NPPF2: Time to think again about early engagement

How early should communities be consulted about local development proposals?  Start too early and you risk not being able to manage expectations or answer specific concerns; leave it too late and you can be accused of ‘ticking the box’.

The revised NPPF which dropped on Friday tries to answer this question and is firmly on the side of early engagement.

Para 124 talks about how “effective engagement between applicants, communities, local planning authorities and other interests throughout the [planning] process” can lead to better-quality design, create better places and make development acceptable to communities.

Para 128 states that “Applications that can demonstrate early, proactive and effective engagement with the community should be looked on more favourably than those that cannot.”

But how can you do this in a way that brings the local community with you without prompting them to ‘man the barricades’?

After more than a decade of working with communities and their representatives to help facilitate better development, here are my top tips:

  1. Be clear on what can be influenced via any engagement process and, more importantly, what can’t.
  2. Think through who makes up ‘the community’.  It is unlikely to be just those directly impacted who will have a view about a particular development and you may be surprised about the wider reaction.
  3. Mix online and offline engagement techniques.  Community cosultation doesn’t have to mean a traditional event in a dusty village hall.
  4. Keep the conversation going post-submission.  There are more people than you think willing to support development in their area.
  5. Talk human.  Those involved in property development know their NPPFs from their NPPGs but most people don’t know how the planning system works.  Think about what your scheme could mean for its particular community and be ready to have easily understandable answers to concerns.
  6. Respond to good ideas.  There is no better way of bringing a community with you than being seen to respond to a good idea.  Incorporating fresh thinking from somebody with a local perspective demonstrates that you have taken the time to get under the skin of a local community and tried to adapt a development accordingly.  This will be viewed positively by decision-makers.

BECG delivers successful engagement campaigns for our clients across the Built Environment.  We manage political, media and community relationships for some of the UK’s most respected companies from our network of nine UK-wide offices.

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