PlaceChangers responds to UK Government consultation on “Planning for the Future”


The UK Government has proposed wide-ranging changes to the planning system in England and provided those initial ideas in a white paper titled "Planning for the Future". The white paper tackles three aspects of the planning system in England along three pillars, including (1) how developments are approved; (2) how there can be a greater consideration for quality standards; (3) and lastly how infrastructure is funded on the back of development proposals. 

The Secretary of States foreword for the proposals are indicating the governments intent for a better and more equitable system. 

Our proposals seek a significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system. They aim to facilitate a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players, where all pay a fair share of the costs of infrastructure and the affordable housing existing communities require and where permissions are more swiftly turned into homes.

The government proposes to address the above three elements by a radical shake-up to the way the planning system is working now. On the high-level, this is built around three key aspects

  1. a simplified plan-led system, built around a series of zones that trigger different approval processes for new development;
  2. a codification and greater incorporation of design codes throughout the system; and
  3. a combined or somewhat consolidated infrastructure levy. 

Underlying these proposals, the government also puts a strong focus on complementary and connected digital tools to assist in the preparation of evidence bases, in the vetting of development proposals and plans against requirements.

PlaceChangers has now responded to the white paper consultation. Below we summarise key aspects of our response. 

PlaceChangers response

Timing of public involvement 

The white paper calls for the application of best-in-class engagement tools, but leaves the timing of any public engagement unclear. We suggested:

Development proposals

Design codes alone will not remove critical design choices and will need interpretation at the time of application. In exchange for the greater clarity given to development projects under permission in principle, new laws should ask for more opportunities of residents to be involved in the shaping of the development project, including through (1) an early-engagement stage, and (2) a pre-submission consultation to refine the design. 

Local plans

The proposals recognise engagement only at a call for sites stage and in a formal public enquiry. This is not enough. A background research stage should be introduced and done first (6 months) before the start of the ‘call for sites/ideas’ phase which would include a community engagement programme to help define different development trajectories and priorities.

Digitisation of plans

The plans call for the digitisation of plan-making and a return to spatial form as part of local plans through zoning and site-specific guidances. 

We are fully in support of this proposal. Honing the planning system toward these ends could facilitate collaboration and coordination, as well as increasing transparency and driving public buy-in. It certainly could also shorten turnarounds.

Government guidance should be provided on the level of the structure and format for the data standard.

A stepped approach should be considered whereby standards are developed for a local plan; and separate standards are developed for the structure of development applications; and master plans.


Focus on design codes

We support local design codes.

They are helpful to provide developers with a guide as to what is valued locally.

There are issues around codes, however, especially as developers will ask for amendments  based on their default house type standards or the particular scheme. 

PlaceChangers advocates a use of design codes at different levels of specificity, i.e., at high, medium and low levels in order to avoid ambiguity and ensure a comprehensive and coherent strategy-based plan. 

Going in line with comments made regarding public consultation on development proposals, the believe legislation should introduce greater scope for influencing site layouts and details of the proposed design to help translate design code guidance into actual development proposals. 

Neighbourhood plans

We advocate for the continuation of neighbourhood planning. 

Local plan guidelines and standards should be developed in such a way that neighbourhood plans can be prepared using similar approaches.

Neighbourhood plans need to be 'machine-readable' or available in a digital format. As neighbourhood plans could be helping in the establishment of locally-sensitive site-specific policies, and thereby help resource-constrained local authorities on the neighbourhood and local level. 

Consolidated impact appraisal of local plans

Merely asserting that “sustainable development” is “existing and well-understood” doesn’t make it so. The 2018 “Planning 2020” final report for the TCPA Raynsford Review (p43) is forthcoming on this point: “the 2018 NPPF creates its own unique definition of sustainable development which leaves out core internationally agreed principles.”

We believe that, on the contrary, it makes sense to incorporate the requirement for an evidence-based, digital appraisal of the sustainability of the local plan.

The National Government’s role on this point is to fund the commission of that evidence base.

PlaceChangers suggests the inclusion of health impacts as part of a combined impact appraisal, which would capture the particular characteristics of the local population and inequalities in access to key services, which can serve to provide clear targets for improved infrastructure delivery/use of the developer contributions to tackle inequalities and inbuilt health and wellbeing objectives. 

Financing infrastructure and affordable homes

PlaceChangers is supportive of a simplified infrastructure levy for construction and we appreciate the efforts to remove loopholes that exist in S106 and CIL. It’s specifically great to see that the new levy will apply to PDR. 

Timing and capture of levy 

PlaceChangers voiced concern about the move of the infrastructure levy to be charged against the final sales value of the development, as this causes potentially significant financial risk to local government if the market falls and subsequently any money committed to affordable housing from this scheme cannot be covered. 

For substantive projects, which take many years to complete, developers should be committed to pay part of the levy upfront; there should be safe guards against the eventuality of falling house prices. The charging of infrastructure at the point of completion opens the door to speculation for falling house prices, and potential stalling of the development as suitable to navigate infrastructure payments.

Greater transparency and involvement in use of levy receipts

The increase in the value capture should come with greater transparency about what these funds are to be invested for, which can be aided by digital technologies. There should be a greater linkage between the investment and the locality of the development.

And residents would ideally be involved and informed about the use of the contribution as part of early engagement on development proposals. There should be an opportunity for greater up-front discussions about the use of that money.

Again, going along with our call for the reformed law to clarify the engagement stage for all major development, even if ‘fast-tracked’.

Affordable homes

The consolidated levy should aim to secure more on-site provision than S106 currently does.

An in-kind contribution is preferred as it has a greater chance to deliver mixed-tenure developments on site, while also increasing certainty of the timing of provision. 

If affordable housing is provided in-kind by the developer, additional guidelines should be given by law about the following aspects:

  • Definition of a minimum quantum of affordable housing sites.
  • LPAs should have power “to specify the forms and tenures of the on-site provision” is needed as part of the site layout.
  • A minimum standard for quality should apply to the site as a whole and that this should include affordable housing. The Building for Healthy Life or similar criteria should also apply to affordable housing.
  • Definition of standards for master plan quality that uphold access to high-quality infrastructure for affordable homes on the same level as for market housing on site.


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master planning

Building the 20-minute neighbourhood – Lessons from Mambourin

Who would not want to live in a neighbourhood where every essential aspects for a good life are close by? A grocer is around the corner, on weekends we can go to the park, and if need be the medical practice is also around the corner. Even better if most people in the neighbourhood enjoy a similar level of access. 

This principle underlies the philosophy for planning in Melbourne Australia via Victoria State Government's 35-year Melbourne plan. The concept has since gained traction in many other places around the globe. In the UK, the Town and Country Planning Association in collaboration with Sport England are exploring how the 20-minute neighbourhood concept can be implemented in towns in England to support healthier, active lives.  

In this article, I am picking up on this concept in relation to an on-going innovation project to deliver a tool that provides feedback on health outcomes for early stage master plans. If you like subscribe to the newsletter (on the right) or sign up for early-access via the link at the bottom of the article. 

The planning approach in Melbourne has recently been detailed in a report on the planning of a new neighbourhood, Mambourin, by Monarch University (20-MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIVING LOCALLY RESEARCH), which I used here to pull out relevant details on definition, implementation challenges, and lessons learned. 

Characteristics of the 20-minute neighbourhood 

The 20-min neighbourhood refers to the proactive planning for short (800m) distances to vital local services. An 800-metre distance is considered to be walkable by the majority of a neighbourhood population.

It emphasises on “community infrastructure” in the neighbourhood, which includes traditional services, such as parks, but importantly also other ‘non-traditional’ services, such as co-working spaces, and third spaces that encourage social interaction. 

Through an easy-accessible and walkable neighbourhood, the 20-minute neighbourhood caters to the health and wellbeing of residents through greater levels of social interaction and active forms of mobility; while also aiming to support equal access to vital services and thereby improved life chances for residents. 

The principle link between a walkable, green neighbourhood and the health and wellbeing of residents is now fairly well established. 

As outlined in the report on Mambourin, the principle benefits of a 20-min neighbourhood, are the following:

  • Short walking distances promotes resilience and sustainability, also life satisfaction and control by having access to what is needed in everyday life in the neighbourhood.
  • Evidence shows that proximity to local services is a significant predictor of wellbeing.
  • Interaction supported by the co-location of vital community infrastructure also creates a feeling of communal safety and protection and therefore makes developments more popular to residents. 

20-minute neighbourhoods don't only exist in Melbourne of course, but the conscious effort to plan for short distances is a conscious effort that will need to be done at plan making stage. 

Implementation challenges 

In England, 91% of the 803,000 homes built between 2011 and 2019 were built in the suburbs, which by chance also highlights the key implementation challenge for the 20-minute neighbourhood. In urban fringe locations, the closest town centre tends to be further away than 20-minutes, and many residential projects tend not to plan in extra services, which often is tried to be covered indirectly through with developer contributions. 

The report on Mambourin shows how there are a number of key factors in delivering the 20-minute neighbourhood, starting with a built form suitable to walking and early consideration of the location of community infrastructure.

Another key aspect is the coordination of the delivery and staging of any new community infrastructure, as that has a major impact on the sustainability of a scheme from the get-go. 

Image shows the location of Mambourin, a master-planned development by Frasers Property Australia (20-MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIVING LOCALLY RESEARCH, p.8)

The report on the 20-min neighbourhood notes the following challenges, especially in the implementation of the community infrastructure.  

  • The lack or delayed implementation of the community infrastructure makes it harder to realise the 20-minute neighbourhood. It is essential to staging community infrastructure development as the development unfolds to provide meeting spaces and access to essential services.
  • The financing of that infrastructure: Developers want to build houses first. Developer contributions lag the completion of the development. 
  • Infrastructure is often dependent on other people or organisation; and therefore needs coordination and perseverance.

Similar challenges are typical for any larger new built project. It was demonstrated in the development of Cambourne, UK, for instance, a major development in an out-of-town locations where residents reported lack of activity during day time hours, delayed phasing of school places, a lack of community meeting spaces or a retail or entertainment offer within the development

What can we do better?

The Melbourne report captured several key lessons for 20-minute city principles in suburban locations, based on an insightful analysis of the provision locations and phasing of the community infrastructure. 

The key recommendations and lessons learned for me were those below. These do not appear as surprises. Given the large developments are complex, given the sheer number of people involved, and eventualities in any project, these principles can still pan out in unexpected ways if not kept on top of:  

  • Design teams need better processes and tools for knowledge sharing on the local social environment and what is provided by them to deliver community infrastructure intelligently.  
  • Projects should start with an in-depth audit of the community infrastructure: The report shows how it can be done. It categorise critical services and their minimum catchment areas; then evaluate what is near the development site; then look at understanding demand and compare this with the projected provision of facilities.
  • A place-based collaborative approach is necessary to coordinate provision. This is because all social and communal infrastructure depends on delivery by various organisations, including local government, regional government, and other third parties.
  • Proactive activation of temporary spaces during construction helps with bringing residents together. This can serve to bridge gaps in provision while waiting for the community infrastructure to be delivered. 


The majority of new housing developments are built in sub urban locations. The report on the planning for Mambourin based on 20-minute neighbourhood principles provide essential insights for improving the design quality in new built residential master plans in suburban location. 

Future challenges in relation to global climate emergency and now Covid-19 show remind that an easy-to-walk neighbourhood with key community infrastructure nearby is essential to achieving health and well-being; and it helps to live more sustainably, too. 

We need better ways of coordinating local insights and testing options with a large number of local decision-makers and residents. A key focus of the Melbourne example is infrastructure audits based on access to key facilities to allow shortcomings to be identified early on in the process.


PlaceChangers is working on tools that help ambitious project teams to incorporate health outcomes in master plans. Get early access by signing up to the beta programme. 

  • An easy way to characterise the existing neighbourhood and access to key facilities to understand how to optimise the master plan.
  • Easy and quick means for testing master plan versions against performance with regard to creating a 20-minute neighbourhood. 
  • A framework for capturing feedback and insights at every step in the development lifecycle.
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The role of 3D models in community engagement

Header image source: Warrington & Co (with permission)


In part one of a series, this article reviews the development of 3D models as public consultation tools. No longer confined to the realms of the Gaming Industry, 3D visualizations have been applied to other areas of daily life. One such area is Urban Planning.

In this article we look at how the traditional tools of public consultations are supplemented by tools which fully immerse users into understanding changes being made in their environment. This article will conclude with the limitations of using 3D Models in public consultations and the advantages comes from using such a tool. 

Public Consultations  

Public Consultations is an essential to planning processes in the United Kingdom and has a unique role of everyday democracy that reflects the Country’s heritage. Public Consultations are a statutory requirement in the United Kingdom’s Planning Policy, and so architects, developers and planners initiate public engagement. 

Public consultations give communities the opportunity to engage with the project team (architects/developers) about the future of the area. This is then used as feedback for Architects who will return to the project development, and make changes that better reflect the projects future environment. 

For public engagement to be successful it must:

  • Include a diverse range of stakeholders with different interests
  • Offer a broad range of visual and textual sources available to stakeholders that both open discussions but also demonstrate constraints
  • Offer a two-way exchange to aid those who either have questions or lack specialist information to fully understand certain decision making
  • Have a sense transparency
  • Include opportunities for follow up work with stakeholders
  • Be organised with an audit trail for later documentation. 

Public Consultations ideally inspires conversations through an interactive (but not exactly technical) method. The project team then reflects this engagement in the technical detail that often happens in the background.

This engagement with the public is carefully managed to align discussion points at the right time in the design process of a project. This is meant to coincide with the exact roadmap of the project development, while it should be completed prior to construction better practice will have developments engage with the public at its Concept Stage (see RIBA 2020.)

This is not always explained fully to the public and therefore obvious constraints within the design process are not always immediately clear to members of the public. An effective public consultation will present a transparent narrative for members of the public. This will feed into a better overall relationship with the public and become essential to the developer’s future external stakeholder management.

Traditional Methods for Public Engagement

Public Consultations currently use a large arrangement of different methods (emails, letters, social media, and news outlets.) The typical call to action incorporates a public exhibition where the design team presents their vision of the proposals to the public. As engagement becomes more digital, planners and architects have turned to more online tools for presentation and feedback via websites, survey forms, and closed questions. 

IA survey recently conducted by Northumbria University on behalf of PlaceChangers on current engagement practices demonstrates the ‘state of the art’ in the industry at present (see below). 115 respondents from within the AEC industry noted in-person public events, social media, websites, and emails as predominant methods for engaging. 


% of respondents (115 respondents)

In person / public event and exhibition


Social media


Online via website


A third party platform


Telephone calls




Questionnaires / Surveys


Physical Engagement via public events and exhibitions usually involve the project team presenting the modelled elements of the architectural design to the community stakeholders. Additional information is provided through boards/posters that demonstrate further data on the wider area relevant to the design (see below). Planners and architects will guide stakeholders at these events through the ideas and scope of the design. They will then gauge the public’s views as participants are invited to leave comments on forms. Naturally 3D models feature in many of those presentations, as for example, for Lancaster’s city centre vision below:

Boards at town centre vision consultation for the Lancaster City Centre (2018).

What is a 3D Model?

With the current changes in the social and technical environment there is a growing adoption of 3D modelling. This runs in parallel with a greater awareness of the need for design quality, for instance, in the UK’s new White Paper on Planning for the Future.

3D models are a 3-dimensional visualisation of the environment. This can be achieved in various ways (see other blog in series) but all revolve around an interactive cartography of an area. This has become more enticing for developers and local authorities as long-term planning simulations become affordable. 

The incentive to use an interactive model in a public consultation, is to help stakeholders see and understand the urban landscape, and branch over certain ideas without professional training on the part of the public. It is hoped that such a project encourages further public engagement.

As developers are pulled into the public eye through the likes of social media, the importance of stakeholder management increases and so, their relationships with external stakeholders. They are moving beyond singular engagement events and beginning to engage an on-going interactive method. Digital models are becoming key towards effective communication and public engagement that brings out insights that can improve the project with positive changes relevant to all engaged parties.  

Case Study: Warrington Master Plan Architects, Planners, Local Authority, General Public

As part of the recent regeneration plans of Warrington, a computer-generated 3D model of the area was designed to show how proposed town regeneration schemes would look after development. This would actively work as an interactive Master plan and help planners, architects, designers (and investors) to understand the environmental impact of a prospective building. This was developed in association with AECOM, as part of their asset advisory services.

3D model such as this allow designers to test the core principles to help understand form, function and environmental sustainability, by placing external models into the city model for review. For members of the public, models help proposed works or new developments to be visualised, communicated and its impact assessed on the urban environment.

In a recent public consultation the model was used to exemplify the height of certain buildings in the area. Models such as this demonstrate new proposals scale in context of the environment, helping to see and consider visual impacts more easily. 

Warrington Master Plan and model. Source: Warrington & Co (used with permission)

Limitations of 3D Model

It is often hard to direct the focus of the public to design details at the best of times, but the 3D model can often be noted as either distracting or overly focused in the wrong areas. It is hard to mediate a public consultation when using digital media, as the information transaction often feels one way. 

In the example stated above, Warrington’s use of a 3D model drew attention to the Councils designs of a proposed hotel and flats. Due to its height and its proximity to the centre of the town this was brought up as a major issue to the master plan, although this had been stated in earlier regeneration plans published by the Council. 

The production of visual geometric plans is tied to the production of the project development, and it can be hard to accurately portray the current architectural design to the public, especially through a 3D Model. For instance, Warrington’s model, while spatially accurate, presented the design as a dense geometric shape. This meant although when paired with the master plan, the public could observe the designs use of materials that would soften its aesthetic and allow through more light – unfortunately its height and texture meant that its design was misread by the public.

Dense 3D models can be attributed to the shrinking timeline of a project’s development. Though architectural agencies are expanding in their workforces skill-set, the limitation of architects with these skill sets can slow down the production and this can work against the project's timeline. The concept stage (see RIBA 2020) will specifically undertake design reviews with client and project stakeholders. However, issues may arise as the 3D model may not be ready or the project team may not be confident in presenting them to public stakeholders. 

The best solution for most architects and developers is to decide on focused design decisions needed in the building project. Creating a model that best reflects the fundamental requirements of the building project, while also presenting room for the design to evolve and grow, will help external stakeholders identify what parts of the design being presented is for informing and what is being currently decided upon, in which they can aid with insight 

Benefits of 3D Models 

Nevertheless, the 3D model is an enticing prospect as it encourages public participation. The Warrington example presents a public engaged with the designs of a building project which would be central to citizen’s daily life. 

Fundamentally, the participants were able to recognise and comment on an aspect of the design which was never picked up on within the master plan. Recognising the area’s importance and functionality with its population is important for community engagement because it presents the environment's social use. Something, which becomes more important as the high street changes, and our society develops its social environment.   

When relying on 2D images in survey tools, there can be just as much bias (feared) in 3D models as it focuses primarily on a single piece of information. Using a 3D model opens participants to view the building project within its future environment and while participants can recognise some areas of a plan, they still rely on secondary information. This can be time consuming within the public consultation when only so much time is allotted for the public to engage with the architect and planner. 

By designing information that non-professionals can understand, 3D models help members of the public engage more intuitively. This might be a simple change but it drastically alters the relationship between stakeholders, as less time is being occupied by the public trying to comprehend the information being given by the consultation.  


The 3D model has the potential to drastically change the public consultation, as it reinvigorates the conversation between a building projects team and external stakeholders (public.) The UK has a rich history of developing its planning policy to include an aspect of social engagement when discussing the shared environment. 

In this article we engage with a 3D model being currently used as a public consultation tool in the UK, and the concerns and benefits that have emerged. While a 3D model requires time and expertise within a building projects timeline, sometimes this effort can fall short when reviewed by the public, and aspects of a design can be misread and undervalued. 

Nevertheless, the engagement with the public is reinvigorated. The citizen can more easily understand projects through recognisable visual information, and therefore be able to participate in the day-to-day democracy of their environment.  

While the developer may be concerned by the implications of the 3D model, they are currently looking towards more digital tools to engage with external audiences. As the UK Government addresses the need for more immersive technology in different aspects of governance and economy – it might be in the interest of the developer to stand out from the sea of social media with a tool that presents the company as transparent.

Send us your thoughts or get in touch for advice on using 3D visualisations to engage the public. 

About Megan

In conjunction with PlaceChangers Ltd., Megan Marie Doherty is completing an industry-sponsored PhD at Northumbria University on the ‘Design and Evaluation of Building Information Modelling capabilities for public consultation in urban planning and master planning’. Megan Doherty has a background in public engagement from previous roles in media and heritage organisations.

You can follow her on Twitter: @m3ganmdoherty 

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North Tyneside Council launches digital consultation on PlaceChangers platform

An interactive consultation has been launched giving people the chance to have their say on North Tyneside Council's draft masterplan for North Shields. The digital consultation is hosted on North East-based startup PlaceChangers’ interactive engagement platform.

It comes after North Tyneside Council’s long anticipated draft Ambition for North Shields and the Fish Quay masterplan was made available for public consultation at the start of August to be developed with communities and businesses. The draft proposals covers the square mile around North Shields town centre, including the historic Fish Quay.

PlaceChangers, a local tech startup who also recently obtained funding from InnovateUK, the Government’s innovation agency, has been working closely with North Tyneside Council to bring their draft proposals to the comfort of people’s homes, on mobile and desktop devices.

Deputy Mayor of North Tyneside Cllr Bruce Pickard said:


“Our ambitious plans for North Shields to create great places to live, a good choice of high-quality housing and a thriving visitor destination will transform the town centre.

“These are still proposals and as a listening council we are seeking the views of residents, businesses and other interested parties to help shape our thinking before the plan is finalised so it’s great news that it is now even easier to have your say via this digital tool.”

Dr Sebastian Weise, CEO of PlaceChangers, noting the government’s recent planning reform proposals, added: 


“The Covid-19 crisis has been a real challenge for planners to engage the public. Interactive digital consultations must certainly be on the table when it comes to engaging and being involved in designing neighbourhoods in the future. Covid-19 and the recent Planning White paper put an emphasis on digital collaborative tools for planners, that guide planning projects end-to-end”.

The role of public engagement, and the use of digital tools and data to inform planning decisions, are in the spotlight, nationwide, as heated discussions are ongoing regarding the future of housing, transport, infrastructure and active travel in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic.

In this context, businesses in the North East and local authorities like the North Tyneside Council are leading the way nationally. The Ambition for North Shields and the Fish Quay masterplan is an exemplar of the kind of public consultation the country will only see more of in the near future.

Projects such as the North Shields master plan, are just one of the areas where the the company helps. The company's platform recently also supported housing needs and character appraisals for affordable housing site as well as a master plan for new neighbourhood, for instance. With those services, planning professionals can develop planning proposals with relevant input from the local community, and developers can ensure that their projects softly land in the local community. 


More about the North Shields master plan

Residents of North Tyneside and the wider area can get involved in the public consultation online at any time before the consultation ends on 16 October by visiting

Find out more about the draft masterplan for North Shields at


Organisations mentioned

PlaceChangers is a startup focused on digital solutions for collaboration and engagement in development and regeneration projects. The PlaceChangers platform helps architects, urban planners, and developers to understand the context of new development proposals through collaboration and intelligent handling of data. 

North Tyneside Council is a local authority in the North East of the UK. 



Dr Sebastian Weise
PlaceChangers CEO and Founder

Alex Moon
PlaceChangers CTO and Cofounder

Nicholas Bryan
North Tyneside Council 
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Saltwell Park
master planning

Community engagement in health impact assessments

Desk studies tell part of the story

The involvement of local residents and stakeholders is a core part of any Health Impact Assessment.

The architects’ desk study may quickly establish that there is a large woodland nearby or a body of open surface water. Woodlands have been associated with improvements of physical health, whereas water features are conducive to mental health. So on paper, that sounds good. However, knowing these features exist near a development site is not useful in itself if those features are inaccessible or in any way unsafe.

Direct public engagement can help to put real life stories to the concerns identified through desk study. Community engagement can indentify if features relevant to the health outcomes are usable; and identify options to improve them. This is not only useful for considering what is provided on site, but can also be addressed through contributions, such as the Community Infrastructure Levy or negotiated developer contributions. 

Public engagement adds the following to the HIA process. 

  • Understand health concerns of local people directly from those potentially affected
    Understand local circumstances by understanding which built features locally are appreciated for health and which ones are detrimental
    Cross check needs based on local council guidance 
    Ranking and prioritising potential impacts desired or avoided

What public engagement is done?

There are three types of Health Impact Assessments of increasing scope. Those are ‘desktop’ reviews, ‘rapid’ more extensive reviews, and lastly comprehensive appraisals that come with an in-depth work programme that sits alongside the development of design proposals (see Hudu Rapid HIA guidance p5). 

For public engagement activities, our review found face-to-face or in-depth focus groups where amongst the most used methods. This is often combined with establishing structure for how participants are involved for example through steering groups. Some of the particular methods mentioned included: 

  • Interviews: Good for getting a detailed view of key stakeholders understanding of local health outcomes  
  • Surveys: Can be distributed widely and can create a detailed picture if used well. 
  • Workshops: Can be powerful to discuss local health outcomes and potential impacts of new developer. They will require good facilitation and structure to enable a link between the conversation, secondary data, and the site context.  
  • Walking tours: Can be a powerful, and often fun activity to co-explore the local area and key issues with local stakeholders.

For rapid and comprehensive health impact assessments, a steering group of experts and some interested local individuals is standard practice in order to incorporate local concers. Steering groups provide the oportunity to include local stakeholders and bring key parties together regularly. In some cases, steering groups can provide a 'wrapper' around organising more targeted or broad based community involvement for a HIA. 

Area appraisals with local residents

What level of engagement is done naturally depends on the scope of the HIA. Often the issue is time and money constraints to do any sort of engagement for a HIA, which in itself is resource-constraint. 

Targeted interviews are generally helpful to prioritise and understand the area better. Fuller community-driven area appraisals are another opportunity to introduce substane and insight. For comprehensive HIAs and in most cases also even rapid HIAs, a low-cost high-impact engagement activity that can reach a wide audience would certainly be perferred to see how the wider area is used and any deficits.

Approaches such as walking tours can look for links between individuals' health and wellbeing and particular built features that have perceived positive or negative implications for participants. Using digital tools, walking tours can be scaled up to reach a large part of the local population and ask questions on particular points of interest. 

A community area appraisal can focus on specific built environment features of interest to Health Impact Assessemtn. Some built environment features relevant to HIAs are listed below. These features come from a review of the rapid Health Impact Assessment frameworks for London and Essex: 



Suggested placement

Open spaces

Throughout, easily accessible

Natural spaces

Throughout, easily accessible

Healthcare facilities

Within active travel distance

Community facilities / centres

Within active travel distance


Ideally within active travel distance (mitigrations if not)

Active travel routes (walking & cycling)


Food outlets (excluding fast food)

Within active travel distance

Key retail / groceries

Within active travel distance

Child care & education

Within active travel distance

As part of involving a broader audience in a health impact assessment, it is important to prepare the format in which responses are obtained. In particular, the following can be done to help structure the response, both in terms of personal background of respondents, but also the feedback on built environment features relevant to local health outcomes:

    Ask questions on demographics and other population-relevant aspects matching to the Census, so that individual responses could be compared to the overall population
    Ask participants for feedback on their current health or general wellbeing using, for instance, the Census’ questions on wellbeing.
    Have meaningful feedback categories for relevant built environment features, such as rating of service quality. 
    Feedback on the quality of local services and establish underprovision in access to relevant built environment features and how these features are locally used.

What’s the issue with community engagement in Health Impact Assessments?

Especially for rapid HIAs, but more generally for any project really, the balance of cost and time to meaningful results is often a challenge. Also for smaller project teams or organisations, there are often capacity limitations to undertake broad based engagement. 

For participation in health impact assessments, therefore, representativeness of the people participating could be limited, especially if only steering groups are used. If a larger survey is undertaken, responses need to be interpreted carefully. So for example, what does it mean if somebody indicates poor wellbeing? Or what if participants feedback on local features. What do you do to interpret the response and understand it in context?  

To each of the questions the answer lies in a number of factors.

    Use priorities identified from scoping work and desk study to inform the priorities in public engagement activities
    Prepare the engagement activity in such a way that feedback can be related to relevant secondary data material
    Providing sufficient guidance and structure to each of the responses in order to reference them in respect to meaningful things, such as a theme or a location.
    Use methods that allow to prioritise local concerns with the public, ideally by sharing responses back publicly for others to review
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master planning

What is a health impact assessment? Why should you care?

PlaceChangers is currently working on a product that helps introduce awareness for health outcomes at various stages of the master planning and design process for new major developments (here's the press release). In late June, we held discovery workshops with planners from local councils and urban designers from private practices distributed in various parts of England. This article reflects on the role of health impact assessments in new development planning from the standpoint of improved urban design based on our discovery work thus far. 

The social distancing measures during the COVID-19 crises demonstrate the importance of activity-friendly neighbourhoods that offer as many walkable features as possible. An active built environment with short distances to essential services and natural spaces supports wellbeing by increasing physical activity by up to 32-59%. The King's Fund estimated that every pound spent on features that promote walking and cycling has a long-term return of £50 and £168, for example, through reductions on the burden on health services. 

The link of public health and the built environment is deep and complex, but in recent years a growing body of evidence has been assembled, especially on the value of green spaces. Studies have shown that there is a significant difference in the mental state between those who spend 120 min in green space and those who don’t. Seen over the long-term, easy and regular access to good-quality greenspace has a strong positive impact on individuals’ wellbeing. 

One of the most profound statistics of the impact was done by Mitchel and Propham, who studied communities in areas of different levels of deprivation while also considering their respective access to green space locally. The chart below shows the rate of mortality across individuals from different backgrounds came closer where significant greenspace was present. In other words, individuals in deprived neighbourhoods gained in particular from green space; which also suggests a role of greener environments in addressing health inequalities.

Research by Mitchell and Popham

Source: PHE

Health impact assessment

Health Impact Assessments are the main tool for appraising a new development for potential health impacts on the neighbouring population. In the U.K., Wales Health Impact Assessment Support Unit (WHIASU), funded by the Wales Government has been leading in the adoption of Health Impact Assessments in development planning.

At present they are not yet very common in England. Only 30% of councils in one way or another perform or require health impact assessments. In some cases, local authorities require them from the applicant for major applications, which is for example the case in most boroughs of London (e.g. Camden requires a rapid assessment for developments of more than 10 homes or 1000m2; above 99 homes or 9,999m2 floor development area a comprehensive assessment is required - Link) or Essex (more than 50 homes or 1000m2 require a rapid impact assessment - Link).  However, even if not directly implemented by architects or required for submission, aspects of health appraisals can be a part of a baseline analysis for a design and access statement. With the recent attention to the role of our immediate surroundings to personal health, we expect that HIAs will become a more prominent part of the development approval process for new developments.

HIAs provide a framework that captures essential dimensions of urban features thought of being conducive to support health outcomes. There are three primary formats of Health Impact Assessment that can be applied to new development projects (see table below). The format of the health impact assessment depends on the significance of the project, the sensitivity of the site context, and the purpose of the assessment. 

  • Desktop appraisals can be done very quickly by reviewing a few key aspects of the site context and is a general part of any good site analysis. 
  • A ‘rapid’ assessment is often referenced by councils, especially in London, and is a signifier for an assessment that may be submitted with a planning application. This kind of assessment often follows a structured checklist to cross reference evidence. 
  • Lastly, a ‘full assessment’ may be a more substantial and very detailed assessment that will be a separate programme of work in itself. This will be a likely requirement for very substantial projects, such as those of national significance, but also substantial residential developments.

Health impacts can also be evaluated at different timing in the life cycle of a design process and approached with a different style: The timing of the impact assessment can be prospective (before project start), concurrent (while the design project unfolds), or after (as a retrospective). In general, a prospective assessment is better than a retrospective as it ensures that the design direction has been influenced by an awareness for health outcomes in the first place.

Type of assessment

Time required



Hours to days

    Limited to no stakeholder engagement
  • Review of readily accessible data
  • Reference to local policies


Days to weeks

  • Steering group and more extensive stakeholder engagement
  • Literature review or study to evidence link between built environment and health
  • Approach is a bit more formalised through checklist templates



  • Extensive stakeholder engagement, e.g. including community needs appraisals (for example with asset based approaches)
  • Dedicated project team and steering group
  • Approach more taylored to the unique requirements sufaced in the early scoping activity 

Rapid health impact assessment for master planned and major developments

Health Impact Assessments are about improving the design and making it sensitive to the site context, especially health impacts. No doubt, there are many other frameworks in existence to support design quality, each with respective focus. While there are overlaps between the criteria in those frameworks, thus far there is no one standard that is particularly focused on health outcomes. Even amongst frameworks for health impacts there are obvious variations. At present, architects/town planners perform site analysis manually using local data and various checklists. 

For example, we reviewed the overlaps and synergies between HIA frameworks used in London and Essex.  The NHS HUDU’s Rapid Health Impact Assessment as used in London is perhaps amongst the better known ones, and it is consistently required by borough councils in London. It has also been used to inspire adaptations, such as the HIA for Essex, which is also used as part of the Livewell developer accreditation scheme developed by Chelmsford Council. 

Essex HIA

London HIA

Major themes

10 dimensions

11 dimensions



51 dimensions

Rapid assessment tools come in the format of a checklist. An overview of dimensions is provided below with a mapping according to the wording in the criteria of the respective section. In both cases the architect used the framework criteria to comment on the likely health impacts. For each criteria, the impact on health outcomes would be described as positive, neutral or negative. There is also a requirement to describe the likely length of that impact and ideally to which population group it applies. 


Essex HIA

London HIA


 Design of homes and neighbourhoods

 Housing design and affordability


 Active environments and active design principle application

 Accessibility and active travel


Access to open, green and blue space

Access to open space and nature


Access to healthcare infrastructure

Access to health and social care services and other social infrastructure


Supporting communities and lifetime neighbourhoods

Air quality, noise and neighbourhood


(picked up in ‘Design of homes and neighbourhoods’)

Crime reduction and community safety


Access to healthier food environments

Access to healthy food


Education, employment and skills

Enter your text here...


(picked up in ‘Design of homes and neighbourhoods’)

Social cohesion and inclusive design


(picked up in ‘environmental sustainability’)

Minimising the use of resources


Environmental sustainability

Climate change

Barriers to using health impact assessments

Generally speaking, the impact assessment requires the cross referencing of substantive evidence both about the population and also the development, the task of completing a HIA can therefore appear daunting, especially for any architect who might not have completed it before. A ‘rapid’ assessment can in practice take a number of days or a couple of weeks to complete. Perhaps most problematic are the sources of funding, as project owners typically are averse to spending substantial funds on baseline assessments, if it is not required by the local authority. 

Practitioners doing the assessment may face further challenges that can make an impact assessment less meaningful for considering health outcomes.

Firstly, health outcome considerations may be critiqued as “wishy washy”, especially if the link between the health outcomes and specific built environment features is not clearly backed by evidence that demonstrates the link. Despite the abundance of evidence and data on public health (the best source for data in England is the PHE’s fingertips data tool — Link), it remains notoriously difficult to make clear links between health outcomes and built features, especially in complex urban environments, where many relationships are at play.

And then there are simple pragmatic issues, for instance the lack of time for analysis and understanding all the details in the context of the locality. Performing a baseline analysis often relies on conversations with local experts, but a direct involvement of residents is often unfeasible, given the time involved. Health practitioners may not be seen easily to access. Therefore, gathering in-depth insight on a locale’s community assets can be tricky -- “you need to be pointed in the right direction”, which is often by the client.

Clear guidance by local authorities on health outcomes remains rare as there is no commonly agreed position as to the requirements for Health Impact Assessments across the UK; a consistent nationally agreed standard for health impact assessments is lacking. In consequence, understanding in practice remains low; and there is a clear case for data overload, especially when trying to find meaningful evidence that demonstrates specific health deficits in a locality and how to address them. 

Removing barriers to using health impact assessments

We are working towards addressing the above challenges to help architects and developers make wider use of health impact assessments in their work. Lack in time and money presently is a key barrier, which we aim to address. Our actions tap into general suggestions for improvement in practice, for example, including the following suggestions.

    Data and evidence for developers. The data that drives evidence on health outcomes needs to be more contextual, and ideally meaningful. Over time, we need to link evidence of outcomes seen to the changes we make in the built environment. This is a long process and can not be evidenced rapidly. We are working to map the evidence for the outcomes those interventions have on different population groups and their health outcomes. 
    Work towards complimentary frameworks. PHE leads this work to mainstream health impact assessments and to push for a few well recognised frameworks to avoid an abundance of checklists, or insular approach where everybody creates their own, as consistency is key. 
    Suitable digital tools to support health outcomes. Give local councils, architects, and developers easy to use tools to pro- actively appraise development proposals for health outcomes and consider the needs of the local community given the existing neighbourhood features and public health characteristics. We are working to link built environment and health outcome data so as to create better baseline analysis and ultimately higher quality designs.
    Aiding training and readiness in local councils. This will also help local authorities, who’ll start to look more closely at what outcomes are needed and wanted and how they could be described with greater clarity. For instance, few local authorities presently take health outcomes into consideration in their planning processes. Without clear targets, many councils will find it impossible to measure progress.

As we learn from the pandemic, health outcomes also are supported by good development planning that considered design responses appropriate to local context. We find it is often through the smaller tweaks and greater collaboration through which architects can unlock opportunities in a master planning project. Seen over the long-term, the more developers can comfortably enable third parties to shape site layouts at earlier design stages, the better for all involved. Opportunities include improved health outcomes for residents both on-site and around, greater quality designs that sell more easily, and are more readily accepted locally. 

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PlaceChangers wins grant funding to incorporate health outcomes in master planning

PlaceChangers has won an innovation grant from InnovateUK, the UK’s innovation agency, to tackle the disconnect between built environment outcomes and public health. The project aims to support the quality of development proposals by considering local needs, especially health outcomes by shaping site layouts, one of the key design choices in any new development. 

Globally, the COVID-19 crisis highlighted the importance of walkable access to green spaces and communal facilities for promoting public health and individual wellbeing. Especially access to green space is an important equalizer in the health difference between poorer and more affluent households. The King's Fund estimates that every pound spent on features that promote walking and cycling generates a long-term return of £50 and £168 respectively from benefits unlocked through greater quality of life of residents. 

Over the coming months, PlaceChangers will bring together architects, planners, developers and local government to develop an online appraisal tool for architects that makes it easier to consider health outcomes at an early design stage. Drawing on site context data and input from residents, the deliverable will be an online product that provides crucial feedback on health outcomes and that will help to support designs that respond to local contexts. 

Sebastian Weise, Founder at PlaceChangers, said: 


“PlaceChangers, at the core, is about collaborative solutions that improve the built environment for all. This funding comes at a significant time during the COVID-19 crisis and will enable the company to tackle the important global issue of health inequalities that are often exacerbated and structured by the fabric of the built environment, while building an exciting new product. We are looking forward to working with a wide range of stakeholders.”

Alex Moon, incoming CTO at PlaceChangers, said: 


“I'm proud to be joining Sebastian Weise, an authority on engagement in the built environment in the UK, on PlaceChangers to build a product that can create real change for good for us all. COVID19 has brought to the foreground, for many people, the limitations public spaces impose on their ability to live well. We're looking at the chance now, not just to rebuild, but to build something better.”

Michael Chang is an advisor to the project. Trained as a town planner, Michael Chang is a subject matter expert on public health and the built environment. He works for Public Health England and is co-founder of the Health and Wellbeing in Planning Network. Previously he led the Town and Country Planning Association’s efforts to connect health with planning. Michael Chang added: 


“Evidence shows that it pays off to invest in healthy places. I hope the project can progress the state of the practice in integrating health outcomes into the planning and development process.”

The grant comes from a £211 million government support package to drive forward cutting-edge business-led innovation and is part of a wider investment package of £1.25 billion for innovative UK businesses, announced by the Chancellor on 20 April 2020.

Organisations mentioned

PlaceChangers is a startup focused on digital solutions for collaboration and engagement in development and regeneration projects. The PlaceChangers platform helps architects, urban planners, and developers to understand the context of new development proposals through collaboration and intelligent handling of data. 

InnovateUK is the UK government’s innovation agency. Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. We connect businesses to the partners, customers and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services and business growth. We fund business and research collaborations to accelerate innovation and drive business investment into R&D. 

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Getting ready to engage online – tools and considerations

The Covid-19 crisis has undoubtedly had a substantial impact on society and the economy. The need to stay at home and practice social distancing has affected our family and workplaces. Among the many implications, it meant that local authorities and companies had to adapt to working online rapidly while avoiding non-essential travel, site visits, and other activities that typically relied on face-to-face meetings, including public engagement. 

For the construction sector, some of the changes in place now will likely stay for the long-term. For organisations in the sector, this means really to adopt online collaboration tools and digitise the various processes that have not been touched or drastically rethought for years. 

Public engagement, one of the critical areas for planning projects has been particularly under strain. Typically, public participation has been conducted face-to-face to ensure that there is an opportunity to shape new proposals to the needs of the locality and with the input of local stakeholders who live there. Covid-19 crisis has added to the usual challenges of public engagement by making it even harder to have those conversations in public meetings. 

Therefore the key question is: how can you get ready to engage online and what online engagement tools can help?

What is already happening in the industry?

There have been some very productive changes and developments as a result of social distancing measures, as major consultancies have started to review their setup of consultation tools. For instance, some consultancies now offer a whole package of online consultation tools. With exciting developments in the creation of virtual consultation rooms to accompany the standard methods of engaging with the public online, such as surveys. 

Furthermore, the public sector has adapted since the outbreak of Covid-19. The government now allows for the publication of notices for new developments via social media, instead of more traditional media, such as newspapers. In response, local planning committees have moved to video conferencing and in some cases have reached new audiences. 

However, there remain significant challenges in adapting to engagement online, as many Statements of Community Involvement (that define expectations to engage) lack mention of suitable online engagement formats. Thus, the standard method of online engagement used by the private sector does not go beyond a simple online form and website. 

So how can you get ready to engage online? 

Here are a few pointers that are essential in evaluating the approach to engage online and the kinds of tools to use: 

  • Work backwards from your purpose: What is your project about and where is input useful and needed? What are your key milestones where external input is valued? As before, clarify the milestones and timings and note them down in a document. 

  • Based on your needs for feedback how deep does your engagement need to be? Below are various formats of engagement according to the reach and depth of engagement. “Open ended” refers to engagement to establish principles; “closed ended” refers to feedback on set options for smaller changes.


Open ended (earlier stages)

Closed ended (later stages)

Narrow reach (small audience)

Video calls with invited audience for remote workshops (for example Zoom, offers breakout rooms)

Collaborative boards like or Google Docs draw to review and discuss plans

Video calls with defined consultees for Q&A sessions

Various small group voting tools, like Slido, are suitable for feedback

Wider reach (large audience)

Project website

Participatory maps that enable to do a community appraisal of a local area early with a large audience

Again, project website

A  virtual consultation room to replace the experience of a public exhibition

Interactive Site Maps for feedback on proposal and direct feedback

Interactive virtual walking tours using 360 photo images 

Most importantly, recognising if the tool fits the purpose will be achieved by evaluating which online tools are suitable to you. There are some important aspects to consider:

    How user friendly is the tool for members of the public? This is both about the interface and also the way plans are presented.
    Does the tool handle contacts in GDPR compliant manner? Especially important for projects that are large and longer-term where follow-up is provided.
    What flexibility is there for your team to collaborate and share the load? Can you have several administrators and can other consortium members log in or see the content?
    How quick and easy can you collate your responses and make them useful for the project? Is there a simple analytics dashboard with flexible export options?
    Does the online tool easily integrate with important inhouse software? This might be important to work more effectively and ensure data gets in and out easily.
    Does the online tool play well with your website and branding? This is key to provide a consistent experience to respondents.
    How often do you engage? Do you have a great variety of projects that always require a bespoke approach; or do you have similar projects that benefit from a streamlined approach. 

The abundance of free and readily-tools online for creating websites, polls, shared boards, or even virtual meetings provides a great starting point. 

Beyond this, bespoke consultation platforms that are designed to close the gap between project owners and members of the public can make a huge difference in the time saved arranging, conducting, and interpreting public engagement. They combine the necessary functionalities, such as presentation of the proposal, contact and response handling, as well as reporting; while at the same time reducing friction for members of the public who want to respond.


The Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity for developers, architects, and planners to review the tools that are used in-house and to define a process that works for them. However, we suggest this is also a good opportunity to consider new tools beyond simple feedback forms embedded in websites, or even in combination with length PDF documents.

While we live in a crisis that requires a significant change in practice, there are also many free and increasingly purpose-built tools that can assist in moving engagement and consultations online. Many tools can be combined in an engagement programme to either enable different kinds of feedback and to cater to the needs of different audiences that you like to engage with.


Interested in a meeting to review your setup?

Set up an online meeting with our customer success team

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master planning

The RIBA 2020 Plan of Work and its effect on Public Engagement


This article provides you with an insight into how the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) new 2020 Plan of Work may impact the design process amongst various stakeholders external to the project team, including the local community and residents, throughout the design stages for a new development, master plans, and placemaking projects.


The RIBA Plan of Work consists of recommendations to guide project teams (client, design, construction) through the principal works delivered at each stage. The framework was first introduced in 1964 in the UK as a project-agnostic process map of best practice for project teams involved in the production of a building project (architects, surveyors, engineers, clerk of works, planning officers, etc.). It presents an integrated plan for the project teams to acknowledge the heuristic behaviour of the project and the expectation of tasks to be completed through the process.

The recent decade has seen a number of significant changes influencing architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, which required an update to the RIBA Plan of Work. Since its conception, there has been a substantial shift in the future goals for development projects to respond to a greater focus on sustainability and responsibility. Changes in planning legislation introduced greater focus on accountability towards stakeholders of the built environment throughout the design process. In addition, the reformation of planning regulations in England and Wales towards greater involvement of stakeholders also raises questions for architects how best to involve stakeholders in the shaping of new developments. And many architecture firms have moved to adopt digital tools to support design collaboration to achieve better decision making in areas of procurement, design and construction. This has encouraged new industry standards which has been reflected in the Government’s Industrial Strategy 2016-20, with an emphasis in the integration of techniques such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), handling of information requirements, and Government-recommended standards for soft landings.

The diversity of development projects in the United Kingdom will always vary from project to project, which naturally makes it more challenging to provide a common set of guidelines that reflects all eventualities. To tackle this, the 2020 RIBA Plan of Work now includes various project strategies that present project teams fitting goals and advice for their specific built environment project. The key core strategies of relevance to stakeholder engagement are the Inclusive Design Strategy, the Planning Strategy, and the Plan for Use strategy. Other strategies cover Conservation, Fire Safety, Health and Safety, Procurement, and Sustainability. 

This blog will review guidance in the Plan of Work that are likely to impact stakeholder engagement. Therefore, this will focus on the stages of design development, that being strategic definition (RIBA Stage 0), preparation and briefing (RIBA Stage 1), concept design (RIBA Stage 2), and spatial coordination (RIBA Stage 3). Specifically, this article looks at the focus on 'planning for purpose' during design development, the identification and involvement of project stakeholders, the increasing emphasis of Inclusive Design.

Planning strategy

"Good planning is inseparable from good design and vice versa. Assessing planning issues should not be left to Stage 3 but be evaluated from the outset of every commission. For example, will the Client Requirements be acceptable under planning policy? If not, there is no value in developing design solutions for a proposal that is unlikely to gain consent. ” RIBA Plan of Work (P.34) 

The architecture, engineering and construction industry has matured alongside the reformation of the planning regulations. In England and Wales, for instance, the National Planning Policy Framework of the last decade has emphasised on early, proportionate, and effective engagement between plan makers and communities. Instruments such as the Community Infrastructure Levy promise greater benefits for local communities from new development. The recently published 2020 RIBA Plan of Work reflects the last decade’s shift towards accountability and a tighter commitment to the planning process to avoid disruptions. 

An illustration of this is the development of planning for purpose. The development of plan-making within the National Planning Policy Framework has developed to integrate a social objective as part of its move towards sustainable development. Plans and new development are seen as more effective when shaped early with proportionate and effective engagement between plan makers and communities, local organizations and infrastructure providers.

Undertaking community engagement is generally good practice, but not necessarily always legally required. Read our article to understand when you are legally obliged to submit a Statement of Community Involvement with your application. 

The RIBA Plan of Work now presents a focus on project teams reviewing past feedback from planning history and being able to understand the context of the area to plan the necessary expertise needed within the design stages of the project. Complying with more reflective design procedures considers more stakeholders who might benefit from the changes to the built environment. It presents more challenges, but it provides a strategy which would affect the longevity of the project.

Unlike that of the 2013 Plan of Work – the development stages that include planning now presents greater detail of what should be expected from clients, designers, and project leads in the effect of planning. The RIBA Plan of Work makes the following recommendation in order to approach planning with a purpose:

Stage 0 — Strategic Definition 

    Review feedback from previous planning history (i.e. any previous applications, refusals and approvals) 
  • Identify the planning policy context, site designations, site history, an existing building’s listed or scheduled status and related Project Risks 
  • Undertake a strategic planning appraisal of the site and its immediate and wider context
  • Define whether any specialist planning expertise is needed in the client team to provide strategic advice on planning considerations. 

Stage 1 — Preparation and Briefing 

    Source pre-design planning advice to identify local planning policy related Project Risks to be considered in Feasibility Studies.
    ​Confirm the requirement for, and scope of, an Environmental Impact Assessment, listed building consent, required consent formats (outline or full), and appropriateness of a planning performance agreement.
    Use feasibility studies to test the Project Brief against the planning constraints of the site and to verify that quality aspirations can be achieved Undertake a Site Appraisal (urban design analysis or character appraisal as appropriate). 
    Planning: Develop a planning brief incorporating planning policy principles, the planning strategy, and Project Stakeholder consultation methodology, to inform the Project Brief. 
  • Identify planning expertise required (e.g. planning consultant, landscape architect, ecologist, archaeologist, transport.

Stage 2 — Concept Design 

    Planning: Obtain pre-application Planning Advice on the suitability of the initial proposal from a planning adviser or the relevant planning department.
    Consult Project Stakeholders and use Design
  • Reviews (as appropriate to the scale, complexity and sensitivity of the project) to seek comments on the Architectural Concept proposals, including the impacts on immediate neighbours, the local context and environment.
  • Iterate the Architectural Concept proposals to accommodate inputs from specialist consultants (e.g. transport/highways consultant, ecologist, archaeologist).
  • Draft a design and access statement and assess possible section 106 contributions and community infrastructure levy requirements.
  • Option: Submit an outline Planning Application to establish whether the scale and nature of the proposed development would be acceptable to the local planning authority before a fully detailed proposal is put forward 

Stage 3 — Spatial Coordination 

    Planning Undertake a Building Regulations review of the Spatially Coordinated Design before submitting a Planning Application.
  • Undertake Design Studies to test in more detail the impacts of the proposals on immediate neighbours, the local context and environment - informed by specialist consultants as required (e.g. transport/highways consultant, ecologist, archaeologist).
    Integrate pre-application Planning Advice into a Spatially Coordinated design aligned to other Project Strategies, Project Stakeholder consultation Feedback and information produced by specialist consultants. Prepare the environmental impact assessment, heritage statement, design and access statement (if required) and supporting planning documents.
    Establish likely Planning Conditions, including pre-commencement and post completion operational Planning Conditions, and confirm section 106 contributions and community infrastructure levy requirements with planning consent.
    Submit the Planning Application once the design is Spatially Coordinated sufficiently for development, with only minor iterations required once planning consent has been obtained. 

Identifying project stakeholders

Success of a project can be ensured through the cohesion of the client team, design team, and construction team; however, the 2020 RIBA Plan of Work also takes greater recognition that project stakeholders are also comprised of important external stakeholders, such as planning departments, building control teams, utilities companies, community groups, environmental bodies, specialist interest groups, insurance and warranty providers. While usually there are no contractual agreements with any of those external stakeholders; project managers are advised to proactively manage and consider the input and involvement of these groups early on.  

In response to the Grenfell Disaster, there has been an increasing emphasis in recognizing these projects stakeholders with the architecture, engineering and construction industry procedure having recently been scrutinized. Various main players of the industry (architects, construction, developers, etc) have been criticised for how they have approached areas of the project's development and handoff. This has created greater focus on the industry’s responsibility towards community stakeholders. Reflection on the Grenfell Disaster and its national impact has made the industry think about the later users of the built environment, but also greater input and involvement of external stakeholders in the design process for new development. The Hackett Report, or the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety final report presents the various consequences that came from ignorance, indifference, lack of clarity of roles and inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools. Partially the report presents a focus on the roles and responsibilities of those procuring, designing, constructing and maintaining buildings towards building users are unclear and the voices of residents often going unheard.

The Plan of Work now takes greater account of the changing values within the architecture, engineering and construction industry especially with the developing insight and processes to support soft landings and a better hand over to future building users. This has been reflected in the Plan of Work with the sixth stage no longer stating the handover with the ‘close out’ and collecting feedback from building users earlier and systematically before a formal post occupancy evaluation.

To find out how to embedd engagement activities aligned with your design process, have a look at this article here: Two engagement strategies for your next residential master plan

Inclusive Design

The RIBA Plan of Work advises project managers to identify stakeholders external to the project team early within the project to open opportunities to share ideas with regard to access and design. Specifically, project managers who focus on inclusive design as a core strategy will present various stakeholders not usually involved in design more significant in the design process. A design process is inclusive when the design objectives are optimized for a specific user with specific needs. The Inclusive Design Strategy focuses on accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities, which is a firm policy of Government. It also reflects the cultural zeitgeist as this policy reflects the specific aspirations and expectations of the general public. 

The RIBA Plan of Work Inclusive Design Strategy focuses upon the client team ensuring they have adequate resources allocated to develop a design which corresponds to the needs of future building users that a building might have throughout its lifespan, especially those with specific access and usage requirements. This is reflected in its attention towards planning legislation, policy and procedure and the importance of understanding how complex the consideration of user needs can be as part of the design process. 

Focus on using the Inclusive Design Strategy is presented as:


Stage 0 — Strategic Definition 

    Identify project outcomes and client requirements in relation to inclusive design.
    Review feedback from previous projects.
    Define whether any specialist inclusive design expertise is needed in the client team.

Stage 1 — Preparation and Briefing 

    Identify inclusive design needs from project
    Stakeholders, consultation groups, site audits, design standards and obligations from legislation and incorporate these into the Project Brief.
    Identify whether specialist inclusive design expertise is required in the design team, include it within the
    Responsibility matrix and appoint consultants.
    Source Site Information including site surveys relevant to inclusive design (e.g. topography, historic building).
    Use feasibility studies to verify that the inclusive design needs can be accommodated on the site within the project budget. 

Stage 2 — Concept Design 

    Develop the inclusive design concept and review against the project brief, input from specialist consultants, project stakeholder consultation feedback and local planning authority accessibility needs. 
    Incorporate the inclusive design concept into the architectural concept and outline specification, and strategic engineering requirements. 
    Include a record of key inclusive design decisions in the Stage Report.

Stage 3 — Spatial Coordination 

    Inclusive design: Undertake a review of Part M of the Building Regulations and the Equality Act. 
    Undertake design studies and engineering analysis to test and develop the inclusive design requirements in more detail with input from project 
    Stakeholders (e.g. end users and access consultants):
    Integrate inclusive design considerations into a Spatially Coordinated design aligned to stakeholder consultation feedback.
    Identify and record any project risks to inclusive design and mitigate any deviation from the Inclusive design strategy for inclusion in the stage report. Prepare and submit the design and access statement as part of the planning application at the end of Stage 3. 


The updates made to the 2020 version of the RIBA Plan of Work reflect changes within the expectations of the architecture, engineering and construction industry that have arisen in the last seven years since it was last updated. The updates surround project strategies such as planning, planning for use, and inclusive Design. This is of course a neutral tool designed by RIBA to aid the project’s teams (developers, architects, and clients) through the building lifecycle.

In the 2020 Plan of Work, project stakeholders are included as a significant aspect of the project’s development. Recent examples of the risks of reduced scrutiny of proposals also by end users in inclusive design and planning support the need for greater awareness for the various ways to consult with external project stakeholders and communities, and to see them as contributors in the design process prior to any technical development. Hence there’s greater need to develop suitable means for external project stakeholders to be broad into the design process in a manner that is productive to design development.

Interested to layer on meaningful online engagement campaigns to a project of your own?  

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master planning

Two engagement strategies for your next residential master-plan