APRS recently responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on effective public engagement in the Local Development Plan (LDP) process. It forms part of the Scottish Government’s recent work on reforming the planning system, aiming to reduce conflict, improve community engagement, and build trust in planning matters. Our full response can be seen below.
Q 1 – Do you agree that the purpose and scope of the guidance is clear?
The guidance clearly provides a ‘sense check’ for planning authorities, which is useful, but ideally it could also encourage better engagement, in order to to really involve people and build trust – with the aim of improved planning outcomes. The document refers to consensus building – and given the potential for conflicting views to be put forward it would be helpful for further clarity on how local authorities are to engage – if there is community involvement the expectation will be that this is a form of dialogue with information available on how the issues will be worked through and what the feedback loops will be. How will contributions from diverse groups of stakeholders be analysed and prioritised to inform decision making?
Q 2 – Do you agree that the terms inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower, as described in the table, are helpful terms to support understanding of different levels of engagement and the influence that results from it?
No – Whilst the terms used (derived from the “Spectrum of Participation”) are helpful in understanding the engagement to be undertaken at each stage of the LDP process, we feel it is still unclear how far this will go to help redress the problems identified in para 26 of the consultation document (from 2017 research) such as “experience suggests that engagement rarely changes planning outcomes”. It remains to be seen how much influence results from the proposed levels of engagement.
Opportunity to improve engagement as this is a big change in the planning system and re-capture people’s faith in the planning system – could be far more inspiring and truly democratise the planning system
Q3 Do you agree that the appropriate levels of engagement have been identified for the stages of local development plan preparation?
No – The levels identified appear to be aligned to the statutory requirements. It is very useful to have these extracted from the various bits of legislation, guidance, etc and set out in one place.
However, there are some areas where we do not consider the level or arrangements for engagement to be appropriate:
- Evidence Report – As there is no requirement for LAs to consult on the evidence report, what opportunity is there for a community to raise a concern that the evidence that has been gathered is inadequate or inaccurate? It is possible that the responsible person conducting a Gatecheck may decide to consult stakeholders where a dispute exists but it is not clear how a community or stakeholder would raise such a concern about the evidence. It is not even clear that the Evidence Report will be a public document until the publication of the proposed LDP, and if the ER is not public at the Gatecheck stage, this seems a very untransparent approach and would surely make it very difficult, if not impossible, for local communities to dispute any evidence? – should be made public and accessible
- Local Place Plans – the guidance says that by preparing LPPs, communities may also be empowered to set out their proposals for their area, to be taken into account in the LDP as it is being prepared. However, there is a significant concern that communities that produce LPPs will feel dis-empowered if their proposals are subsequently not included in the proposed LDP in spite of all their efforts. It is therefore disingenuous to say that communities would be empowered by producing a LPP. As communities have no right of appeal of approved planning decisions that impact their area (in the way that would-be developers do for developments refused planning permission) community concerns (see para 26) about their ability to influence the planning system are likely to persist.
- Local Place Plans – We would like clarity on how frequently it is envisaged that communities will be invited to produce or revise LPPs. Is this an ongoing process or a one-off empowerment?
- Proposed Plan preparation – the option to collaborate with communities at this stage and to offer an open “call for ideas” is welcome but neither seem to be required. It is not clear how transparent this process will therefore be and if communities will be involved further throughout the preparation stage. We would like to see increased transparency in this stage, and also believe that communities need to understand that this might be their only opportunity to counter proposals put forward in the PLDP that they believe aren’t in the public interest.
Q4 Do you agree that the appropriate levels of engagement have been identified for the impact assessments?
No – We would like to see a commitment to ensuring that the Environmental Report is made accessible to the broader public, through a requirement to include measures such as a non-technical summary in order to foster greater inclusion and empowerment of local communities.
In addition, while the required levels of engagement have been identified or implied for impact assessments, the information provided on when and how this is carried out seems less clear. We would like to see greater clarity on what is meant by terms such as ‘early engagement’ and ‘involvement’ as well as a framework for when and how these levels of engagement will be carried out.
Q5 Overall, is the approach set out in the guidance helpful?
For the community audience it might be helpful to include a simple summary diagram of the opportunities for communities to actually influence the resulting LDP – ie high-light the stages where they will/may be “consulted’ or “empowered” rather than just informed.
We would also like to see some indication of expectations/standards for participatory processes and the deliberative methods that should be used. This could build on the Scottish Government’s own work on this eg Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Working Group: report (March 2022). Engagement on planning would seem an obvious area to further this. The report recommended that an early step towards improving participation was to collectively adopt values, principles and standards. We feel that principles and standards should be set out in the guidance and then other recommendations on training and process development could also be implemented.
Q6 Do you have any views about the initial conclusions of the impact assessments that accompany and inform this guidance?
In the ICIA, several gaps and difficulties are identified in engaging communities and particular groups within these communities. We would like to see the ECEG specifically aim to reduce and mitigate these difficulties, and address specific advice to island authorities in engaging with the local community and ensuring participation in LDP development.
With regards to the Partial Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment, we believe that access to green spaces is crucial to the wellbeing and healthy development of children and young people, and has a knock-on effect on certain wellbeing indicators, such as ‘health’ and ‘active’. Such benefits should be given consideration in the conclusions of this assessment.
Question 7 – Thinking about the potential impacts of the guidance – will these help to advance equality of opportunity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, and foster good community relations, in particular for people with protected characteristics?
No – the guidance wont do this in itself. To achieve the sort of changes suggested a real shift in the quality of engagement with communities will be required and we note that some of the public have little prior knowledge or experience of the planning system – and the long-term ‘down-stream’ consequences of planning decisions. This means that information given needs to be clear and accessible, with non-technical language used in summaries. (see also our suggestion at Q5). It also requires timely feedback about how information gathered is used and how the difficult issues and incompatible views have been grappled with. It maybe that experience from fields outwith planning wher deliberative approaches have been used could be useful (citizen’s assemblies; Waltham Forest’s work on addressing hate crimes etc)
In addition, without an equal right of appeal at the planning application stage, local communities will still face structural unfairness in the planning system which early engagement will not compensate for.
Question 8 – Do you have evidence that can further inform the impact assessments that accompany this guidance, in particular in relation to the impact of the guidance on people with protected characteristics, businesses and costs to businesses?
Question 9 – Please provide any further comments on the guidance set out in this consultation.
We believe that it is critical that planning authorities publicise that LDPs are being developed to local communities, as well as the importance of LDPs and the extent to which they will shape communities over subsequent years. Local councillors and planning authorities should be required to highlight this. We also recommend that they engage with local community groups and representative organisations in doing so.
In addition, the Scottish Government has made it clear in NPF4 that our planning system must approach development with wider climate and biodiversity objectives foremost, and this should be reflected in LDP consultation requirements. We believe that Local Authorities should have relevant in-house experience and/or consult with independent experts in order to ensure environmental concerns are strongly considered in the development of LDPs.