Insights article

When is early community engagement required for planning applications?

Sebastian Weise
Published: 11/05/2018

Share this


For many years, UK planning laws have explicitly emphasised the importance of early community engagement. For most significant projects, public consultation requirements now mandate that developers submit a Statements of Community Involvement as part of their planning application. The decisions on formats and levels of community consultation will depend on the project's significance and locality.

Recent changes in UK planning policy and law emphasize the need for developers to engage with key stakeholders before submitting their planning applications, a process known as 'front-loading'. For example, the National Planning Policy Framework for England (2019) underscores 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 public consultation requirements for planning applications are outlined in several Acts of Parliament across all UK nations (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland). These requirements generally apply to developments exceeding specific thresholds in floor space or built area.

Below is a brief summary of the varying requirements for community engagement in planning applications across 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.

  • 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 household 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 - public consultation requirements 

  • 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 - 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.

  • 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.

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

  • Transport infrastructure: The area of work exceeds 1 kilometre in length or 1 hectare. 
  • Retail and community uses: 1,000 square metres or more gross floor space outside town centres or the area exceeds 1 ha.
  • Residential projects: More then 50 unit or the area exceeds 2 ha

Local authorities' additional public consultation requirements

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

English local authorities produce detailed Statements of Community Involvement (SCI). These statements typically interpret the requirements for planning application consultations and provide guidelines on the expected levels and formats of consultation from developers.

A great example of clearer guidance on good practice was produced by Westminster City Council. Pre-application community engagement

Local authorities and community members increasingly expect developers to employ engagement methods that extend beyond traditional in-person public exhibitions. For complex developments, innovative approaches are anticipated. For example, Lancaster City Council’s Statement for Community Involvement recommends co-design workshops, which include model-making with key stakeholders to shape the planning applications 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.  

Explore the PlaceChangers planning toolkit

PC Engagement - market leading planning engagement

Generate powerful interactive consultations for your planning projects supported by proposal maps. Take your project towards planning approval faster. 

Find out more

You might also like

Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter

Receive our latest news and insights directly to your inbox.