In mid-sized or larger development projects, there is often a question as to what level of local and community engagement to incorporate prior to submitting a planning application. It is ultimately down to the developer and their team to judge on the level of community engagement to incorporate. The decision will depend on the significance and the locality of the project.
Recent changes in planning policy and law in the UK place great emphasis on developers to engage with key stakeholders before submitting their planning application ('front-loading'). For example, the National Planning Policy Framework for England (2019) states the important role of pre-application engagement:
“Early engagement has significant potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning application system for all parties. Good quality pre-application discussion enables better coordination between public and private resources and improved outcomes for the community."
The statutory requirement for pre-planning engagement is contained within several Acts of Parliament and is applicable to developments that exceed certain size in terms of floor space delivered or area built on.
The favour towards early pre-application engagement is even stronger in other parts of the UK, such as Scotland, where pre-planning engagement is mandatory for all major projects.
Engagement requirements for developers in the UK
Here’s a quick summary of the varying requirements for community engagement and statutory consultation in England, Scotland, and Wales.
A duty to consult with the local public was initially introduced in the Planning Act (2008). For every planning application, developers need to supply a consultation report (see section 37.3.c of the act).
With the introduction of the Localism Act (2011), developers are strongly encouraged to consult key stakeholders and local communities before submitting applications that exceed certain size. Developers are asked to prepare a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) that demonstrates how they have taken account of the community’s responses within their application.
Further guidance in local authorities' Statements of Community Involvement
In most cases, developers should speak to the development control officer at the local authority for advice on local ‘appetite’ for pre-planning engagement and any relevant prior local knowledge.
English local authorities produce a detailed statement of community involvement (SCI) that often offer helpful guidelines regarding what developers are expected to do.
Increasingly, local authorities suggest engagement methods from developers that go beyond a single public exhibition. For example, for regeneration projects, Lancaster City Council’s Statement for Community Involvement mentions ‘Planning for Real’ workshops. ‘Planning for Real’ is a co-design method that involves model-making with key stakeholders to shape the planning application.
Often developers are also expected to explore novel and digital methods of engaging. Especially for informal engagement, online engagement tools and platforms provide a quick and low-cost means to gather feedback on proposals.