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We’re one, but we’re not the same

A consultation

Developers in England can learn a lot from the Scottish approach to consultation, argues Ken Hopkins. On the other hand, the English appeals system produces fairer outcomes…

In our 10-year experience across both Scotland and England, we have seen first-hand the continuing disparity between Scottish and English approaches to the crucial function of pre-planning public consultation.

With a shared ambition to meaningfully combat the UK-wide housing crisis, we’ve found this somewhat surprising to note. Our preferred approach will always be the one that delivers the best outcomes on each and every project. The time and energy invested into engagement and consulting with a community at the outset of a project repays further down the line by giving robust evidence which supports a smooth submission process. It has also meant, unsurprisingly, a higher likelihood of delivering a successful place that lasts for the long term.

In England, an element of local engagement is evidenced through the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), but the minimal reporting requirements can leave developers open to accusations of ‘box-ticking’. While the mandatory three months’ public consultation demanded north of the border adds an extra time dimension to any planning application, it also provides robust evidence of concerted attempts to engage with a local community on challenging issues.

"Ultimately, anyone affected or distressed by a new development wants to see promises kept – and they have the right to expect nothing less"

We’ve always seen Scotland’s prescribed three months’ consultation activity for its true value – a unique opportunity to hear first-hand about the day-to-day needs of a local community and to reflect those learnings within a planning proposal. Ultimately, anyone affected or distressed by a new development wants to see promises kept – and they have the right to expect nothing less.

Employing the ‘Scottish model’ across all our UK land negotiations, we recently took a greenfield site in Oxfordshire with no existing permissions from registration through to planning consent in under six months. By engaging in early, meaningful dialogue with the local community and parish council, we were able to tailor our community provisions to meet specific local needs, which met with widespread local approval.

The people-first approach to planning in Scotland can also have its drawbacks. Although no doubt designed with accessibility and equality in mind, the appeals process north of the border has capacity for stricter regulation, more in line with English practices. Although legal representation in England inevitably makes appeals more expensive from the outset, we’ve consistently found the more legislative English process to be fairer overall for all parties. In Scotland, the more ‘freeform’ approach to evidence submission can lead to last minute blindsiding, which has resulted in delays or disruption to the delivery of housing projects.

The consolidation of best practice models from each territory would deliver a more coherent and inclusive process for developers and communities alike, as well as ensuring the right kind of homes are delivered in the right places to meet specific local demands.

Ken Hopkins is head of strategic land at Mactaggart & Mickel

Photo | iStock


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