Insights article

Common concerns raised during ​pre-application consultations

Sebastian Weise
Published: 10/10/2019

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After an application for development is submitted, the local planning authority or local government generally arranges for a statutory period of public consultation, the final opportunity for community engagement. At that point, residents, politicians, and professional consultees can state whether they are for or against the proposed development and any concerns they may have.

However, comments at this stage typically cannot really engage with the assumptions or requests behind any of the concerns raised or any information the developers might have overlooked. Generally, at that stage very few adaptations to the design can be made as changes are cost-prohibitive: Should the application be refused, any amendments are generally expensive.

Matters considered

Only certain kinds of comments carry weight at the official pre-application consultation stage when much of the detail for the planning application is in their final drafting stages. When the local authority considers a planning application or an appeal, officers will only consider public responses with so-called “material considerations”. 

Each planning application will have its own unique set of material considerations to be looked into and assessed. These considerations can range from (but are not limited too) loss of light, increase in noise, traffic, pollution, design, government policy, nature conservation and so forth. 

Material considerations (as per Planning Portal)

  • Overlooking/loss of privacy
  • Loss of light or overshadowing
  • Parking, traffic, highway safety
  • Effect on listed building and conservation area
  • Layout and density of buildings
  • Design, appearance, and materials
  • Government policy or local development plans
  • Disabled persons' access
  • Previous planning decisions
  • Nature conservation

Concerns such as loss of view and the negative effect it may have on the value of the property are not material considerations, so will not influence the application. However, they are certainly the kinds of concerns local stakeholders voice early on.  

Those concerns are the concerns an engaged design process addresses much earlier on and need to be driven by the developer's team. At earlier design stages local residents can discuss their concerns which don’t have to focus on material concerns alone to be heard, but other things such as future tenants and tenure structure, or the loss or gain for local amenities. 

Common concerns heard in pre-planning consultations

We reviewed five Statements for Community Involvement from residential projects of various sizes in the North East of England to identify common themes of concern that developers tend to hear when proposing a major project. Listed below are the five most common concerns reported in consultations for new developments

  • Future tenants: Not a material concern, but very much of interest to respondents are the new neighbours that will likely move on site. Respondents may be interested to know the kinds of developments that will be built and, especially, if any aspect includes affordable homes. It may help to point out any occupiers who are already confirmed that gives confidence that the development will not stand vacant.
  • Residential amenity: Will there be provision for sports facilities or other services that will be created and accessible for the wider area? If the development is investing in local services, and the developer shows that the strengthening of the local environment has been considered, respondents will likely be more in favour for new development proposals.
  • Design-related concerns: Popular in this category are questions relating to the materials chosen for its appearance. A common concern may be how well the structures will fit with neighbouring properties in visual appeal, and if it involves a master plan how well the layout was planned. Concerns raised on the types of materials and facilities on site is more likely in proposals in built up areas.
  • Green space and public realm: Residents may express concerns with regard to particular aspects of green space on site, and the safeguarding of any mature natural environment. Residents will have an interest in the strategy or rationale underlying the creation of new shared public realm, and especially how these spaces are embedded within the wider green environment, such as rivers and riverside footpaths.
  • Access, roads, and parking: With any new development comes an increase in demand for local infrastructure. Roads and highways are amongst the top concerns residents raised in relation to new development. Access-related concerns include not only concerns relating to the potential for gridlocked streets at peak hours, but also the potential lack of parking provision in the area.

Thus, a much more effective way for voices to be heard is through initial public consultations of by developers themselves. Effective engagement at the beginning of the design stage can be a very productive way of developing a scheme where all interested parties can reach agreements as opposed to leaving these views towards the end where there is little room the adjust proposals.  

Local residents should get involved early

It is desirable for local residents to get involved with local development schemes as they will be the prime users that will interact with the space; the success of a development scheme is dependent on how the residents interact with it. 

There is more room to explore issues earlier in the development process then there is at a later stage. This in turn avoids later disagreements with the scheme and is more likely to have more community support in the final stages.

To ensure consultations at an early stage are effective for both sides, it is good practice to make sure the conversation is related back to things that could be addressed through design which is what material planning are partly about considerations, as those are all the key points of discussion, which can affect the design of the development. 

Love Wolverton is a good example of early community engagement at conceptual and detailed design stages and how it generated change within the early stages of the application being created. Read more about this example here: 

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