The Planning Act etc. (2006) Scotland provided a great opportunity to take pre-application engagement to a new level. Provisions were made in the Development Management (planning applications) section of the act to improve community engagement. Prior to submitting a planning application developers are now required to undertake engagement with affected communities that is both “proportionate and meaningful” as discussed in our Blog last week.

Unfortunately, all the evidence that we, at Facilitating Change, have seen is that this improvement has not materialised.

What does “proportionate and meaningful” mean?

The legislation seems to be fit for purpose as it provides local planning authorities the opportunity to ensure that developers’ pre-application consultation with communities is “proportionate and meaningful”. However, we have yet to see any evidence of clear guidance which defines what “proportionate and meaningful” means. What is clearly defined in the legislation is the minimum consultation on a major development should be. Our evidence suggests that in most cases the developer and planning authority agree to the minimum consultation, which is not the intention of the legislation.

The History

Prior to the legislation being implemented in 2008, we raised concerns about the capability and capacity of local planning authorities to be able to enact this area of the new legislation. Unfortunately, these concerns have not been addressed over the last 7 years and we are now in the current situation.

So, what are we to do about it? I am reminded of one of my favourite phrases, “if we always do what we’ve always done we’ll always get the same results”. What needs to change… Here’s my radical proposal.

The Radical Idea

One option would be to create a centralised specialist body to deal with the pre-application consultation with communities’ aspects of the Planning Act.

The body would be responsible for:

  • Developing best practice with different industry sectors to give clear guidance to ensure that consultation on major developments is proportionate and meaningful and consistently applied throughout Scotland. Best practice models have been developed by industry sectors in the past so it is evidently possible.
  • Dealing with all Proposal of Application Notices (PANs) from developers and respond appropriately. In addition, they would receive developers’ Pre-Application Community Consultation (PACC) reports when the consultation is complete and advise planning authorities whether they should accept them before registering the developer’s planning application.
  • Providing clear guidance on how the PACC report should be presented.

Previous advice focuses on numbers of consultation events that need to be delivered (usually only one!) but going forward there needs to be thought on the different ways a developer should engage with community, both in terms of quality and quantity of engagement. There are many examples of developers engaging positively with communities and the aim of the advice given by the body should be to ensure these best practices are enshrined in the future responses to PANs submitted by developers.

We suggest that the consultation on all National and Major developments achieves a certain agreed standard. PAS, a Scottish organisation that provides planning advice, has developed a framework for carrying out engagement on projects called SP=EED (Scottish Planning = Effective, Engagement and Delivery). We suggest that all National and Major developments achieve at least ‘Level 2’ of SP=EED (or a similar model) before submitting a planning application.

Who would be represented on this central body?

We suggest representatives from the following disciplines:

  • Planners
  • Developers
  • Community Council Representatives
  • Community Engagement Specialists

We also suggest that the scope of the body covers not only engagement on national and major planning applications but also those applications which are currently dealt with by other Government departments (such as the Energy Consents Unit and Marine Scotland).

We would really like to hear your thoughts and comments on this subject, please get in touch in the comments section, by email, social media or phone.

This is our second chance to make our public engagement work – Let’s not waste the opportunity!


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