Insights article

Lets talk layout: Two engagement strategies for your next residential masterplan

Sebastian Weise
Published: 04/11/2019

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This insight article outlines two engagement strategies for planning applications, such as master-planned residential sites, based on a series of focused online consultations using the site layout as reference point. People are often interested in residential or mixed-use development projects because they can help create new homes. Residents will want to share valid fears and hopes early on so understand any impact and to be confident how the proposals can benefit their area. 

The effectiveness of community engagement can be significantly improved when approaching consultations early and at crucial decision stages.

In 2023, it is generally standard that any development project will have an presence online. Face-to-face consultations will remain hugely important and should be aligned to any online consultations that you arrange.  

If you want to find out about the engagement requirements for construction projects, go here: When is early community engagement required for developments?

Taking the RIBA Plan of Work as guide for your community engagement strategy

To be effective, community engagement is ideally built around key design parameters so that feedback aligns with the design process. This is where the structure of the RIBA phases can aid as a guide. 

For projects in the UK, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)’s Plan of Work provides a valuable framework to help the design team guide the timing and content of community engagement for planning applications against key RIBA stages when parameters of a design are locked down. 

Architects understand the Plan of Work model as a loose guide to the critical work outputs delivered at each stage. Using the RIBA Plan of Work, engagement activities can be built around influencing the results from each step of the plan of work to have a greater chance to influence the emerging design. 

Below is a simple summary of the key project outcomes per the RIBA stage and the potential focus for community engagement.


Key outcomes

Possible community  engagement focus

RIBA 0: Strategic definition

Business case

RIBA 1: Design brief

Site analysis and constraints understood

Feedback on constraints or housing needs

RIBA 2: Concept design

Site layout principles defined

Shaping emerging site layout

RIBA 3: Detailed design

Worked up designs prepared

Feedback on detailed design aspects

Give yourself time to anticipate consultation events based on key project milestones.

Here we give you two potential community engagement approaches with online campaigns mapped to key RIBA Plan of Work Stages.

Online engagement for small-scale master plans

Your design may emerge rapidly on smaller-scale major development sites, especially on the lower end of the spectrum where sites are less complex. You may have less scope for community engagement earlier in the process at other times due to time constraints.

Ensure that there's sufficient time to consider the neighbourhood in your design development. Architects or project owners could draw on a tool such as PlaceChangers Site Insights to understand local socio-demographics, capacity of infrastructure, and exiting housing. See: Site Insights tool: Generate place reports for your master plan

While advisable to fit in further feedback opportunities for earlier conceptual design stages (as outlined further below), by default, you would ideally run an online community engagement campaign coinciding with, for instance, a public exhibition before the design is frozen and the planning application submitted.

RIBA stage

Focus question


Key Result


What do you think about the submission proposals?

Present the master plan layout.

Contraint to specific points of interest, or aspects of the design. 

2-3 weeks timed around any public exhibition(s)

Feedback on final layout for SCI

It is worth remembering that you or your planning team will have ideally established some rapport with key local groups, decision-makers, and the council at that stage. This may require research into the local area before the conceptual design stage. 

If you can, leave sufficient time between community engagement and submission of the planning application so that the implications of the feedback can be considered in a meaningful way.

Online engagement for urban settings and large-scale master plans

As one of the first councils in the UK, Westminster City Council has mandated a multi-stage early engagement programme for major developments. Their early engagement guide is a helpful summary of best practices for any developer (Download it here)

For larger or significant developments, public scrutiny will likely increase and the design process is significantly more complex with a larger range of constraint or implications that affect a wide area. Many vital questions arise early at the RIBA2 stage for the preferred layout, and then will have many more detailed consideration to take at RIBA3 (detailed design). 

In terms of a community engagement strategy for these large-scale plans, start to engage as early as possible in a productive manner, for instance, by inviting a review of the area as it is at present. Then, at the conceptual design stage, a principle layouts could be presented with feedback on specific aspects of that layout.  

Built a series of interconnected productive consultations focused on the layout and design content that match your project stages.

RIBA stage

Focus Question 


Key Result


What is special about your town? Send us photos and comments of aspects you like or don't like.

Focus on the area adjacent to your site. 

Relevant response categories, and open response on the area around your site.

WIth the option to send in photos of the issues raised

Contextual awareness what is missing or needed.

Understanding of housing need


What do you think about the indicative site layout?

Present the draft site layout.

Open response on any aspect of the site. 

Timed around any public exhibition(s)

Feedback on site layout option for documentation in SCI


What do you think about the submission proposals?

Present the master plan layout.

Focus on specific points of interest, or aspects of the design. 

Timed around  public exhibition(s)

Feedback on final design for SCI

Through a series of community engagement campaigns, you build up a picture of critical concerns regarding specific architectural design elements; and your architect or master planning will be able to use that feedback to make suitable amendments while staying within the requirements of your business case.

Noting contact preferences and interests, you will be able to communicate to groups of individuals with specific concerns. It is essential to take residents along with significant development in their area and build a positive line of communication. Feedback options on pragmatic and meaningful stages help deliver precisely that. 


Love Wolverton is a good example of early community engagement at conceptual and detailed design stages.


You are well-advised to approach the local community early and receive feedback in a timely manner as the cost of adapting a design increases significantly with the completion of each architectural design stage. 

Digital and web-based tools that present interactive versions of proposals, such as the PlaceChangers Engagement tool, keep costs of engagement low while enabling design teams to reach out to more people online and gather detailed feedback on-site layout and architectural designs. 

Ask us if you like to discuss the detailed outline for a development project. We are pleased to advise how best to layer online engagement onto your already existing plan. 

Explore the PlaceChangers planning toolkit

PC Engagement tool - Market leading interactive planning consultations

Set up powerful 2D and 3D map surveys and polls for your planning or construction project and adapt proposals easily. 

Find out more

PC Site Insights tool - Place analytics tool for town planning

Make use of powerful place analytics to support briefs, engagement planning, and impact statements. 

Find out more

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