Engaging communities in decisions relating to land: guidance

This document provides guidance on the benefits of, and ways of going about, engaging with communities about decisions relating to land.

Part 2 Engaging with Communities

Benefits of engagement

28. When community engagement is carried out well it can lead to the following outcomes:

  • Those with control over land are seen as valued members of the local community, contributing to community wellbeing and sustainable development.
  • Those with control over land recognise the value of the local community’s views. They see the community as taking a vital role when taking important decisions relating to land.
  • There are increased opportunities for local economic, social, cultural and environmental improvements, supporting sustainable development and creating opportunities for land owners and communities to develop mutually beneficial solutions to local issues.

29. Community engagement can also help community building by bringing people together. This can be the case in both urban and rural areas.

30. In many cases there will be a range of views within a community. Engagement can help all parties to understand each other’s wishes, concerns and constraints, with the aim of achieving a better outcome and building better relationships.

When to engage with communities

31. The earlier in a decision making process that engagement begins, the more opportunity there is to find solutions to land issues that are mutually advantageous for the land owner and the community. Even where there is already a regulatory process, such as where a decision about land use or development falls under the planning system, land owners should consider beginning engagement at the earliest possible stage. This can help establish a mutually beneficial approach, create clear lines of communication, and help prevent misunderstandings arising in the future.

32. Community engagement is particularly important for situations where a decision about land is likely to have a significant impact on the local community, and where there is no pre-existing requirement for engagement under legislation, regulatory regimes or other official guidance. The nature of engagement will depend on the circumstances of each situation, and the Diagram A flow chart provides a guide for when and how this might take place.

33. The person with decision making power over land should choose a form and level of engagement that is proportionate to the impact of their decision, and fits the local context. Diagram B gives some examples of proportionate engagement.

34. Those who have decision making powers over land should also consider carrying out community engagement in situations where they have no immediate plans for their land, but are open and willing to listen to community aspirations in relation to the land. The decision maker might initiate such a process proactively, or do so in response to a request from legitimate community representatives, such as from a community council or residents’ association. This can help to build trust and a productive working relationship.

Significant impact

35. Significant impact cannot be precisely defined. The impact of a decision about land will differ from place to place, and what is significant for one local community may not be for another.

36. As a broad guideline, a significant impact is one which is felt at the level of the local population, rather than just at the level of an individual person or household. It will usually include things that impact on opportunities for local sustainable development, wellbeing, the fulfilment of human rights, and sustaining a viable community. Examples are housing availability and quality, essential services, prospects for economic development and job creation. It also includes social and environmental issues, such as land on which to build a village hall, protecting and enhancing the natural and built environment, creating a local community nature reserve and looking after green space within towns and cities.

37. If you live and work within an area, you may already have a good idea of what would be significant and what would not be. Your local council, community council, or community planning partnership should be able to advise on what the main issues are within an area.

38. If there has been a local assessment aimed at identifying key issues within an area, this would also be very useful. An example is the Place Standard [5] , which provides a framework to assess the quality of a place, and is designed to support communities, public, private and third sectors to work efficiently together.

Cumulative effects

39. Sometimes a series of small decisions about land taken over time can result in a significant negative impact in the local area. For example, if a landlord withdraws a large number of rented properties over time but in a piecemeal fashion, this could lead to a lack of residential accommodation within an area, with consequences for the local economy, schools, public services, neighbourhood and community.

40. In such cases, where the cumulative effect could be significant, community engagement will take place to consider the cumulative effect, even though it is expected that the impact of each individual decision may not appear significant in itself. This can be particularly important for small communities, but also applies generally across Scotland.

41. In a similar way, a number of different land related activities, each with a relatively minor impact, could have a significant cumulative impact. For example, a large number of timber lorries and tractors on a local road at the same time as road works are taking place on that road could create significant disruption. Businesses, local authorities and other public authorities are therefore encouraged to think about the combined impact of their activities, and to try to manage their activities in such a way as to minimise unnecessary negative impact while promoting the public good.

Relationship with existing statutory requirements to consult

42. Community consultation can be a statutory requirement, for example under planning legislation, environmental regulations and forestry licensing.

43. This guidance can support statutory engagement in a number of ways, two examples of which are given below.

44. Firstly, where engagement with a local community, or their representatives, takes place early, it can help inform how the statutory engagement takes place. It can help the person taking a decision about land to understand who to engage with and the best ways to engage with them, so that any statutory engagement or consultation is more effective. It can also, by building good working relationships at an early stage, help establish collaboration and co-production.

45. The second example is where a decision relating to land involves a mix of statutory and non-statutory decisions, or involves more than one statutory requirement to engage or consult. In such circumstances, this guidance can help develop an engagement process which, while not running counter to any statutory requirement, allows decisions relating to land to be discussed and taken on a joined-up basis, with the local community having the opportunity make their views known on any relevant economic, social, cultural and environmental factors.

Who to engage

46. Where those who take decisions about land live within and are a part of the local community, they may know who could be affected by their decisions.

47. If this is not known, then Scotland’s local authorities and community councils may be sources of information on local needs and in identifying the right people to engage with. Other useful sources of information may be Community Planning Partnerships, local chambers of commerce and Business Improvement Districts, local farming associations, residents’ associations, tenants’ associations and housing associations.

48. Public bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency ( SEPA), or National Park bodies, if present in the area, may also be able to help.

Specialist issues

49. While this guidance is explicitly about engaging with local communities, the person carrying out the engagement should also consider contacting local or national representative organisations to seek specialist advice to inform and support local engagement.

50. An example would be when taking a decision that could impact on, or offer opportunities for, disabled people in the local community. In such a case it would be useful to contact a relevant national or local representative body for advice.

51. Another example is where a decision could impact on biodiversity or the local environment, and in this case Scottish Natural Heritage, or a non-government nature conservation or environmental organisation, may be able to offer advice which could supplement your local community engagement.

52. Similarly with issues that could impact on the historic man-made environment, it could be useful to contact Historic Environment Scotland or a non-governmental organisation dedicated to looking after Scotland’s heritage.

53. In addition, your local council may employ people who can help you with advice on a wide range of matters, ranging from biodiversity to equalities issues.

Best practice principles for fair engagement

54. Land owners or their delegates should choose the means of engagement most appropriate to the context. The following principles may help guide how engagement is carried out:

Engagement is proportionate to the impact that the decision may have on the community.

  • Engagement is not a disproportionate burden on either the land owner, land manager or community.
  • Impact is thought about in a holistic way, including environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts.
  • Appropriate and accessible methods of communication are used.

Engagement is a genuine exercise in collaboration, and consideration of community views helps to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

  • Engagement is started at the earliest opportunity in the decision making process.
  • Community views are given due consideration.
  • Communication is open, clear and two-directional.

Where appropriate, on-going engagement and communication can foster positive working relationships and communication channels between communities and land owners and managers.

  • Feedback is provided to the community on the final decision taken, and the reasons for it.
  • The community is kept informed by on-going communication and updates, possibly through community representatives.

55. Diagram B provides examples of ways of engaging.

56. It is important that any engagement process is tailored to the local context and the local community. One of the best ways to get this right is for the person carrying out the engagement to work with community representatives to develop the process. This can be easier where there are already good working relationships between the decision maker and the local community.

57. Community engagement is a shared activity, with both those carrying out the engagement and those participating in it having a joint responsibility for its success.

Removing barriers to engagement

58. Practical barriers which might prevent people in the community from taking part in engagement activities should be removed. This can be as simple as ensuring that meetings are advertised, organised at appropriate times, in accessible locations and venues, and that any written material is clear and easy to understand. The Equality and Human Rights Commission can advise on removing barriers to engagement for protected groups (women, disabled people, minority ethnic groups, children and older people).

Joined-up engagement

59. Where a number of people or organisations are undertaking community engagement in a local area, community engagement should be aligned where practicable.

60. Alignment of community engagement can help reduce engagement fatigue among communities and be more effective for both those organising the engagement and the communities they are engaging with.

61. Where local networks exist, such as business networks, NGO networks, public service networks and community networks, these may provide opportunities to explore joined-up engagement activities. In particular, if you are involved with your local Community Planning Partnership, this may provide a platform to explore maximising the benefits of community engagement.

62. Your local authority, and community council if you have one, may also be a good source of information about other engagement taking place in your area.

Personal and business information

63. It is expected that information about plans that could impact on the lives, wellbeing and development prospects of members of the local community is made available during engagement. However, information given or discussed during an engagement process should be pertinent to the engagement only. When carrying out community engagement under this guidance, no one is expected to disclose personal information or business information that is commercially confidential.

The National Standards for Community Engagement

64. The National Standards for Community Engagement [6] are good practice principles designed to support and inform the process of community engagement, and improve what happens as a result. Created in 2005 and updated in 2016, they provide detailed performance statements that everyone involved can use to achieve the highest quality results and the greatest impact. The Standards are designed to help the public, private and community sectors to involve and work with communities in planning services and developments.


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