Planning - pre-application consultation requirements - proposed changes: consultation analysis

Analysis of consultation to obtain the views and opinions of stakeholders on the proposed changes to the Pre-application Consultation (PAC) regulations and other matters relating to PAC.

3. Other PAC Related Matters

3.1 Introduction

3.1.1. The consultation included several questions on other matters relating to PAC, but which do not relate to the proposed changes to the legislation. These are considered in the following sub-sections:

  • Section 3.2: details of experience using online alternatives to public events during the COVID-19 emergency – Q2.
  • Section 3.3: timing and transitional arrangements – Q13.
  • Section 3.4: pre-application engagement with disabled people – Q14.
  • Section 3.5: guidance – Q15.
  • Section 3.6: general comments – Q20.

3.2 Alternatives to Public Events During COVID-19

3.2.1. The requirement for a public event has been temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 emergency. Guidance was issued to allow for digital or online alternatives and the consultation is seeking to evaluate how well these alternatives have operated.

3.2.2. While the proposed changes to PAC legislation require the second public event to be a physical event, the Scottish Government will consider including in guidance suggestions as complementary online approaches. To this end, the consultation asks for feedback from stakeholders in the PAC process who have been involved in online public events for PAC in order to understand the levels of engagement and views on which approaches worked well and which did not work so well.

Q2. Please give us details of your experience using online alternatives to public events during the COVID-19 emergency.

3.2.3. There were 101 comments on using online alternatives to public events during COVID-19.

Online PAC Experience Has Been Positive

3.2.4. Many respondents across the groups reported that their experiences of using online alternatives to public events for PAC had been positive.

3.2.5. Many developers felt that their experience of using online alternatives during the COVID-19 emergency period was that the online events had been equally, if not more beneficial than a face-to-face public event. The online events are reported to have increased attendance and widened participation in many cases. The public can be given access to review information over a longer time period using digital methods.

3.2.6. Several planning authorities, while having had relatively limited experience of online alternatives for PAC, felt that those online events that had been held were successful. In addition to online events, the public had often been directed to websites to view further details of proposals and submit comments. There was a general feeling that these methods had been successful in increasing public participation.

3.2.7. Several public and representative bodies reported that their members' experiences of using alternatives to public events had been very positive. They had seen an increase in attendance at events and greater engagement. The ability to have online sites remaining live after the online event gives the public time to consider information even if they were unable to attend the event.

3.2.8. A few planning/other consultants reported that use of social media had generated significantly more feedback than many physical events in the past. The use of online messaging systems to facilitate a "Live Chat" allowed all members of the project team to view questions submitted and channel specific questions to the relevant member of the team and the public have responded positively to the option to obtain instant feedback from applicant teams.

3.2.9. A few community councils have welcomed the information available on consultation websites that is perceived to have been more comprehensive and detailed than that given at physical events.

No Experience of Online PAC Event

3.2.10. Many respondents across the groups reported that they had not had any experience of online alternatives so could not comment further on their effectiveness.

No Online PAC Experience, But Positive Experience of Online Events Elsewhere

3.2.11. Many respondents stated that they had not had experience of online alternatives for PAC, but had positive feedback on online alternatives used in other settings.

3.2.12. Several community councils reported that they had been successfully using online tools such as Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams to hold their meetings. These methods have been proven to work well to facilitate discussion and debate when chaired well.

3.2.13. Several public and representative bodies stated that they had found using online platforms to be a positive experience and that a wider audience had been attracted. Online events had been found to have enhanced audience contributions and the anonymity that can be provided from online engagement had been appreciated by some parties as had the ability to post questions directly to speakers.

Face-to-Face Events Are More Effective Than Online

3.2.14. Many respondents felt that online events are not as effective as physical events and the ability to ask questions and hold discussions face-to-face is seen as important. It was felt that virtual events held during the COVID-19 emergency did not give developers or community members the same opportunity to interact with one another as would have been the case with a physical public event. This theme was particularly important to individuals and community councils.

Online Format Is More Convenient and Effective

3.2.15. For many respondents spread across the groups, the use of online events and consultation methods was regarded as a more convenient and effective means of public engagement. These methods were regarded as being more convenient for rural locations and those members of the public who may find it difficult to attend a physical event and helps overcome barriers to participation. The publication of background information online has been seen as positive as it has allowed more detailed information to be presented that would not have been practical to present during a physical event.

Online Events Need to Use Effective Technology and Be Accessible

3.2.16. Many respondents felt that were online alternatives to be used, it should be ensured that the technology and access arrangements are effective and the event is widely advertised. Furthermore, it was felt that online meetings where there are large numbers of participants risk being impractical unless very carefully managed. It was suggested that there should be a requirement for developers to record events and publish the information for the public to view after the event. This theme was particularly important to community councils.

Poor Internet Access or Technological Ability a Barrier

3.2.17. Many respondents (including several community councils) raised concerns that online alternatives excluded those without online access or where broadband speeds were limited. It was noted that some people lack the confidence or knowledge to participate in online consultations. There was concern expressed that the economically challenged and vulnerable members of the community could face exclusion from participation.

Would Like to See A Hybrid of Both Physical and Virtual Events in Future

3.2.18. Several respondents across a range of groups reported a desire to see a combination of both physical and virtual events going forward. It was felt that physical events allow for a more proactive approach in engaging the public whilst online engagement can potentially allow for a greater amount of information to be provided in a more accessible format to a wider audience. It was suggested that a hybrid approach that mixes digital and physical consultation would be welcomed as a positive change to the PAC process.

Online PAC Event Had Lower Engagement Level

3.2.19. Several respondents (community bodies, developers, planning authorities and consultants) felt that their experience had showed a lower engagement level in online alternatives compared to the traditional physical events. Evidence suggests that in some cases more people engaged with online platforms after the virtual event than participated in the event itself.

Other Views Relating to Online Events

3.2.20. One public and representative body stated that they were aware of a number of planning authorities working creatively to make the best use of online platforms to support enhanced digital engagement and highlighted work to share best practice and experiences.

3.2.21. Another public and representative body made the point that not all applicants have the ability to undertake online consultation and may have to outsource this to an external company. It was felt that the potential increased costs to applicants should be considered.

3.2.22. A further public and representative body raised the point that there could be a risk that an online event be dominated by parties who are not local to the area and the participation of the local community should be monitored to ensure representation.

3.3 Timing and Transitional Arrangements

3.3.1 Currently there is no time limit to submit an application following a PAC. The Scottish Government proposes to bring into force the requirement for an application to be made within 18 months of the PAN. It is proposed that this requirement will come into force at the same time as the other changes set out in the consultation paper.

3.3.2 It was proposed that this time limit and the other new requirements will apply to an application where the PAN is served on or after the date the legislation comes into force.

3.3.3 With regard to the time limit, in order to ensure parties who have started PAC – i.e. served the PAN on the planning authority, prior to the proposed changes being introduced are not disadvantaged, they will have 18 months from the changes coming into force to make an application. Q13. Do you agree with the proposed transitional arrangements for bringing into force the new PAC requirements, including the time limit for making applications to which PAC requirements apply?

3.3.4 The table below shows that within most of the respondent groups there was general support for the proposed transitional arrangements for the PAC requirements. The majority of respondents answering the question (59%) agree with the proposal.

Do you agree with the proposed transitional arrangements for bringing into force the new PAC requirements, including the time limit for making applications to which PAC requirements apply?

Yes No No View Not Answered Total
Community Bodies 1 1 1   3
Community Councils 15 5 7 3 30
Developers 8 4 4   16
Individuals 10 4 8   22
Planning Authorities 15 1   1 17
Planning/Other Consultants 3 3     6
Public and representative Bodies 9 1 4 1 15
Total 61 19 24 5 109
% respondent answering question 58.7 18.3 23.1 100

3.3.5 There were 50 comments on the proposed transitional arrangements for bringing into force the new PAC requirements. The themes are described below in descending order of comments received, with responses considered separately for those agreeing and those disagreeing to the quantitative part of the question.


Proposal Seems Reasonable

3.3.6 Many respondents agreed with the proposal and felt that the introduction of a time limit for submission of an application of 18 months was reasonable and appropriate. This was true across all groups except individuals.

Proposal Seems Reasonable, But Time Period Could be Shorter

3.3.7 Several respondents also agreed with the proposal but felt that the time limit could be reduced from 18 months to 12 months.

Other Points Relating to Transitional Arrangements

3.3.8 One respondent agreed with the proposal, but felt that the time limit could be extended to 24 months as a one-time only extension for PANs submitted before the 'coming into force date' in cases where there are extenuating circumstances preventing submission within the timeframe.


18 Months is Too Short

3.3.9 Several respondents across a range of groups disagreed with the proposed time limit of 18 months and felt that it was too short and did not take into account factors outwith the control of the developer, such as unforeseen technical or conveyancing issues. A few respondents suggested that a period of around two to three years was more appropriate.

18 Months is Too Long

3.3.10 A few respondents disagreed but felt that the proposed time limit of 18 months was too long and that 6-12 months would be reasonable, given that the proposal should be sufficiently developed by the time it reached the PAC stage.

Other Points Relating to Transitional Arrangements

3.3.11 . There was concern from a community body that the proposed transition period before the new regulations come into force is too long, particularly given the passage of time since the 2019 Act came into force. The time associated with consultation should have allowed developers sufficient time to adjust to the new requirements.

3.3.12 Several respondents disagreed with the proposal and felt there should be no time limit. A community council felt that as consultation with the public and interested parties is necessary, time should be made for consultation regardless of the timing of the application and the new requirements and a developer felt that there should not be a requirement to reconsult on the same proposal merely because a time period regulation were breached but where the proposal has not changed. A public and representative body also suggested there should be no time limit because each development is different and there are different issues/constraints to overcome.

3.3.13 One respondent felt that while they thought 18 months was too short a period, should the timescale be introduced, they agreed that parties should have 18 months from the changes coming into force to avoid being disadvantaged. It was also suggested that there should be no transitional arrangements (individual).

3.4 Engagement with Disabled People

3.4.1 The consultation proposed guidance on the importance of PAC with Access Panels. It is proposed that the guidance will highlight how this might best be achieved. The PAC report should then indicate what was done and how any issues raised were considered in the finalisation of the proposal.

Q14. Please give us your views on the proposed approach to pre-application engagement with disabled people.

3.4.2 There were 82 comments on the proposed approach to PAC with disabled people. The themes are described below in descending order of comments received:

Agree with Proposed Approach

3.4.3 The majority of the comments (around 70%) provided across all groups were in general support of the proposed approach to PAC engagement with disabled people. Many respondents noted the importance of ensuring the views of disabled people are taken into account in development proposals to provide an expert view that might impact upon the design. Several respondents felt it was especially important as new developments and changes to the environment can adversely affect those with disabilities to a much larger extent than the general public in terms of accessibility.

Range of Disabilities and Needs Should Be Taken into Account

3.4.4 Several respondents across the groups pointed out that the full range and diversity of disabilities should be recognised, both in ways to notify disabled people and to support them in expressing their views. It was noted that while the move to digital consultation methods and materials will improve accessibility for some, for others such as those with visual impairment or learning disabilities this might not be an accessible format. Alternative formats should be made available to ensure disabled people do not face barriers to engagement.

Equality of Access with No Differentiation Required

3.4.5 Several respondents felt that everyone should have equal access to engagement in the process and there should be no need for any differentiation. There was a feeling that developers should be taking an inclusive approach to consulting on their proposals with a wide range of groups (e.g. community groups and special interest groups) and disagreed with identifying disabled people as a specified group for PAC.

Should Be a Statutory Requirement

3.4.6 Several respondents offered the view that consultation with the disabled community via Access Panels should be a mandatory statutory requirement for PAC.

Disabled Groups Should Have Input to Guidance

3.4.7 It was suggested by several respondents that guidance should be developed in consultation with disability groups and organisations to ensure specific needs and requirements are built into the guidance.

Other Points Relating to PAC with Disabled People

3.4.8 A community council felt that there must not be too great a burden placed on the applicant to provide consultation documents in specific formats such as Braille or large print.

3.4.9 A developer wanted clarity on how wide ranging the consultation should be and how specific engagement with disabled groups should be made. It was felt that without defined guidance there is a risk for applicants that they could unintentionally fail to meet the criteria for PAC.

3.4.10 A consultant felt that developers should state in the PAN what they intend to do to engage people with disabilities as leaving it to the PAC report is too late. It was suggested that not enough emphasis is put on making sure the PAN is appropriate for the development.

3.5 Guidance

3.5.1 The intention is for the Scottish Government to produce guidance to support the revised PAC arrangements. The guidance would include the following matters:

  • engagement with Access Panels;
  • issues for consideration when holding and scheduling public events;
  • approaches to engaging local communities dependent on the nature of those communities;
  • the use of information technology in support of statutory requirements.

3.5.2 It is intended that reference would be made to existing good practice guidance on effective community engagement. The consultation asks respondents to identify issues they think should be covered in the PAC guidance.

Q15. Please tell us what issues you think should be covered in guidance for PAC.

3.5.3 There were 80 comments on the issues that should be covered in PAC guidance, with each respondent suggesting multiple issues. The main themes are described below in descending order of comments received:

Social Access and Inclusion Issues

3.5.4 Around a quarter of the responses across the groups contained reference to social access and inclusion issues. Many respondents felt the guidance should include information on selecting a suitable venue for public events to ensure accessibility. Several respondents would like to see guidance on how to engage with harder to reach groups including young people, the elderly and disabled members of the public.

The Suggested List of Issues is Reasonable

3.5.5 Around one in five responses stated that the respondent was generally happy that the suggested list of issues in the consultation was reasonable. Several respondents then went on to add additional specific issues that are covered in the other themes described.

Community Feedback Mechanisms

3.5.6 Many respondents across the groups (with the exception of developers) felt that there should be guidance on the mechanisms within PAC for community feedback. This included guidance on summarising and accurately reflecting community views, to clarify that the purpose of the second PAC meeting is to provide feedback to the community on how views are being taken into account, and to stress to the public that commenting during the PAC is not the same as commenting on the actual planning application.

Reference to Best Practice in Community Engagement

3.5.7 Many respondents across the groups confirmed that they felt it important that the guidance must make reference to existing best practice guidance on effective community engagement. Specific reference was made to Successful Planning = Effective Engagement and Delivery[6] (SP=EED) and The Scottish Land Commission's Transparency of Ownership and Land Use Decision-Making. It was suggested that case studies and examples of good practice in effective consultation could be included in the guidance.

Guidance on Timescales

3.5.8 The issue of timescales was identified by many respondents across the groups as something to be included in guidance for PAC. This included guidance on when PAC events should occur in relation to the time after adverts have been published and in relation to the overall PAC timeline. It also included guidance on giving appropriate notice to the public of events.

Use of Technology

3.5.9 Across the groups, many respondents felt that guidance should highlight the use of digital technology to enhance the PAC process and it was felt that learning from the COVID-19 emergency period should be taken into account when producing guidance.

Community Engagement

3.5.10 Many respondents agreed that the issue of community engagement should be central to the guidance. It was felt that the guidance should emphasise the importance of engaging with everyone in a local community and could encourage early involvement of Community Councils or other relevant community groups in the project development process.

Clear Guidance and Expectations

3.5.11 Several respondents made the point that the guidance should be clear and concise and easy to follow. This included the guidance itself being written in plain English and guidance for PAC reports to be written in plain English. The provision of a checklist setting out the steps that applicants must comply with for an effective PAC was suggested as a tool that could provide clarity for applicants and transparency for the public. It was felt that guidance should set out reasonable expectations of all parties involved in the PAC process.

What Should be Published/Included

3.5.12 Several respondents thought that the guidance should specify a minimum level of detail expected in PAC materials and guidance on when and how this should be published. This could include quality standards for graphics and the inclusion of information relating to the impact of the proposals on access and traffic levels and on local amenities and services.


3.5.13 Several respondents felt that there should be guidance relating to the advertising of public events, with recommendations to advertise more widely than in the local newspaper to have a wider reach and in recognition that publication timescales for local press may not fit with the PAC schedule.

Other Points Relating to Guidance

3.5.14 A few respondents thought the guidance should set out flexibility around the PAN notice to allow for unforeseen changes to the venue or event process without the necessity of resubmitting the PAN. This could also apply to changes in the named party on the application, for example where a developer has submitted a PAN in advance of a contract being in place with a landowner.

3.5.15 A community council would like to see penalties put in place when the applicant misleads the public during PAC events as it is felt that guidance could be too easy to intentionally misinterpret by applicants without legislation in place to enforce requirements.

3.5.16 A planning authority thought there should be separate guidance for applicants and the public.

3.5.17 A public and representative body would like the guidance to advise applicants to contact the relevant body as an integral part of the PAC process where there are statutory protection matters at stake.

3.6 General Comments

Q20 Please give us any general comments on the PAC proposals or related issues not covered by earlier questions

3.6.1. There were 61 general comments received across a wide variety of topics although many comments did replicate points made earlier in the consultation. The comments have been grouped into three broad categories reflecting positive themes, negative themes and general points. Most points were made by only one or two respondents. As a result, these points are not made in order of the number of comments received.

Comments which are generally supportive of proposals

3.6.2. Support for the PAC proposals was made by many respondents across all respondent groups. The main points are detailed below:

Emphasise benefits

3.6.3. PAC is very important in encouraging local communities to be actively involved in developing a proposal from the earliest stages and the second public event should encourage greater collaboration and better outcomes in terms of the proposed development (planning authority).

3.6.4. Effective community engagement can help developers improve their proposals and deliver development that works for everyone. The proposed changes to community engagement should be promoted as a means of achieving a culture where PAC is of genuine benefit to all involved (consultant).

Clarify Expectations

3.6.5. Engagement and consultation with communities is vital, but there should be clarity around the expectations of PAC, particularly if the development site in question has been allocated in the Local Plan. In these circumstances, PAC events are about the shape of things going forward (developer).

Balance Benefits and Costs

3.6.6. A few respondents highlighted the need to balance the aim of increasing public engagement in the planning process with potential adverse effects. For example, the additional costs to prospective applicants, increased responsibilities for planning authorities, poor engagement or applicants circumventing the PAC process by taking a piecemeal approach to development (planning authority and consultant).

Comments which were less supportive of proposals

3.6.7. There were many comments across all groups (except planning authorities) which expressed some reservations about the PAC process. In particular:

Lack of Trust/Waste of Time

3.6.8. Views were expressed concerning a lack of trust between communities and the planning authority and between communities and developers. The proposals were not seen as being able to build these relationships (individual, consultant).

3.6.9. There was concern that local community views no longer matter when large developments proceed in the face of widespread opposition. Given the need for authorities to facilitate development to contribute to sustainable economic growth and communities cannot appeal against council decisions, a second PAC event is a waste of time and money (consultant).

3.6.10. PAC is used by applicants to gauge opinion to their proposals so that they can address potential objections which is perceived as creating an unfair process where developers have numerous opportunities for a "right of reply" while the public have only one chance (community council).

3.6.11. Experience of PAC suggests it is a waste of time and money as any changes by developers have been token and done to show the planning authority that they have been through the consultation process. Planning authorities have also ignored local community responses at this stage and only accepted those responses made after the planning applications have been submitted (community body). There is a lack of evidence of applications where the process has had a significant impact on design proposals (individual).

3.6.12. A few respondents expressed concern that there could be over-consultation and consultation fatigue (individual and developer). A specific concern was raised with respect to infrastructure where engineering is usually the driver of design (developer).

General Points

National and Major Development

3.6.13. PAC is relevant to national and major developments, but clarification is required as to whether this covers applications under S36 of the Electricity Act. It was noted that PAC was usually undertaken for these applications as a matter of best practice (developer). A respondent also questioned the definition of major development, particularly in relation to the size of a community and the need for a proportionate standard. There was concern that the impact of a development in a small community may not be covered by the legislation (individual).

3.6.14. Major applications are not as frequent as "local" applications therefore communities may not be familiar with the procedures and need strong clear guidelines and support to feel confident and trust PAC engagement.


3.6.15. A number of points were raised with respect to the PAN:

  • There is not enough emphasis on making sure the PAN is appropriate for the development and it was suggested that linking the PAN to the levels in the SP=EED tool would improve the quality of applications (consultant).
  • Once the PAN is submitted, applicants should be encouraged to circulate the PAN to interested parties e.g. local community councils, neighbours of the proposed development, MPs and MSPs etc. (consultant).
  • PAN's are often submitted without specifying the date or venue for the public event. These can be accepted subject to the information being provided, but an alternative would be to specify a timescale by which this information should be provided (planning authority).


3.6.16. Clear guidance is required to cover the emerging PAC requirements and ensure the applicants and authorities are fully aware of the minimum requirements. This should be linked to S35B of the Act which allows a planning authority to request a prospective applicant to undertake additional consultation if appropriate rather than making a second event mandatory (public representative body and consultant).


3.6.17. It was suggested that there should be a minimum time between the second PAC and submission of the application to ensure the community has adequate time to consider the proposal and developers have time to consider any responses received. A minimum period of 14 days is proposed.

3.6.18. The two public events should be held within the 12-week PAN period, but developers should not be allowed to wait until week 10 for their public event and submit the application shortly after.

3.6.19. The PAC process must include adequate time for meaningful consultation and consideration of how to respond to women's views, including those who require more proactive outreach e.g. those with caring responsibilities, intimidating behaviour in community spaces, physical and mental health issues. Where developers have not secured meaningful input from these groups, the regulations should have an additional requirement to demonstrate the steps taken to engage with these groups.

Role of Local Authority at Public Events

3.6.20. A local authority planning officer should be present at public events for applications for allocated sites. This would allow balanced discussions and provide the community with an understanding of how the public and private sectors approach development. While there would be a cost associated with this, it would show the community that the planning authority are driving delivery of their development plans. It would reduce the perception of developer versus community conflict and highlight the importance of communication in good planning.

Quality of PAC Materials

3.6.21. The quality of PAC notices sent to community councils should be upgraded and clearly show the location map and red line boundary. The descriptions should be clear and the layout should be user friendly. Reference to Scottish Government information on PAC should be included.

3.6.22. The presentation materials used at public events should be of a good quality standard. Drawings and graphics representations should be fair with no deceptive angles of view and complete information should be provided e.g. elevations from all four directions, not just the best ones! Even with the proposals, there was concern that applicants could deliver biased or unsatisfactory PAC.

3.6.23. There is no mechanism for checking whether the feedback in the PAC report reflects the actual views expressed at the event which could be rectified by allowing community councils to comment on the PAC report and feeding back to both the developer and the planning authority.

Digitisation of PAC

3.6.24. The move to electronic documentation is welcomed, but a significant amount of work within the planning system is required to implement these changes and consistency is required across authorities to ensure changes associated with digitisation are consistently implemented across Scotland.

3.6.25. Online events offer the potential for women (and other marginalised groups) to participate, but careful consideration of online platforms is required to ensure there is no harassment or unwanted communications. There should be guidance and standards on participant privacy and safety.


3.6.26. Consultation for major developments is very important to give communities a voice, but it must be transparent. The developer should be responsible for organising the consultation, but the planning authority should be responsible for obtaining and collating responses from the community and publishing these responses. Local public opinion must be taken into consideration in planning decisions and noted in the decision with reasons if they are not implemented.

3.6.27. There is a need to ensure that PAC information is still available at the time of the actual application as the information may not be in the application and it is sometimes necessary to refer applications back to data given in PAC.

Broader Range of Statutory Consultees

3.6.28. Current legislation requires consultation with community councils, but there could be merit in extending this to other important community organisations by making this a legislative requirement where the planning authority advises it is appropriate.

Other Points

3.6.29. Other points included:

  • The applicant should be required to carry out a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) at the same time as PAC as HIAs are meant to fully involve the local community.
  • Will there be a "fast track" process through determination if consultation was increased and a project met all the criteria with little material objections?
  • Reference to Equal Rights of Appeal is an important concern in communities.



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