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Legislation and best practice

Public consultation has been catapulted into the limelight in recent months with a series of high-profile consultations which have caught the attention of the media. Large infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail and new nuclear power stations have all made the headlines, adding to the plethora of consultation in areas such as housing, wind farms and hospital services.

And the reason why – a range of important legislative changes have raised the status of public consultation from being something that was good to do, to something you must do.

Planning Act 2008

It all started with the Planning Act 2008 which contains important and fundamental legislation on consultation which you must consider when proposing development planning projects.

The Act highlights the benefits that consultation is intended to bring to those involved with a new planning proposal:

  • Allowing members of the public to help influence proposals
  • Helping local people understand the details of a proposal
  • Gathering expert views on a proposal
  • Considering mitigating measures
  • Identifying how a proposal can support other wider or local objectives

Nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) such as power stations, major road and rail construction, airports and marine facilities now fall under the auspices of the Planning Inspectorate (PINs), rather than local planning authorities (LPA). Specific consultation guidance exists for larger schemes and you must demonstrate that you have an appropriate consultation plan. Remember that “inadequate” consultation is a reason for a proposal being turned down by the Planning Inspectorate.

While the PINs will ultimately decide whether stakeholder consultation has been adequate, consultation plans must first be discussed and agreed with the relevant local authority or authorities. You should always make a point of referring to the LPA’s published Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) which often gives an excellent steer on what they consider appropriate consultation dependent on the type and scale of development.

Increasingly, many of the consultation methodologies suggested by the PINs guidance for larger NSIP schemes are being adopted by local authorities as best practice models and SCIs are being updated to reflect an increased expectation of developers to consult more widely than has previously been the case and to illustrate how their final submission has had regard to public opinion.

Localism Act 2011
The Localism Act 2011 has further increased the emphasis you need to place on consultation. A stated aim of the Act is to create more engaged communities that play a greater role in shaping the future of their neighbourhoods.

A core element of the Localism Act is to make planning more accessible and enabling local communities to take more control over development. The theory is that by involving communities early in the planning process you will gain buy-in to proposed new schemes. The jury is still out about whether that premise holds true or whether this proves to be an objector’s charter!

The Localism Act also introduces consultation as a material planning concern. This means that local authority planning committees can reject your planning applications on the grounds that consultation has been inadequate. This could yet prove to be an additional route for councillors to reject unpopular infrastructure schemes such as energy from waste plants or wind farms.

The National Planning Policy Framework
National Planning Policy Framework introduces a presumption in favour of sustainable development. But consider this – should an otherwise sustainable, but opposed planning application be put forward, councillors may interrogate the consultation methods undertaken far more rigorously than previously in an effort to reject or delay a scheme.

In a Nutshell
Whatever the rights and wrongs, the increase in legislation makes it an imperative that you treat consultation as an important and integral element of the planning process that has to be addressed as never before. The simple fact is unless the consultation processes undertaken are deemed to be adequate; the proposals can be turned down by the decision-making bodies. The importance of promoting a development as part of the consultation process cannot be overstated.

So if it must be done, do it well. It will benefit your proposal, your planning outcomes and your corporate reputation.

Want to Know More?
For more information on any of the topics in Navigating Consultation or if you would like advice on a specific development planning project please contact Jamie Gordon on 020 3697 7630.


Planning Act 2008
Localism Act 2011
National Planning Policy Framework

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