or have been, submitted to the mineral planning authority. While all stakeholders can attend, the meetings can often be dominated by a vociferous few and standing with a microphone in a crowded room can be intimidating to some.

All these techniques tend to be reactive rather than interactive. Decisions have been made and stakeholders are then asked to respond. True consultation requires the inclusion of stakeholders much earlier in the decision-making process.

The application of the Charrette process to mineral planning

A recent piece of research funded through the Mineral Industry Sustainable Technology (MIST) programme and administered by the Mineral Industry Research Organisation (MIRO) has examined the application of Charrettes to mineral planning.

The document describes the complete process:

  • setting the objectives
  • who to invite
  • who facilitates
  • what venue
  • how many days
  • what process
  • how are the results analysed
  • how are the outcomes disseminated.

The document also examines the benefits and potential disadvantages of the process and deals with common misconceptions (such as that mineral applications are too technical).

Benefits of Charrettes

  • Alleviate suspicion and mistrust, building of trust between citizens and public agencies.
  • Create a positive impression of the developers.
  • Lead to easier approvals of planning applications.
  • Improve the project’s outcome in terms of a marketing position for the developer.
  • Eliminate the sponsor’s common fear of losing control of the outcome and/or wasting time and money on a failed effort by establishing clear roles within an atmosphere of trust.
  • Save or avoid financial costs in the long term by establishing appropriate solutions at an early stage.
  • Focus limited resources on those key issues that stakeholders identify as a priority.
  • Increase investment efficiency through better decisions arising from the consideration of a wider range of parameters.
  • Improve public image and greater public acceptance of projects and programmes.
  • Improve communications, saving staff time.
  • Forge stronger communities, giving more sense of ownership.
  • Meet current thinking and allow for genuine participation.
  • Meet requirements of sustainable development.
  • Meet policy objectives and requirements – the MPA is able to respond to emerging legislative requirements for greater stakeholder involvement.
  • Allow people to ask questions of the developer in a less-threatening environment than, for example, a public meeting.
  • Reduce the number of objections or misinformed letters. People are better informed and by everyone coming together around one table the opportunity for splinter groups of opposition is reduced.
  • Involve people in a meaningful and positive way.
  • Gain an appreciation of the views of members of the other groups and make more informed decisions.
  • Identify and manage issues and concerns.
  • Clear up misunderstandings, for example, the term temporary may mean four years to one person and 10 to another.
  • Focus future planning discussions and negotiations.
  • Provide a coherent audit trail as part of the planning process.
  • Provide the design team with a design and development rationale that can inform, support and enhance (but also challenge) further masterplan negotiations.
  • Allow active involvement in the planning process and participation in the collaborative process by engaging with a broad range of stakeholders.
  • Utilize stakeholders expertise and knowledge in a collaborative way to provide local input on the masterplanning process.
  • Provide a degree of ownership of key issues.
  • Compress time frames, such that everyone brought together avoids protracted consultations and negotiations.
  • Involve stakeholders in a facilitated process so that all stakeholders are heard and no one dominates.
  • Create a better plan/outcome through diverse input and involvement.
  • Use stakeholder time efficiently; the Charrette can be tailored to when people can attend, not requiring everyone to be present all the time.

Finally, the document includes a detailed template for the ‘preparation stage’ and the ‘attendance days’ of a typical mineral Charrette from welcome through to close of the workshop (see Table 1)


Like almost everyone on the developer side of large-scale residential planning, initially the mineral industry is likely to be suspicious and dismissive of Charrette stakeholder workshops. However, the fears of the residential developers have been allayed and they now realize that the Charrette system actually speeds up the planning process and produces better plans and designs. It has other benefits too in that it has improved the image of (and understanding of) the development industry; raises key issues at an early stage; reduces conflict by the clear communication of fact; and creates a valid audit trail. In addition, it allows for a wider examination of the site and project potential including, for example, built after-use or neighbouring development. It will only take one brave mineral company to undertake the first Charrette before the two-day stakeholder workshop becomes the industry norm.

For further information on stakeholder consultation contact David Jarvis by email at: [email protected]

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