Are you ready for PACs? Statutory pre-app consultation is coming soon

Following the adoption of the Wales Planning (Act 2015), guidance has now been issued setting out the requirements for pre-application consultation on ‘major’ development plans.     

As of 1st August 2016, all planning applications for ‘major’ projects will need to be accompanied by a pre-application consultation report (PAC), evidencing that the necessary consultation has been undertaken, reporting issues raised and if and how these have been addressed within the final plans. 

A ‘major’ application includes: residential development over 10 units or 0.5HA; commercial development over 1000sqm or 1HA; minerals workings; and waste development.  

Failure to comply will result in the application being considered invalid, meaning it is the first time within Wales (outside of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project process) that consultation is a material consideration in relation to planning.

In reality, the consultation process is not particularly onerous, requiring a number of high level community and stakeholder ­­engagement activities, all with a required 28 day response period, including:

  • Display a site notice;

  • Write to any owner or occupier of any land adjoining the land to which the proposed application relates;

  • Make the draft planning application information available publically (either online or in hardcopy within the local vicinity);

  • Consult ‘community consultees’ – essentially local community councils and local members; and

  • Consult ‘specialist consultees’. 

Rather more difficult is the level of detail required for the consultation materials which includes ‘all information that would be required to be submitted as part of a formal planning application’ including: scaled plans; technical documents; Design and Access Statement; and draft ES material (if an EIA is required).   

Overall, this new requirement can be seen as delaying the planning process, particularly as it requires the project team to be in a very advanced stage of the scheme before undertaking the consultation process.  There can be no doubt the consultation process will take a minimum of six weeks (and more likely 8-10 weeks) accounting for the 28 day consultation period followed by a minimum of two weeks to respond to comments, produce the PAC and make any necessary amends to the application.  But in theory, this delay will be worthwhile as it should speed up the planning decision making process. 

However, this new pre-application requirement could present a number of unforeseen issues to developers, particularly in relation to larger or more controversial schemes, as it will inevitably result in increased publicity and interest prior to submission (and potentially from a wider audience than that prescribed within the guidance).  For example, presenting the plans for the first time at a relatively advanced stage can present the danger of the plans being perceived as already set-in-stone, or can result in costly revisions being required to the plans at a late stage in the design process.   

Therefore, it will be important to take a wider strategic approach to communication and engagement around these projects, looking at issues such as the audience being engaged, and the phasing and approach to the consultation process.  There can for example be benefits of an early phase of engagement on draft plans to try and iron-out any issues in advance of the statutory 28 day consultation process. 

If you would like to chat further about how grasshopper may be able to help you communicate effectively around your forthcoming proposals then please get in touch: call Clare on 07793 382021 or email clare@grasshopperpr.co.uk.