Main author

Boyer Planning
Last edited 19 May 2016

Consultation process



Engaging with the local community is of growing importance within the planning system, since the formation of the coalition government and the focus on the conservative principle of the Big Society. The coalition government have created the Localism Act which will make public consultation a statutory requirement for specific schemes of a certain size, or specific organisations, which will be determined through secondary legislation.

Notwithstanding the emerging statutory requirement to consult at the pre-application stage, consultation has been considered good practice for many years.

Consultation process.

Consultation can start at any point during a project, but starting some consultation at an early stage is usually beneficial. Early stage consultations are likely to focus on meetings with the local authority and parish or town council. Prior to lodging a planning application it will become statutory requirement to consult with the local community.

The consultation process can be a time-consuming exercise, and the initial reaction of consultees may be difficult to change, so the appointment of a dedicated consultation specialist may be advisable.

Who to consult

A list of statutory consultees is set out in statutes and summarised in the General Development Procedure Order. All local planning authorities will have a 'statement of community involvement' which will build upon this list and provide information about relevant local bodies within the administrative area. The statement of community involvement will often supplement the list with local bodies such as local civic organisations, resident associations or local businesses.

In addition to statutory consultees, it is important to consult more widely with non-statutory consultees. Non-statutory consultees could include local residents, town or parish councils, business improvement districts or local partnership organisations.

Requirements to consult

Chapter 4 of Part 6 of the Localism Act adds clauses to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which create a requirement to carry out pre-application consultation and for the response to this pre-application to be considered. The first clause allows a secondary legislation (in the form of a development order) to set out the size of development that triggers the requirement for the consultation, or the types of organisations that must consult. At present no development order has been created so there is no requirement to consult.

Although consulting is only now due to become a statutory requirement through secondary legislation and the Royal Assent of the Localism Act, it is not a new idea. The principles of participation in planning were outlined in the Report of the Committee on Public Participation in Planning (Skeffington Report) from 1969. Since the Skeffington Report, many administrations have advocated participation in planning.

Levels of consultation

The 1997 Department for Environment Transport and Regions publication 'Involving Communities in Urban and Rural Regeneration: A Guide for Practitioners' sets out five levels of consultation:

  • Information: people are told what is planned, or is to be done, but the information =-flow is largely one way.
  • Consultation: people are presented with a number of options, and comments are received. However, real decision making still rests with those consulting the community.
  • Deciding together: working with the community to identify what is needed and deciding in conjunction with the community (and other partners) what to do.
  • Acting together: different interest groups deciding what is needed and then forming a partnership to undertake the programme.
  • Supporting independent community initiatives: leaving local groups to formulate their own plans for an area.

The appropriate level of consultation will need to be decided based upon a number of factors, including the type of project, the statutory requirements and the level of interest from local groups. The emerging statutory process from the Localism Act renders ‘information’ a defunct method of consultation for schemes identified by the development order.

Types of consultation

There are a wide range of methods of consultation when promoting a planning application. The list below provides an indication of some of the consultation tools available, which can be used in isolation or pooled together as part of a larger consultation:

  • Printed media: setting out information for proposals in a written format, ranging from an invitation to an event to publications presenting information about a scheme and perhaps including questionnaires. The distribution area needs to be carefully considered to ensure enough residents are contacted about the proposals.
  • Meetings: with local residents or interest groups provides an opportunity to explain a scheme on a large-scale basis to a wide audience. However, sometimes larger meetings do not provide an opportunity for all residents to voice their concerns as there is limited time and often a small number of vocal residents or interested parties can cause the meeting to focus on limited issues. Smaller-scale meetings are a good method of consulting with specific organisations or residents on defined issues.
  • Exhibitions: Exhibitions provide an opportunity to engage directly with the public and explain the scheme on a one-to-one basis with interested residents. The extent of an exhibition will need to relate to the scale of development, larger schemes may need to run exhibitions for several days or even exhibit from several venues, or as touring roahshows.
  • Workshops: workshops allow a more hands-on approach for residents and local groups to engage with a proposed development. The format of workshops will vary depending upon the type of issues which are being addressed but they can range from a round table discussion of issues to a more design-focused charette event (an event, or sequence of events where groups are created to consider design options, and then each group presents its findings to the others) or a structured exercises such as Planning for Real which uses 3D models as tools for engaging local communities in developing proposals for improving their area, and Enquiry by Design which is a planning tool that brings together key stakeholders to collaborate on a vision for a new or revived community. This is developed through a workshop facilitated by the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment.

In addition to the more traditional forms of engagement it is also useful to engage with the community using online tools:

  • Digital media: Providing an online presence via a dedicated (or hosted) website allows people to review information about a proposed project. In addition to a more traditional website, the use of social media such as facebook, twitter or myspace can allow a different group of people to engage with proposals. However, the nature of social media allows both positive and negative comments to be shared via a website and the consultation can sometimes be out of the direct control of those promoting the site.

Maintaining good relations

During construction, it is important to maintain good relations that have been established by:

  • Minimising local nuisance or negative impacts arising from the project.
  • Maintaining good housekeeping on and off site.
  • Providing information boards and public viewing platforms.
  • Taking part in ‘Considerate Contractor’ schemes.
  • Undertaking awareness initiatives with local schools.
  • Attending local public meetings.
  • Offering site visits for the local community.
  • Taking part in local fund-raising activities.

This article was created by --Boyer Planning 13:25, 22 December 2011 (UTC).

Find out more

Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki

External references.