EIA practitioners at Ash Design and Assessment consider the elements of effective consultation by developers.
Pre-application consultation is mandatory under the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 for all projects classed as major or national and sometimes local.
Although it is not mandatory for developments under Section 36 of the Town and Country Planning Act (Scotland) 1997, or Section 37 of the Electricity Act 1989, it is often in the developer’s best interest to gain the views of various stakeholders to ensure a project is successful.
Proper consultation also increases the chance of gaining development consent. The regulations give an outline of the consultation process, however, it is up to the developer to interpret and adapt it so that it is effective for the individual project. The onus is on the developer to ensure that consultation is meaningful.
Developers need to identify who to engage in consultation according to the location, characteristics of the area and nature of the project. To build a genuine relationship with stakeholders, developers should provide opportunities for involvement early on in the process and actively listen to views.
Effective consultation can enhance the quality of applications by addressing issues or misunderstandings. If conducted well, stakeholder engagement should improve stakeholder trust and enhance the developer’s reputation, helping to improve future engagement.
Community consultation allows the views of the local people to be voiced, which helps them accept the project. Developers should engage with a wide variety of people to capture views from a cross section of the whole community, rather than just from the vocal minority. Some developers invest heavily in trying to contact the ‘hard to reach groups’, rather than adopting an open engagement programme. Developers should provide responses to issues raised during the consultation wherever possible so that the community has confidence in their involvement.
Early engagement with key consultees allows developers to identify the most significant issues that need to be addressed and to allow time to adjust plans accordingly. The consultee will feel that their interests have been incorporated into changes in the design. It can also make the process more streamlined by ensuring that the developer does not carry out unnecessary work.
Some consultees have focused their involvement in consultation due to increasing demand on resources for advice on projects. For example, Scottish Natural Heritage has developed a Renewable Energy service level statement which outlines the minimum level of service that developers, their advisers and planning authorities should expect.
Evidence of effective consultation can help the decision maker understand the legitimacy of the project. Views from key consultees such as the roads authority are often given more weight in the decision-making process than views raised by the community.
Each project is unique. A consultation strategy that is successful for one project may not be suitable for the next, so each strategy should be adapted to reflect the nature, location and community of the project.