Tag Archive: #consultation #planning #development #public consultation #community engagement #public participation #sci

  1. Reporting negative responses to a consultation

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    Well run campaigns in opposition to a future development, particularly petitions, can cause considerable harm to reputation.  But fortunately planning bodies acknowledge that consultation is not a vote and that decisions should not be based solely on numbers.

    And the historic emphasis on the statistical analysis of responses has changed with the advent of various forms of participatory planning, with feedback from planning workshops – at which individuals have invested considerable hours, if not days – being regarded as of greater significance than some unidentifiable signatures on a scrap of paper.

    At the very start of the consultation process the consultor should decide whether to collate responses per person or per issue. The latter is used most frequently because it creates a clear picture of the issues arising from the consultation.  And although numbers should be attributed to comments made, analysis by issue ensures that a comment made repeatedly will only be listed once, thus giving a petition or automatically generated email as much prominence as a single individual response.  Take the example of an online forum in which local residents are invited to put forward views about public art and design at a new shopping centre.  The discussion is dominated by members of an anti-development pressure group who join the discussion stating that the developer is driven solely by profit and has no genuine interest in the local community.  This single viewpoint would carry little weight in the final analysis: the issue is based on misinformation and potentially defamatory (and therefore could be removed for legal reasons), it does not respond to either the specific question or the remit of the consultation, and those responding may not be local residents.  The only meaningful information that this produces for the purposes of the consultation report, and therefore the planning application, is that landscaping and public art at the new development are not of particular concern to local residents.

    Negative views are often either individually motivated or promoted by an external group with a specific cause. Frequently their views do not represent those of the wider community and this must be reflected in the reporting.  Similarly the consultation report need only include material planning considerations.  ‘It will spoil my view’, ‘We don’t want more affordable housing’ and ‘The developer is just in it to make a profit’ are not material planning considerations.

    The consultation report should also take into account representation.  If only 20 people respond to a consultation and are 100% opposed to the proposals, is this a negative outcome?  If 500 people were contacted and given ample opportunity to respond it may be concluded that the proposal is of little concern to the majority of the community.  The consultation report should consider the view in the context of the wider community and determine whether the low response was due to lack of awareness or lack of concern.  If the applicant can demonstrate that all residents were given substantial opportunity to comment it could be deduced that those who chose not to respond did so because they were accepting of the proposals.

    Analysis can be carried out in such a way that opinion from national pressure groups is recognised as such and priority is given to views from local residents.  Thus, the most harm caused by national groups is a negative impact on their reputation which may lead to negative comments from within the community.

    Development teams should not be overly concerned about the odd negative comment, particularly those which are based on misunderstanding and can be explained in the consultation report.  Decision-making bodies understand that negative sentiment is far more likely to reach their desks than positive sentiment.  An important consideration as far as the applicant is concerned is the impact on reputation:  the fact that a single negative statement, albeit inaccurate, can fuel fear and mistrust more widely.  Monitoring, and responding where necessary with credible information and data, is vital to prevent rumour spreading.  Meetings with groups and individuals is often the best course of action, and should groups refuse to meet, the consultation report should make this clear.

    The purpose of a good public consultation is not to unearth positive attitudes towards a proposal, but to gain maximum local involvement and hear all points of view.  Negative opinion is therefore inevitable:  in fact a public consultation which reveals 100% in favour of a scheme is likely to be unconvincing.


    Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge.  It is available online through Routledge, Amazon and other bookshops.

  2. Professionalising Consultation in Planning

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    The law surrounding statutory consultation is extensive.

    And yet when developers consult on planning applications, there is a stark absence of official guidance, regulation and case law. Why, in a discipline led by professionals – chartered surveyors, planning consultants and lawyers – is the approach to consultation so lacking in professional rigour?  Because in most cases, there is no statutory requirement for consultation and therefore no legal framework.

    True, there is law relating to consultation on Local Plans, Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPS), Neighbourhood Planning and on that carried out by local authorities prior to determining planning consent.  But for many new schemes there is no duty to consult under English law.

    The situation might have been very different.  The 2010 Localism Bill introduced a requirement for developers to consult communities before submitting planning applications.  But this was omitted from the resulting Localism Act except in the case of wind turbines.  Developer engagement is instead determined by the relevant planning authority, and local authorities’ inclination towards consultation varies considerably.

    The advantages of developer consultation are numerous.  Consultation can deliver a real insight into a local area, create enduring beneficial relationships and enable an early understanding of any issues or misunderstandings which may stand in the way of planning success, thus save time and money.

    I recently attended tCI’s The Law of Consultation conference.  As a consultation consultant working with developers and planners, I was immediately struck by the extent to which regulations and case law impacts on so many consultations, but not on mine.  Rather than feel relieved to be free of such restraints, I saw how guidelines and past cases drive up standards in consultation in a way which is lacking in my industry.

    There are some excellent examples of best practice consultation in planning, but a lack of consistency:  enlightened developers devise consultations which are open, transparent, accessible and engaging, but too much engagement is minimal.  While enough to qualify for planning consent, ‘consultations’ are invariably rife with leading questions, lacking in information and used solely to justify a foregone decision.  Sadly it is this which is reported in the local media, tarnishing the reputation of both planning and consultation.

    The Government has recently consulted on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.  The Consultation Institute, of which I am an Associate, responding requesting a tightening up of legislation surrounding planning and development.  I see this as necessary to reduce the current confusion over obligations, to put in place some consistency and in doing so, to drive up standards in consultation.

    Prior to any legislative changes taking place, for anyone responsible for community engagement on behalf of developers, I would thoroughly recommend The Consultation Institute’s Consultation Law training:  far from being irrelevant it is an excellent means of gaining understanding best practice across a variety of sectors which can have enormous benefit on pre-planning consultations.

    Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge.  It is available online through Routledge, Amazon and other bookshops.

  3. Working with the Consultation Institute

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    I am delighted to have been asked to become an Associate of The Consultation Institute (tCI), joining and network of consultants who have considerable expertise in consultation and public engagement.

    The Consultation Institute fulfils the important role of promoting high-quality public and stakeholder consultation in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Never was there as more important time for a rigorous approach to community engagement – witness the mess that the European referendum has created!

    As the housing crisis intensifies and the development of new homes and infrastructure increases in response, it is vital that developers and planners communicate effectively with local residents. But constructive communication is not copious communication:  in our extensively networked and 24/7 culture, ‘consultation fatigue’ is a real barrier to gaining a local insight into planning proposals and maintaining good relationships with local communities during construction.

    Today more than ever, consultation must be controlled and considered to be successful.

    As a member of tCI’s Planning Working Group I am looking forward to working directly with planners and developers to raise standards without raising costs; also involving planners and developers in the Institute’s Quality Assurance programme, developing best practice guides and contributing to training on innovation and creativity in consultation.

    Having recently written a book on the subject (Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide), I know that the development community is keen to engage with local residents in a way that is proportionate and appropriate.  I also know that there is a wealth of best practice and innovative methods of communication which could be shared more effectively, and I look forward to having a role in doing so.

  4. Online consultation:  a social media warning

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    As someone who believes strongly in online consultation, I work with social media on planning applications on a daily basis.  On the whole I think that social media offers some fantastic opportunities for promoting and extending the accessibility of a planning application.

    But I have to say, don’t be tempted to use social media just because it’s there.  Consider its original purpose and whether the specific tactic meets the aims and objectives of your consultation.  Facebook, for example, was designed as a means to communicate with friends, share photographs and videos and to arrange social activities.  It has the means of addressing some consultation objectives, but due to the inability to gain user data and therefore meaningful analysis, Facebook’s role as a consultation tactic is limited.

    Likewise, Twitter is a useful means of promoting a consultation but its 140 character limit restricts meaningful dialogue.

    Bear in mind that many people choose not to use social media, and those that do may not choose to use it to comment on a development proposal.  It should not be the sole means of online consultation.

    If you set up a social media profile, keep it active:  nothing communicates a reluctance to communicate more effectively than a dormant Twitter feed or Facebook page with unread Friend requests and posts.  Maintaining a social media presence is a time consuming process but can be helped by scheduling posts and setting up automatic monitoring, with results directed to a designated email account.

    Find out more about using social media in consultation on the ConsultOnline website.

    Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge.  It is available online through Routledge, Amazon and other bookshops.

  5. The Book Tour Goes to Belfast

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    On Friday I’ll be in Belfast presenting to a law firm and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action on the importance (and context, structure, issues and techniques) of consultation in planning.

    I’ll be covering some of the content of my book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide and Rhion Jones, Founder Director of The Consultation Institute, will speak on access to consultation, the rising expectations for community involvement, the concept of ‘NIMBYism’ and effective working between organisations and politicians.

    This is the first part of a series of presentations organised by The Consultation Institute which will be available to organisations throughout the UK.

    Please get in touch if this might be of interest.

    15 February 2018 – read a review of the presentation to NICVA.

  6. Monitoring, analysis and evaluation – three very separate components of a consultation

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    Monitoring, analysis and evaluation are all very important components of consultation and should not be confused.  The important difference is that monitoring occurs throughout the consultation.  Analysis, although it can be on-going, takes place (or is complete) at the end of the process.  Likewise although tactics can be evaluated while they are in progress, the consultation can only be fully evaluated when complete.



    Unlike analysis and evaluation, monitoring need not be a formal, systematic process.  Neither does monitoring need to be recorded.  It is simply the process by which consultation tactics are observed.  The benefits are two-fold:  to ensure that tactics are working effectively, and to enable the development team to take part in the dialogue as necessary.  While the former is a necessary feature of all good consultations, the extent to which the latter is carried out varies hugely.



    Analysis is the collection of data generated by the consultation – percentages from polls, comments from emails, reports from workshops – and the process of making sense of it. This is both simpler and more effective if the analysis of each tactic is planned in advance.  A so-called consultation tactic which does not produce data in a form that can be analysed is counter-productive to the consultation:  not only is it a waste of resources but if information is requested which does not then form a meaningful part of the analysis, trust may be destroyed.


    Data usually falls into one of two categories:  qualitative or quantitative.  Quantitative data can be measured by number.   Consequently, analysis tends to be relatively simple.  Typically quantitative data may comprise percentages (‘67% of those attending the exhibition supported the introduction of a new footbridge’), quantities (‘546 individuals supported the proposals’) or comparisons (‘Five out of seven members of the committee voted in favour of Design Option 2’).  The way to create a more meaningful picture is to cross-tabulate (‘Of the 546 individuals who supported the new footbridge, 87% were daily commuters’).  Likewise, quantitative data can be useful for comparison purposes (‘87% local residents supported the new footbridge following the announcement of Design Option 2; prior to this only 61% residents were favourable’) or showing changes in attitudes over time (‘Support for a new footbridge has increased in excess of 10% year on year for the past five years’).



    Evaluation is the process by which a consultation is reviewed.  Its dual purpose is to demonstrate that an effective consultation has been carried out, and to benefit future consultations.  The former gives credibility to the results and can also make sense of any inconsistencies.  For example, initial analysis might reveal that 85% local residents support the inclusion of an educational facility at a wind farm development but at a small meeting with local residents, only 10% indicated support for the facility.  Evaluation of the process would demonstrate that this particular meeting was instigated by the local ramblers group which adamantly opposed any development on the fields in question and thus although accurate, these results were the view of a minority group and, importantly, opposition to the wind farm in principle, rather than to the educational facility.


    Ideally evaluation is formative rather than summative:  making sense of the consultation throughout and making changes as necessary, rather than simply assessing it at the end of the process.  There is also an argument for evaluation to be carried out externally to allow for objectivity; although the counter-argument is that the process of evaluation is a useful learning experience for the team at the heart of the project.


    When planning a consultation, ensure that all three elements are present, but that they are clearly identified at specific steps in the process and as such can’t be confused.



    Penny Norton

    Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge.  It is available online through Routledge, Amazon and other bookshops.

  7. Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: launch event Tuesday 11 July

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    The CIPR is hosting an event to mark the publication of my book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide on Tuesday 11 July.

    The event will take the form of a panel discussion with myself, my co-author Martin Hughes, Kate Bailey of the Landscape Institute and Colin Haylock, Past President of the RTPI.

    It runs from 6-8pm at the CIPR headquarters, 52-53 Russell Square, London WC1B 4HP.

    Admission is free but online booking is required and spaces are limited.

    Hope to see lots of you there!

  8. Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: advance notification of publication

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    My book, Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide will be published by Routledge in July 2017.

    The twenty-first century has seen significant changes in consultation and community involvement in planning.

    Changes to the environment in which community engagement exists include an increased legal requirement to consult; a renewed focus on engagement through ‘Localism’ and other legislative measures; changes to the way in which we, as a society, define ourselves, and advances in technology which enable communities to organise, communicate and respond to development proposals quickly and effectively.

    The book assesses the impact of these changes and provides practical advice as to how professionals – property developers and planners, local authorities, the infrastructure and energy sectors – can run effective consultations today.

    It also embraces the opportunities posed by new methods of consultation.  A rise in participative initiatives provides effective, ‘two-way’ consultation and more meaningful, qualitative responses.  And as the revolution in online communication has resulted in the majority of development proposals (whether intended by the applicant or otherwise) having an online profile, it addresses the benefits of online consultation.

    The first section of the book (chapters 2-5) provides a context for community engagement today.  The second (chapters 6-13), by Martin Hughes, is a discursive view of the process of consultation within the planning systems and the third section (chapters 14-18) looks at the strategy and tactics of consultation.  Finally, chapters 19 and 20 address the continuing role of community involvement both during construction and thereafter. The full content can be viewed here.

    I am extremely grateful to a significant number of people who have provided insight through interviews, comment or case studies, resulting in a book which brings together some of the best practice within consultation, community relations and community involvement – from the first planning meeting through to construction and beyond.

    “This book is an excellent expose of the science and art of consultation and public involvement in the planning system, looking at how this influences the way development proposals are prepared, pursued and eventually determined.

    “I very much welcome this book in the way it assesses good and bad practice from across the country and fully expect it to become a source of guidance and support for all those who want to see an effective and successful planning regime.”

    Louise Brooke-Smith – Director, Brooke Smith Planning Consultants
    RICS President 2014-2105



    Please email me if you would like to receive advance notification of the book’s publication.