Planning Advice Note 3/2010: community engagement

Planning Advice Note (PAN) 3/2010 on community engagement.


10. The roles and responsibilities of the various parties involved in the community engagement aspects of the planning system are set out below.

The Scottish Government

11. The Scottish Government develops legislation, national policy and advice on land use planning for Scotland. Ministers set the strategic framework for development and identify national developments through the National Planning Framework. National planning policy is also set out in Scottish Planning Policy, Designing Places and Designing Streets. Advice on various technical planning issues is set out in the Planning Advice Note ( PAN) series. Scottish Ministers also approve the strategic development plans which are prepared jointly by local authorities in the four largest cities and surrounding regions. Scottish Ministers will also appoint a person to hold an examination into any unresolved issues in local development plans. Planning authorities must take notice of the findings of the examination before adopting their local development plan. Scottish Ministers are also responsible for making decisions on certain types of planning applications and appeals.

12. At the national level, people can get involved by responding to consultations on changes to legislation plus reviews of the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy. They are also encouraged to engage early and effectively in the strategic environmental assessment which must legally accompany these documents.

The Scottish Government website provides information on planning legislation, publications, policy and advice ( Help about planning in Scotland is also available by contacting the Government on 08457 741741.

You can also register with the e-mail alert system in order to be told about relevant information and forthcoming consultations at

The Planning Authority

13. The operation of the planning system in Scotland is primarily the responsibility of planning authorities. In most cases this will be one of the 32 councils, but may also be one of the strategic development planning authorities in the 4 largest city regions (around Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow), or one of the 2 national park authorities. Planning authorities' key roles include:

  • Preparing strategic development plans, local development plans, master plans, development briefs and supplementary guidance
  • Processing and deciding on applications for planning permission plus other consents (such as listed building consent);
  • Acting as the Local Review Body in certain cases; and
  • Taking enforcement action against breaches of planning requirements.

Key Agencies and Statutory Consultees hold information, or provide services, that are essential to the delivery of development plan policies and development proposals. Key agencies and statutory consultees are defined in law. Key agencies (such as Scottish Water, Health Boards and Regional Transport Partnerships) have a duty to co-operate in the development plan process and to engage at different stages (main issues report, proposed plan and preparation of the action programme). This should ensure that information essential to the strategy, or its delivery, is discussed at an early stage. Planning authorities are required to consult statutory consultees (such as Network Rail, Scottish Natural Heritage) in the circumstances set out in law.


14 . Councillors have an important role in the planning system. Those members who are involved in taking planning decisions should understand the operation of the key elements of the planning system. The role of councillors includes:

  • a key role in establishing planning policies for their area;
  • becoming involved in local cases as a ward representative;
  • decision making as a member of the planning committee or at meetings of the Full Council; and
  • acting as a member of the Local Review Body.

15. With regard to ethical standards, a Code of Conduct for Councillors, approved by the Scottish Parliament, sets out the principles and rules governing the conduct of elected members. It is appropriate for councillors to engage in discussions and debates about matters relating to the development plan, even though the plan provides the framework for decisions on individual planning applications. Councillors may also be asked to engage by communities, or developers, on individual proposals. Whilst there is no impediment to them being briefed or advised, councillors should be wary of offering a view on any proposal in advance of any decision being made. More information is available from the Standards Commission for Scotland's website using the link in the contacts section.

Community Councils, Voluntary, Interest and Amenity Groups

16. At different points in the planning process, the focus for community engagement will be between the community and different organisations or bodies:

  • When development plans and supplementary guidance are being prepared, community engagement will be mainly between communities and the planning authority.
  • During pre-application consultation, the engagement will be between the community and the prospective applicant.
  • When an application for planning permission has been submitted the focus for engagement is between communities and the planning authority.

17. When responding to consultations on development plans or applications it is important that community groups ensure that their responses are focused on planning issues. If in doubt speak to the planning authority or Planning Aid for Scotland, about what may or may not be a planning issue. Further information can also be found in the Good Practice Guidance mentioned below.

The Scottish Government provides funding for Planning Aid for Scotland's ( PAS's) principal services, such as the maintenance of its telephone helpline, planning advice and the provision of training for members of the public and community groups. Organisations such as the Scottish Government may advise you to contact PAS when you have a question or are seeking advice relevant to a specific case. Further details of this and other aspects of the work of PAS can be found later in the PAN. Contact details can be found in Annex 1.

Community Councils

18. Community Councils have a formal role in the planning system. They are consulted when development plans are being prepared, during pre-application consultation and when a planning application has been submitted. Many Community Councils take a proactive role in planning matters to ensure that the community they represent is consulted on issues that could have an impact on the area and that their views are communicated to the planning authority. They achieve this by monitoring the weekly list of planning applications produced by the planning authority; consulting with relevant planning officers where appropriate; holding public meetings to publicise plans and gauge community feeling where appropriate; responding rapidly to the planning authority expressing the views of the community on planning issues.

The Community Council Working Group comprised representatives from community councils, local authorities, the Association of Scottish Community Councils, COSLA, the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland and the Scottish Government. It developed a Good Practice Guidance document containing comprehensive guidance for both local authorities and community councils. This "living document" includes a section on planning matters. Further information is available at:

19. Community Councils vary in their extent, set-up and in the issues that interest them. Their level of involvement in planning will therefore differ. Community Councils can assist planning authorities in terms of their engagement in the planning process. For example, by responding timeously to consultations on planning applications, ensuring their comments focus on planning issues and advising the authority of any changes of the planning authority's contact person in the community council.

A list of consultants able to offer professional planning advice is available at

Other Community Groups

20. Other community groups also play an important role and are encouraged to engage in all aspects of the planning system. Not all community groups are involved in planning matters, but there are many willing to be involved in shaping their environment and will have a great deal of local information and knowledge which will be very helpful to the planning authority when planning the future of an area or to the developer when bringing proposals forward.

Applicants and their Agents

21. There are legal requirements on prospective applicants to engage with the community on certain applications. The requirements around pre-application consultation are set out below. But also there are applicants for planning permission who engage with local communities voluntarily in advance of making an planning application. Early consultation provides an opportunity for prospective applicants to both ensure they are better informed about the community's view of the proposed development and to address these concerns where they can be tackled.

22. Effective community engagement is important where there is ongoing work, for example, in relation to the operation of surface coal mines or mineral extraction sites. The willingness of operators of these sites to discuss and address legitimate concerns openly can often help secure the confidence of local communities. The establishment of formal community liaison arrangements as a mechanism for regular discussion are encouraged as being particularly useful in these circumstances.



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