Effective community engagement in local development planning guidance: consultation

This consultation is about guidance on effective community engagement in the local development planning process. It is for planning authorities and communities. It supports the local development planning approach of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, associated new regulations and guidance.

Section 1 – Background to the Consultation


1. This consultation is about draft guidance on effective community engagement in the local development planning process. It is for planning authorities and communities. The guidance forms part of the Government's work on reform of the planning system and implementation of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019[1] (the 2019 Act). Provision for the guidance is through new section 16C of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997[2], introduced by section 7 of the 2019 Act. The reforms overall aim to reduce conflict, improve community engagement and build trust in planning matters.

2. We provided an outline of the approach to the guidance to a working group of relevant stakeholders and Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS) in 2022. A range of comments were provided including on scope, clarity, audience, expectations, legal requirements, the spectrum of participation, ownership, and proportionality. These views have informed this draft guidance for further consultation. We thank all those who shared their views to assist in the preparation of the guidance.

3. Information in this section is provided to assist those reading and responding to the consultation, given the relative newness of National Planning Framework 4[3] and associated Local Development Planning Guidance.[4] Consultation questions are set out in Section 2 (the draft guidance).

4. Once finalised, the guidance will set out the Scottish Government's high-level expectations on how planning authorities can comply with their legal duties to engage with the public when preparing their local development plans.

Underlying principles

5. A number of key principles inform the preparation of this guidance:

  • engagement is key in building consensus and relationships between people involved in development;
  • the National Standards for Community Engagement[5] and the International Association for Public Participation[6] approaches form the basis of the guidance;
  • the guidance will not identify the methods for community engagement on the whole but will focus on compliance with statutory duties and degree of influence of views;
  • the guidance will support opportunities to avoid or reduce consultation fatigue through linking processes where appropriate;
  • the guidance will not address processes where engagement is not involved;
  • the guidance is not intended to replace other existing guidance and policy; and
  • the guidance is not designed to duplicate the content of the Local Development Planning Guidance, which contains information about the purpose and content of different stages of the preparation of a local development plan.


Legal requirements

6. The 2019 Act provides the most recent updates to the primary legislation that controls the planning system. It amends the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 (the 1997 Act).

7. Section 16C of the 1997 Act gives the Scottish Ministers the power to prepare guidance about effective community engagement in relation to local development plans and requires planning authorities to have regard to it.

8. The changes made by the 2019 Act (new section 3ZA of the 1997 Act) link the exercise of functions by a planning authority in relation to the preparation of development plans under Part 2 of the 1997 Act, to the achievement of outcomes in the National Performance Framework.[7] In this context, anything that achieves the national outcomes is considered to be in the long-term public interest.

9. One of the National Performance Framework outcomes is that people "live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe". It encourages people to volunteer, take responsibility for their community and engage with decisions about it. Another National Performance Framework outcome is around human rights, with an indicator: "Percentage of people who agree with the statement 'I can influence decisions affecting my local area'". The percentage of people agreeing with the statement has decreased since 2007.[8]

10. A range of duties to undertake impact assessments apply to the preparation of local development plans, and these should inform and be informed by the plan as it is prepared. They include:

  • Strategic Environmental Assessment;
  • Public Sector Equality Duty Assessment;
  • Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment;
  • Island Communities Impact Assessment (where appropriate); and
  • Habitats Regulations Appraisal.

11. Separate guidance is available for these assessments and is not superseded by this guidance. There is no legislative requirement for public engagement in the preparation of a Habitats Regulation Appraisal.

12. There is no formal assessment procedure for the consideration of human rights matters. However, information about the human rights based approach to policy development and decision making is available[9]. This includes information on joint equality and human rights impact assessment.

13. Whilst it is non-statutory, a Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment[10],[11] can be used to research, analyse and record the impact of proposed policies on children's human rights.

14. Practice also continues to develop around Health Inequalities Impact Assessment,[12] which is a tool for assessing the impact of policy on people and includes human rights, societal and economic aspects.

Place Principle

15. We promote the Place Principle[13] as a more collaborative approach to services and assets in a place to improve outcomes for people. Those who are responsible for planning services and looking after assets need to work together and with communities to improve the lives of people and create more successful places.

Planning policy

16. National Planning Framework 4[14] is part of the development plan. It sets out a spatial strategy and national policies for Scotland's future development.

17. National Planning Framework 4 contains a cross-cutting outcome for a fair and inclusive planning system. This includes the expectation that everyone involved in planning takes steps to ensure that a wide range of people are involved in shaping their future places. Opportunities for engagement in development planning should be early, collaborative, meaningful, and proportionate.

18. National Planning Framework 4 recognises that some people can find it more challenging to engage with planning. It is essential that people with 'protected characteristics'[15] (including disability, race, age, sex, and sexual orientation) as well as people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds are given particular support to express their views on plans and decisions. Consultations are to be designed to meet the communication needs of people.

19. The effective delivery of National Planning Framework 4 will depend on fair and inclusive engagement. This underlines the need for continued promotion of best practice and innovation, including through this guidance on effective community engagement in local development plans.

20. National Planning Framework 4 defines a community as 'A body of people'. This can be based on common factors:

  • location (for example people who live or work in or use an area);
  • identity (for example a shared ethnicity, language, or age); and
  • interest (for example the business community, amenity, sports, social or heritage groups).

Local development plan

21. A local development plan sets out how places will change, importantly identifying where and what development should and should not happen. Planning authorities are required by the 1997 Act to prepare a local development plan.

22. The development plan is the starting point for making decisions on whether to approve or refuse planning applications. The National Planning Framework and the local development plan together form the development plan for the area and will be considered in making decisions on planning applications.

23. The effective community engagement guidance does not address what needs to be included in local development plans, which should reflect the content of National Planning Framework 4 as supported by the Local Development Planning Guidance.

Community engagement in the planning system

24. A key aim of reform to the planning system[16] is improving community involvement. Further provisions to support community engagement in the development plan process were introduced by the 2019 Act, as set out in Table S1 below.

Table S1: Local development plan engagement duties

Section 20B(4A)

Requirement summary: Planning authorities to seek views of and have regard to views expressed by the public about the content of the Participation Statement.

Section 15A

Requirement summary: Planning authorities to publish an invitation to local communities to prepare a local place plan.

Section 16C(2) and (5)

Requirement summary: Scottish Minsters to prepare guidance on effective community engagement in local development plans. Planning authorities must have regard to the guidance.

Section 16A

Requirement summary: Planning authorities to promote and facilitate participation by children and young people in the preparation of the local development plan.

Section 16B(2)

Requirement summary: Planning authorities to seek and have regard to views of the public and children and young people in preparing the local development plan evidence report.

Section 16B(4)

Requirement summary: Planning authorities to provide a statement on the steps taken to seek views of the public including those of disabled people, Gypsies and Travellers, children and young people, community councils; and the extent to which those have been taken into account in the preparation of the local development plan evidence report.

25. There are also provisions resulting from reforms for matters that influence local development plans, but that have distinct community engagement requirements, identified in Table S2 below.

Table S2: Engagement requirements for other strategies as a result of planning system reform

Section A159

Requirement summary: Forestry and Woodland Strategies - Planning authorities to consult with persons considered appropriate.

Section 3G

Requirement summary: Open Space Strategies – Regulations to set out how planning authorities are to discharge their statutory duties, including specific consultation requirements.

Section 16D

Requirement summary: Play Sufficiency Assessments - Regulations set out those who must be consulted.

26. Research on community engagement[17] ahead of the Planning Bill in 2017 included workshops which identified:

  • there is a lack of trust, respect and confidence in the system;
  • the system is not considered to be fair and equitable;
  • there is a gap between the rhetoric of community empowerment and communities' experience of trying to influence the planning system;
  • there is a lack of clarity about the purpose of engagement;
  • experience suggests that engagement rarely changes planning outcomes;
  • planning is complex and some tensions are inevitable; and
  • the planning system should recognise the rights of all parties but also their responsibilities.

27. The Equality Impact Assessment[18] for the Planning Bill recognised factors that can discriminate against some people during community engagement, in particular women, minority ethnic groups, young people, old people, and disabled people. The factors were:

  • language;
  • lack of confidence; and
  • dominant characters.

28. The Draft National Planning Framework 4 Integrated Impact Assessment[19] indicated that these factors remain valid.

29. However, we know that people are keen to be a part of decisions that affect them including:

  • children and young people[20],[21] including young Gypsy/Travellers[22];
  • island residents[23]; and
  • disabled people or those with long-term illnesses[24].

30. This guidance does not set out particular methods of engagement to be used but is clear that methods used should be appropriate to their context.

Wider guidance on community engagement

31. This guidance aims to work with, rather than replace, wider Scottish Government guidance and policy on effective community engagement, such as Planning Advice Note 3/2010: Community Engagement.[25] Seven National Standards for Community Engagement[26] are published by the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) as good practice principles: inclusion, support, planning, working together, methods, communication, and impact. These have been used as the basis of the approach to the guidance on effective community engagement in local development plans.

32. The International Association for Public Participation[27] has developed a model for understanding how participation can be encouraged and supported for different purposes. The approach - which has wide international acceptance - helps clarify how different levels of engagement offer people different levels of influence. The appropriate level of engagement should be used for different stages in development plan making so each serves a particular purpose, it is not that one is better or worse at securing engagement. The levels of engagement are: inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower. This guidance is based on a version of the 'Spectrum of Participation', as set out in Section 2.


Email: communityengagementguidance@gov.scot

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