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When is early community engagement required for planning applications?

Sebastian Weise
Published: 11/05/2018

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It is ultimately down to the developer and their team to interpret the planning application consultation requirements for their project. Therefore, there are typically question about the level of local and community engagement to incorporate before submitting a planning application in mid-sized or larger development projects.  

 Planning laws include explicit references to the value of early community engagement, and early community consultation is increasingly a must rather than a nice to have. The decisions on formats and levels of community consultation will depend on the project's significance and locality.

Recent changes in planning policy and law in the UK emphasise that developers engage with key stakeholders before submitting their planning application ('front-loading'). For example, the National Planning Policy Framework for England (2019) states the critical role of pre-application engagement: 

“Early engagement has significant potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning application system for all parties. Good quality pre-application discussion enables better coordination between public and private resources and improved outcomes for the community." 


Planning application consultation requirements in the UK

The statutory planning application consultation requirements are contained within several Acts of Parliament across all nations of the UK. It typically applies to developments that exceed a specific size in floor space delivered or area built on. 

Here’s a quick summary of the varying requirements for community engagement and statutory consultation in England, Scotland, and Wales.

England


A duty to consult with the local public was initially introduced in the Planning Act (2008). With every planning application, developers need to supply a consultation report (see section 37.3.c of the act).


With the introduction of the Localism Act (2011), consultation requirements have been made more explicit. Developers should consult key stakeholders and local communities before submitting applications if the project exceeds certain size. Developers are asked to prepare a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) that demonstrates how they have taken account of the community’s responses within their application.

  • Residential and non-residential projects: The impact assessment for the Localism Bill (2011) considered the application of required consultation for developments of more than 200 homes or where the site area is 4 ha or more; and any non-residential developments with new floorspace of 10,000 sqm or more, or with a site area of 2 ha or more. Both full and outline applications are subject to this requirement, but no house hold applications.
  • National infrastructure projectsFor nationally-significant infrastructure projects, developers are required to conduct pre-application consultations not just with the local community but also with statutory consultees, local authorities, landowners and all significantly affected persons. 
  • Wind turbine farms: The Localism Act also requires pre-application consultations for wind farm developments with plans to install more than two turbines or where the turbine hub height exceeds 15 metres.

Wales


  • Residential and non-residential projects: For developments in Wales, much smaller applications require a consultation. The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 requires pre-planning consultations for all developments with more than 10 dwellings or sites larger than 0.5ha, or where floor space exceeds 1,000 sqm.
  • National infrastructure projectsNationally-significant infrastructure projects have the same engagement requirements as in England. 

Scotland


The favour towards early pre-application engagement is even more pronounced in Scotland, where pre-planning consultation is mandatory for all major projects.

  • Residential and non-residential projects: Consultations are required for major planning applications in Scotland. The Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 sets out a framework whereby all schemes with more than 50 units or more than 2 ha require pre-planning consultation or where the floor space exceeds 10,000 sqm.

Check the local authorities' Statements of Community Involvement

In most cases, developers should speak to the development control officer at the local authority for advice on the ideal format and levels of pre-planning engagement and any relevant prior local knowledge. 

English local authorities produce detailed Statements of Community Involvement (SCI). These statements typically interpret planning application consultation requirements and contain guidelines as to which levels or formats of consultation are expected from developers. 

Local authorities and also members of the public increasingly expect engagement methods from developers that go beyond an in-person public exhibition. For most complex developments, innovative engagement methods are expected: For example for regeneration projects, Lancaster City Council’s Statement for Community Involvement suggests co-design workshops including model-making with key stakeholders to shape the planning application.

Developers are also encouraged to draw on novel digital methods of engaging. Especially for informal engagement, online engagement tools and platforms provide a quick and low-cost means to gather feedback on proposals. For example, the PlaceChangers platform enables any planner to generate robust consultations using interactive proposal maps in a couple of clicks. 

As a final note, the outcomes of community engagement should be documented in an engagement report submitted with the planning application. Here are six tips for preparing robust community engagement reports for planning applications.  

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