Insights article

Common concerns when consulting with the public on planning applications

Sebastian Weise
Published: 10/10/2019

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Why to involve residents early on

Residents should 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 than 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 are effective for both sides, ensure that the conversation is tied to specific design changes, as those are all the critical points of discussion, which can affect the development application in productive ways. 

A much more effective way for voices to be heard is through initial public consultations by developers. 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 instead of leaving these views towards the end where there is little room to adjust proposals. 

Read further to learn about typical concerns raised by residents and how concerns raised relate to 'material considerations' in a planning application. 

Common concerns heard from residents in 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 significant project. Listed below are the five most common concerns reported in consultations for new developments:

  • Future tenants: Not a material concern, but the new neighbours that will likely move on site are very much of interest to respondents. Respondents will be interested in the kinds of homes that will be provided, especially whether the project includes affordable homes. It may help to point out any already confirmed occupiers that give confidence that the development will not stand vacant.
  • Residential amenity: Will there be provision or benefits to local services provision in the wider area? Development that benefits local services is more likely to be supported. 
  • Design-related concerns: Popular in this category were questions about the materials chosen for their 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.
  • Green space and public realm: Residents may express concerns about particular aspects of green space on site and the safeguarding of any mature natural environment. Residents will be interested in the strategy or rationale underlying the creation of new shared public realm, 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 to an increase in demand for local infrastructure. Roads and highways are among the residents' top concerns about a new development. Access-related problems include the potential for gridlocked streets at peak hours and the potential lack of parking provision in the area. 

Matters considered

After a development application 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. Only feedback with material considerations will be considered. 

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

Only specific 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 to) loss of light, increase in noise, traffic, pollution, design, government policy, nature conservation. 

Material considerations (as per Planning Portal)

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 they will not influence the application. However, they are indeed the concerns local stakeholders voice early on.


Conclusions: Build relationships and avoid objections

It is always advisable to engage with the public directly to avoid dealing with objections based on material concerns that should have been understood early on.

Picking up on resident concerns at an early stage in your design process also avoids frustrations by members of the public, which may wonder why their concerns are not 'material'. 

At earlier design stages, 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.

Through this kind of early engagement and transparency, you can also develop goodwill and buy-in more quickly and start productive relationships with stakeholders who are 'on edge' but generally supportive of changes in the neighbourhood that, on balance, have a positive impact.

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