“Should you hold a Pre Application Community Consultation (PACC) Event?”
Since 1st August 2016, there’s been a requirement in Wales for developers to carry out some form of Pre Application Consultation on planning applications for major developments.
“Major developments” include housing developments of 10 or more dwellings, or sites of 1 ha or more. It’s all part of an effort to involve communities more in the planning of developments that affect them – and to ensure that public consultation is meaningful and can actually influence the scheme, rather than taking place after important decisions have been made.
Traditionally, members of the public are only made aware of a planning application and invited to comment AFTER it has been submitted. Which, let’s face it, prevents them from having any meaningful input into the design of a proposed scheme. And restricts them to making objections on matters of Planning law, rather than having any involvement in early stage decisions.
The new requirement for pre-application consultation is intended to address this, and give communities more of a voice in deciding what gets developed in their local areas.
Well, in our experience, this can make developers a bit nervous!
The concern is real.
It’s safe to assume that most of the people who turn out to a public consultation event are those that feel opposed to a scheme, rather than those that want to support it. That’s just human nature. We’re more inclined to complain about what we don’t like than to express our appreciation of the things we do!
And most of us lead busy lives. Who really has the time, in between school pick ups and drop offs, full time work, shopping and cooking and generally getting through the day, to turn out on a rainy Wednesday afternoon to comment on an upcoming planning application?
Retired people, that’s who. And local Councillors. Two groups that are quite likely to be concerned about big changes in their local area, and potentially quite vocal about their opposition.
So given that the legislation doesn’t specifically REQUIRE you to hold a public event (you could just put up notices and make the draft application available to view online), the question is, Should You? And if so, why?
Well, we’d like to set out some of the benefits we’ve witnessed, and encourage you to consider running a PACC event – a public exhibition – for your upcoming major development.
Transparency and Goodwill
One big benefit of a face-to-face public exhibition, where members of the local community can meet members of your design and planning team in person, is that it demonstrates your commitment to doing the right thing.
This can go a long way in encouraging helpful dialogue, is stakeholders have a sense that their views are important to you and that you want their input. Straight away you go from being a faceless developer to a team of real people with genuine intentions.
At your public exhibition, you’ll probably want your architects present, as well as your planning consultants, who can handle any technical questions. It’s your planning consultant in particular who will be adept at dealing with objections – any angry people should probably be pointed in their direction!
But don’t just leave it all to external consultants.
Do make sure you’re there too, as the developer, to hear people’s opinions and responses first hand. Your willingness to talk to people face to face, to listen to what they want to tell you, and to give real consideration to what local people think, will set you apart and demonstrate your goodwill and trustworthiness.
We’ve also seen the positive effect of offering participants a cup of tea and a biscuit on arrival, as a way of diffusing tension and setting the scene for a more helpful conversation. It’s a small thing, but it changes the context of your public exhibition and demonstrates your willingness to talk to people openly, in a relaxed fashion, about what they think.
Heading Off Objections
Case studies have demonstrated that where a developer carries out multi-phased consultation, inviting participation from communities at several stages, they are able to effectively reduce the number of objections received once the planning application is submitted.
“Early and phased engagement can build community buy-in and reduce objections during the determination period”
In one example in South West Wales, a voluntary early stage consultation saw more than 3,500 people participate and 293 responses logged. In the next stage, the statutory pre-application consultation engaged 2,500 people and received 48 responses. When the planning application was eventually submitted, and the Local Authority carried out its formal consultation, only 18 responses were received, including the responses from technical consultees.
That’s quite a drop-off in objections and demonstrates the effectiveness of inviting participation early.
In one recent event that we helped to facilitate, we witnessed several people coming in with real concerns about flooding and drainage, only to go away 20 minutes later with assurances that attentuation tanks had been designed into the scheme and that this issue had been effectively dealt with.
The Opportunity to Rethink
You might think you’ve designed the best possible scheme for your site, and you may well dread the thought of making changes to your designs. But people living in communities local to your site do have a perspective that you might be missing. You Never Know! They might raise something you hadn’t considered, they might offer fresh insight, and they might have a good idea that could benefit your scheme. After all, that’s the point of community consultation.
It’s important that you enter into the process with an open mind and a genuine willingness to respond to community feedback, where it could benefit the scheme.
The opportunity to respond to feedback now, and rethink aspects of your proposals, before your planning application has been submitted, could save a great deal of time and frustration later, when those issues are raised as objections during the Determination period.
And it could improve your scheme for everyone. It’s always possible that a fresh perspective will bring to light something that’s simple to change but massively beneficial.
By involving communities early, and making your consultation genuinely meaningful, you’ll benefit from time to rethink without incurring great cost or wasting precious time.
A Soft Launch for your Sales Team
If you’re a housebuilder, it’s worth noting another potential benefit of holding a Public Exhibition and meeting people face to face, which is that you’re likely to also receive expressions of interest from local people wanting to live in one of your homes.
That’s a pretty good upside.
Your PACC is a priceless opportunity to start building a good reputation in the local area, to start earning trust and demonstrating your professionalism – all of which will be valuable when you need to start selling off plan. So it’s worth ensuring that someone from your team is available to talk to prospective purchasers who want more information from a ‘sales’ perspective.
While it’s still very early in the process and you won’t have many details you can share, you should be able to provide some indicative house type elevations and talk about the kind of homes you’re building.
You should also be prepared to offer some ball park price information, however vague – or at least a helpful response to questions about price. And you should start making a list of anyone who is interested in being the first to know when your new homes are available. Take names, contact numbers and email addresses.
Alongside all these other benefits, your PAC can be viewed as a valuable opportunity to test the market and check that what you’re proposing to build is what local people want.
The fact is that developers are now statutorily required to carry out meaningful public engagement and consultation for major developments, in order to prepare a PAC report for submission with their planning application.
It’s not an option to hide behind your application and hope no-one notices!
So, if you’ve got to do it, our advice is to take the bull by the horns and do it properly.
According to Welsh Government guidance:
When executed well, engagement should increase the level of transparency, develop relationships, and shape the project by considering and responding to feedback. As a result, this should assist in overcoming planning issues and improve planning successes.
When consultation is not executed so well, developers are at risk of reputational damage. Trust is eroded between the developer and the community, sometimes resulting in crisis management. It can also negatively affect the outcome of a planning application.
What’s your experience? Any horror stories and lessons learnt you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them!
If you’re persuaded about the value of meaningful engagement with your local community in the early stages of planning a new development, and want help to make it happen, we’d love to talk.
At iCreate we can:
- Provide the early-stage visualisations needed to bring your proposals to life for people who can’t read CAD drawings.
- Create your consultation website, or provide content for it if your planning consultant has this covered.
- Implement a digital engagement campaign across social media and local websites – and monitor conversations on these platforms.
- Organise, promote and facilitate your PAC event, supporting your team to ensure you present a professional and welcoming impression
We’re passionate about involving communities in envisioning the futures of our towns and cities. Helping good developers engage better with local people is one of the ways we do this – ensuring you achieve your goals whilst helping communities do the same.
Drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01792 824 894 for advice!
Thank you for the excellent work of your team at iCreate in setting up and organising our public exhibition at Burry Port on 24th January. The event went very well, and this was very much down to the professionalism and enthusiasm of you and your team.
E Roberts, Pobl
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