High viewing figures and planning – a case study from Bristol

Back in January a Bristol City Council webcast received more than 3,500 live views– when the redevelopment of Bristol Rovers’ Memorial stadium was considered by the authority’s development control committee.

While Bristol is no stranger to such big viewing figures, a few things made the meeting worth shouting about. For us, it was the first time we have seen such a high viewing number for a webcast since we made significant improvements to our infrastructure. This meeting, along with another webcast at Cheshire West and Chester with more than a thousand live views, was a good test of those changes – and the fact that the system held up without so much as a squeak was pleasing.

But it was also an example of the way Bristol has been able to use the webcasting to deal with a very contentious issue. This meeting was the latest in a series of decisions over the attempts of Bristol’s two football clubs to secure new stadiums and redevelop their existing sites. It saw the development control committee consider plans to turn Rovers’ old home into a supermarket and attracted interest from club supporters as well as those interested in the development and impact of a new store.

As Zoe Willcox, Bristol’s director of planning and sustainable development told us, the webcasting has been invaluable in providing openness and transparency at a time of intense local interest.  She said: “Webcasting enables the legions of people who are interested in high-profile planning applications to watch our democratic processes at work – live in committee or at a time and place convenient for them.”

She said that while 3,709 people were able to watch the meeting online, this contrasted with a viewing capacity in the public gallery of 200. “This clearly demonstrates the increased reach webcasting provides. Viewers watching will better understand how planning decisions are made and can see their elected representatives at work and representations made by the community about a planning application. Based on proven demand, we will continue to webcast high profile planning meetings in the future.”

Bristol has helped to make sure residents interested in its meetings are able to find out about these important webcasts by smart use of social media.

Peter Holt, director of communications at Bristol City Council, said that the council has used the hashtag “#BristolLive” to promote the meetings – and to foster a conversation that can be linked to the webcast.

“We’ve also worked with local news organisations to ensure they can carry the webcast. Both the This is Bristol website and Bristol 24/7 embedded the webcast player on their websites. We know that they also promote this to their readers and this obviously helps to attract more people to watch the meeting.”

As Peter explained, this has meant that local media have helped to promote the meetings themselves, while supporters’ forums and other online communities have also, naturally, spread news of the webcasts. It is part of the City Council’s strategy to look at how the webcasting system can become an important part of the way the council communicates.

This strategy now also includes monthly chats with Bristol’s directly elected mayor, George Ferguson. Called ‘Ask George’ these allow residents to tweet in questions to Mr Ferguson that he answers live. We’ll be writing more about these events soon, hopefully, and you can watch the first here in archive.

  • I’m sure some of these issues touched on here will be discussed at our next user group meeting. We’ve now set a date for that meeting, the 21st June. It will be at the usual location, the Hallam Centre in Marylebone.
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