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18 Jul
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Public Consultation: Striking the Right Balance

With the localism flag being raised by both national and local government, ensuring that a meaningful consultation with the local community has taken place prior to the submission of a planning application is critical.  However, in a country full of NIMBYs, how can public consultation be carried out effectively? 

We reflect on our past experience and set out some helpful tips in this blog.

What's the requirement?

The Localism Act 2011 sets out the following requirements for developers of large scale projects:

  • Developers must consult communities before submitting applications, having regard to any advice from their Local Planning Authority (LPA).
  • They must consider any responses they receive before they finalise their proposals.
  • When submitting their application they must account for how they have consulted the local community, what comments they have received, and how they have taken those comments into account, or not.

Pre-application public engagement is also promoted through the NPPF and is considered to represent ‘good planning’.

How can this be carried out?

The two most effective ways of undertaking public consultation are:

  • public exhibition – This is where the developer and project team meet members of the public at a local venue and discuss the proposals.  Attendees are then encouraged to complete a feedback form setting out their views.
  • mailshot – This is where neighbours are sent a letter informing them of the proposals and are invited to submit comments via telephone/email/post.  There may also be a consultation website set up where people can take a look at the proposals and submit a response online.

NJL's Top Tips

1) Get it done early

Consulting the community late in the day as a mere box ticking exercise won’t go down well with either the local residents or the LPA. You might also miss an opportunity to incorporate some great ideas from the people that know the area best!

2) Keep the Parish Council informed

Speak to the Parish Council early on and ensure that they are fully briefed on the proposals and invited to submit comments. As representatives of the local community you should keep them in the loop.

3) Know your stuff

Be prepared for every weird and wonderful question imaginable and ensure that you have a response prepared. Understanding the technical constraints to the site and the LPA’s planning policy is critical.  You’ll also need to have visited the site so that you can identify exactly what residents are talking about.  If you’re holding a public exhibition it can be helpful to have technical experts with you on the day, especially to address highways concerns as these tend to be the most common.

4) Stay calm

You’ll almost certainly have to talk to angry residents, either face to face or on the phone, so you need to stay calm and polite at all times. It’s harder for people to shout at you when you keep your cool.

5) Admit when you’re not sure

It’s far better to tell people you’ll undertake some research and get back to them than to make something up on the spot. If you do and you’re wrong this will almost certainly come back to haunt you and undermine your professional credentials.

6) Accept that you can’t please everybody

No matter how much you try to take on board the comments of the local community within a proposed development, you can be certain that not everyone will be happy. Keeping trees is always a good thing, right? Take a look at the note below that one developer found on a site they were working on!

 Public Consultation Angry Resident Image

There will always be people that are completely opposed to any development at a particular site.  While you should of course, record these votes, it’s much more constructive to try to work with people that have some good ideas and a wealth of local knowledge.

Are you looking to submit a planning application that requires public consultation?  If so NJL can help.  With years of experience at hosting public exhibitions and coordinating mailshots we can help you to strike the balance between getting the community involved and ensuring that your proposals are commercially sound. If you want more information get in touch today.

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