The Pre-Application Community Consultation Process is an activity where developers engage with the local community before applying for planning permission, particularly for major developments. This interaction allows developers to gather views and opinions about the project, which they can consider before submitting their planning application. It's now mandatory for developers to conduct this consultation for most major developments. It's important to note that pre-application consultation is different from the pre-application advice service offered by planning authorities. It is a chargeable service that helps developers understand the need for planning permission and relevant policies and constraints for their application.
Pre-application consultation vs pre-application advice
Terminology can confusing for first-timers in community consultation for a development project. There are three terms which can be easily misunderstood or confused. They are pre-application advice; developers pre-application community consultation (sometimes just 'pre-app consultation'), and statutory application consultation. Each touches on the pre-application community consultation process. Here, we define each:
- Pre-application consultation (with the council): A paid-for service provided by councils to provide feedback on application drafts or early ideas. As part of this service, planning officers can make suggestions and advice on the suggested scale and scope of pre-application community consultation.
- Developers' pre-application community consultation: An informal consultation stage, often a single stage, but sometimes multiple engagement stages. They can be offline or online, suitable to the project’s scale and scope. There's lots of flexibility and diversity in how this is delivered.
- Statutory pre-application consultation: A final formal and legally prescribed stage of consultation arranged by local councils, through their planning portal. This stage is prescribed to last for 21 days, during which participants can comment on the planning application and indicate whether they 'support' or 'object' the proposal.
It’s good to remember that each of those activities above is related and broadly follows in the sequence outlined above. Duration of each stage is indicated below but can vary widely depending on scale and scope of the planning application.
Preparing your pre-app community consultation
When preparing for your pre-application consultation, adopting a strategic and comprehensive approach is essential. Begin by clearly defining the scope and objectives of your project, ensuring you understand the legal and regulatory framework applicable to your geography. We have a summary below:
Pre-application consultation requirements in Wales, Scotland, and England are slightly different in the UK. You can read more about it here: When is community consultation required for planning applications?
Engage with local authorities and communities early in the process, considering best practices for effective communication. For example, Planning Aid Wales provides a useful guide here if you want to check another external resource: Pre-application Community Consultation: Best Practice Guidance for Developers
Use available resources and guidance, such as those provided by the Welsh Government, to ensure your consultation process is thorough and meets the statutory requirements. These elements will lead to a more informed, efficient, and productive consultation process, aligning with legal mandates and community expectations.
Benefits of pre-app community consultation for applicants
The benefits of pre-application community consultation for applicants, communities and local governments cannot be overstated. Most of these benefits come from establishing a working relationship between applicants and residents affected or potentially impacted by a new development. Benefits include
Community Engagement Benefits
Engaging with the community early in a project brings multiple benefits. Firstly, it leads to an enhanced understanding of the project, as community insights contribute to a more informed and well-rounded perspective. This process also increases community support by fostering goodwill and engagement with local stakeholders. Additionally, it strengthens relationships with the community, laying a foundation for ongoing trust and cooperation throughout the project lifecycle. Such engagement ensures the project resonates more closely with the community's needs and aspirations.
Planning and Design Advantages
Incorporating community feedback often results in better design outcomes, leading to improvements and more sustainable solutions that align with local needs and preferences. This process can streamline the planning permission process, making it smoother and more efficient by proactively addressing issues and concerns. Furthermore, it reduces the likelihood of objections and delays during later stages, facilitating a more efficient development process.
Legal and Public Relations Impact
Community consultation is crucial in ensuring compliance with legal requirements for major developments, thus avoiding potential complications at planning approval stage. It also significantly improves public relations, building a positive public image and reputation for the developer through transparent and inclusive practices. This approach meets legal mandates and is committed to responsible and community-oriented development.
Guide on formats and processes
Adopting a flexible and comprehensive approach that goes beyond the minimum legislative requirements is essential when conducting a pre-application consultation. This ensures effective engagement with the community, which can be crucial in shaping the project and ensuring its success. A well-executed consultation increases transparency, builds trust, and fosters positive relationships with the community, thereby assisting in overcoming planning issues and improving the likelihood of planning successes.
While formulating your consultation strategy, consider the following key aspects to develop an approach that is both appropriate and effective:
- Assessing the Scheme's Significance: Determine your project's impact and community interest. This assessment helps decide if your consultation strategy needs to extend beyond the basic requirements.
- Timing the Consultation: For major projects, at least one early ‘non-statutory’ round of consultation can be beneficial before the mandatory statutory consultation, allowing for early community input. For large projects, multiple rounds are common.
- Understanding Community Dynamics: Knowledge of the local demographics, including language preferences and cultural nuances, is crucial for engaging effectively with the entire community.
- Identifying Consultation Participants: Beyond statutory consultees, consider engaging with additional non-statutory groups who could provide valuable insights or support for the project.
- Utilising Various Tools and Techniques: Employ a mix of methods for engagement, from digital platforms to public events and additional awareness-raising activities, to ensure a wide reach and effective communication.
This strategic approach to consultation formats and processes can significantly enhance the value and effectiveness of your pre-application engagement efforts, leading to a more prosperous and community-aligned project outcome.
Pro-tip: Arrange for and run a place analytics report on PlaceChangers, giving a detailed breakdown of socio-demographics, existing social infrastructure, and housing. Site Insights tool: Place analytics for town planning
Pro-tip: Identify local consultation participants easily by downloading residential addresses near your site using PlaceChangers Engagement tool. Engage tool: Consult online with powerful proposal maps
Online pre-application community consultation
In pre-application consultations, online formats and digital engagement tools offer significant advantages, streamlining the process and enhancing overall effectiveness. PlaceChangers, with its interactive consultation capabilities, stands at the forefront of this digital transformation. Utilising online platforms for community consultation broadens the reach of a diverse audience and facilitates real-time feedback and interactive dialogue. This approach is particularly beneficial in engaging younger demographics and those needing help participating in traditional, in-person consultation formats.
The convenience of online access allows stakeholders to engage with the consultation process at their own pace and time, increasing participation rates and ensuring a more comprehensive range of community voices are heard. Moreover, digital tools can present complex information in more accessible formats like interactive maps and visualisations, making it easier for participants to understand the implications of the project and provide informed feedback.
The top three benefits of the Interactive Consultation tool, along with their detailed descriptions, are:
- Visual Consultation Reports: These reports are highly visual and dynamic, offering an excellent way to present information. They allow for clear communication of complex data in an accessible and engaging format.
- Visual and Interactive Consultation: This benefit is about the interactive and visual nature of the consultation. It allows for more engagement and provides a dynamic way to explore and understand the consultation materials, making it easier for stakeholders to grasp complex concepts.
- Time & Resource Saving: This tool significantly saves time and resources. Traditionally, much effort is spent offline, engaging only a small percentage of stakeholders. This tool makes the process more efficient, enabling broader engagement with less effort.
Read more here on considerations of websites vs engagement platforms: Comparing your options: Engagement platforms vs project websites
In-person community engagement formats
There’s a wide range of engaging in-person engagement formats.
Furthermore, the scope for early-stage design workshops with residents should not be overlooked. These workshops provide an invaluable opportunity for stakeholders to contribute to the design process from the ground up, fostering a sense of ownership and investment in the project.
At a later stage, the integration of in-person exhibitions with online presentations emerges as a pivotal strategy. When aligned with digital platforms, these in-person events provide a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to stakeholder engagement. Exhibitions offer a tangible, interactive experience, allowing residents to visualise and physically interact with the proposed developments.
Read more here about different in-person engagement formats: How to boost online engagement with in-person consultation events
Reporting Back: Closing the Loop in Pre-application Community Consultation
Reporting back to the participants is integral to the pre-application community consultation process. This step is crucial in maintaining transparency and building trust, fulfilling an essential requirement in the planning application process. After gathering feedback from the community, it's imperative for developers to effectively communicate how this input has been interpreted and incorporated into the project. This communication should ideally be conducted through the same channels used for the initial consultation, such as the PlaceChangers platform, ensuring consistency and ease of access for all stakeholders.
Often, interactions with the community are limited in pre-app community consultations. Engaging early with consultation participants, responding to questions and showing that their input is considered can be a benefit. One of the advantages of online engagement platforms is the capability of tracking responses and replying to concerns in a single platform.
Read more on following up to consultation comments here: Using personalised follow ups in online planning consultations | PlaceChangers
The importance of closing the loop cannot be overstated. It acknowledges the community's contribution and shows respect for their input, reinforcing their value in decision-making. By clearly articulating how public feedback has influenced the project, developers can foster a sense of ownership and support within the community, which is essential for the project's long-term success.
Moreover, this step is a legal necessity, as a comprehensive report detailing the consultation process and its outcomes must be submitted as part of the planning application. This is often referred to as Statement of Community Involvement. This report serves as a record of compliance with mandatory consultation requirements and a testament to the developer's commitment to community engagement and transparency. Hence, effective reporting back is a pivotal element that bridges the gap between community input and project development, ensuring a holistic and inclusive approach to urban planning.
Read more here on considerations for producing your Statement of Community Involvement: Statement of Community Involvement: Six tips for robust community engagement reports
In conclusion, the pre-application community consultation process is a critical and mandated step in the planning and developing of major projects in most UK nations for major planning projects.
Well working pre-application community consultation ensures not only goodwill on behalf of the planning directorate but, importantly, fosters a collaborative and transparent relationship between developers and the community.
There's a wide range of formats to choose from. Effective consultation, supported by innovative platforms like PlaceChangers, saves team resource, enhances project understanding, garners community support, and leads to more informed and sustainable development outcomes. By embracing digital tools and strategies, developers can reach a wider audience, streamline the consultation process, and effectively incorporate community feedback into their projects.
The final and crucial step of reporting back to the community closes the loop, reinforcing trust and respect between all stakeholders. This practice meets legal obligations and demonstrates a genuine commitment to community engagement. As urban planning and development evolve, the emphasis on community consultation will likely grow, highlighting the need for practical, transparent, and inclusive approaches. The strategies and tools discussed here offer a roadmap for developers to navigate this complex landscape successfully, ensuring that their projects meet regulatory standards and resonate positively with the communities they are designed to serve.