For many years, planning laws in the UK have included explicit references to the value of early community engagement. For most significant projects, public consultation requirements now mean that developers must submit Statements of Community Involvement as part of a planning application. 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."
The next section outlines what you need to do in different parts of the UK to fill public consultation requirements for development projects.
Planning application public consultation requirements in the UK
The statutory planning application public consultation requirements are contained within several Acts of Parliament across all nations of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland). Public consultation requirements typically apply to developments that exceed a specific size in floor space delivered or the area built on.
Here’s a quick summary of the varying requirements for community engagement on planning applications in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
England - public consultation requirements
A duty to consult with the local public was initially introduced in the Planning Act (2008). With every planning application, developers must supply a consultation report (see section 37.3.c of the act).
Public consultation requirements for planning applications have been made more explicit with the Localism Act (2011) introduction. Chapter 4 of Part 6 of the Localism Act creates the need to gather, document, and respond to community feedback.
Developers should consult key stakeholders and local communities before submitting applications if the project exceeds a 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.
Wales - public consultation requirements
Scotland - public consultation requirements
The favour towards early pre-application engagement is even more pronounced in Scotland, where pre-planning consultation is mandatory for all major projects.
Northern Ireland - public consultation requirements
Legislation in Northern Ireland also requires pre-application engagement for major planning application in the The Planning (Development Management) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 act. Developers need to hold least one public event in the locality and are encouraged to use online / innovative consultation means.
Local authorities' additional public consultation requirements
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.
A great example of clearer guidance on good practice was produced by Westminster City Council. Pre-application community engagement
Local authorities and public members 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, Lancaster City Council’s Statement for Community Involvement suggests co-design workshops, including model-making with key stakeholders to shape the planning application for regeneration projects.
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 interactive consultation tool enables any planner to generate robust consultations using interactive proposal maps in a few 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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