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 online engagement strategies for planning applications, such as master-planned residential sites, based on a series of focused online engagement campaigns. Residential projects are often of great interest to the public as they provide the opportunity to shape new living spaces. It also helps to note that most prospective buyers live close by. 

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

If you plan a residential or mixed-use development, it pays to consider which aspects of development are open to feedback from residents. 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. 

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

To be effective, community engagement is ideally built around key design parameters so that feedback aligns with the design process at a stage where changes may still be made.


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

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. 

If you are an architect, you 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

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.

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.

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

For the engagement strategy for the planning application is essential to reserve 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.

Give yourself some time by planning key project milestones for your engagement programme.

RIBA stage

Focus question


Key Result


What do you think about the submission proposals?

Present the master plan.

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

Timed around any public exhibition(s)

Feedback on final design

Online engagement for urban settings and large-scale master plans

If you prepare a project in an urban setting or a significant large-scale development, the range of factors to consider in your master plan and architectural design will increase rapidly. There will likely be great interest in your plans amongst well informed local stakeholders.

In terms of the design, many vital questions arise early, at design and access preparation, such as integration to any surrounding or adjacent built-up land, and on a detailed level per development stage.


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

In terms of a community engagement strategy for a planning application, approach community engagement in phases matched to the design or, indeed, on specific themes (traffic, greenspace, etc).

For instance, consider three critical questions for feedback on crucial RIBA stages of your project, especially at site analysis, conceptual design, and detailed design (outlined in the table below). At the conceptual design stage, multiple site layouts could be presented and an invitation to feedback on specific outline elements. And lastly, what do local stakeholders think about the final design? 

The suggested outline of potential online campaigns is outlined below. It provides a series of interconnected online consultations that match the level of design detail at each stage.

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 layout.

Open response on any aspect of the site. 

Timed around any public exhibition(s)

Feedback on site layout option


What do you think about the submission proposals?

Present the master plan.

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

Timed around  public exhibition(s)

Feedback on final design

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. 

Westminster City Council has also advocated a multi-stage early engagement programme. Their early engagement guide is a helpful summary of best practices for any developer. Download it here

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 - market leading planning consultation tool

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

Find out more

PC Site Insights - Unique place report tool for health and wellbeing 

Make use of powerful place reports to support briefs, engagement planning, and impact statements. Add in your own data sources and gather analytics in one place. 

Find out more

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