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Department of Architecture


The Community Consultation for Quality of Life Project underway in Cardiff (credit: Peter Evans)

The study, which is the biggest of its kind into community engagement in the planning process, surveyed 900 people across the four nations and 69% of those surveyed have never taken part in a consultation process.The survey has found that the practice is often both inconsistent and inadequate.

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), evidence was collected from 2021-2023 from the four UK nations to establish the state of community engagement and understand what good practices look like. The research is a collaboration with the universities of Reading, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Ulster, and the Quality of Life Foundation and has also tested different approaches and tools for community engagement.

The research team set up pop-up spaces (also known as urban rooms) in four urban areas around the UK (Reading, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast), and encouraged people to visit and share their views about the places where they live and work. Different research methods included using focus groups and digital mapping and community outreach. The research in each location was tailored to appeal to the different local communities. The Cardiff urban room launched with a party to celebrate Eid, while in Belfast the team used arts-based methods of engagement to draw in younger participants. In Edinburgh, the team arranged ‘satellite’ engagements, where they took their research out into less well-represented communities, and in Reading the research focused on the themes of the emerging town centre strategy to make it really relevant to local people.

Findings have been drawn from each city, comparing planning policies from each nation with experiences from the local community on the ground. These findings have been collected to form four reports, one for each nation, outlining the challenges that each city faces, the opinions of the communities within them, and recommendations for improving community engagement in the future..

In England, findings showed that 67% of respondents had not been part of a consultation process before and the main reason cited was because they had not been asked (60%). There is a clear lack of centralised guidance on how to facilitate engagement processes and therefore a lack of efforts to invite the community to offer opinions.

Figures were similar across Wales and Scotland with 61% and 60% of people respectively having never participated in a planning consultation. Again, the most common reason being they “had never been asked”. In Wales, the public see planning consultation as inadequate, whereas in Scotland, community consultation is discretionary and competes with developer interests, so is also often seen as tokenistic.

In Northern Ireland, there is a longstanding legacy of mistrust of development processes in neighbourhoods, as well as consultation fatigue among established neighbourhood groups. With many believing their voices were not heard in important decisions, 80% of respondents had never participated in planning consultation and 86% of those respondents noting they had never been asked.

Quality of Life Foundation has previously undertaken research revealing that having control of decisions that impact our homes and neighbourhoods is a significant factor in our health and wellbeing. It is therefore concerning that these findings show that the vast majority of the UK population have not been involved in engagement processes.

To address this gap, Quality of Life Foundation has created a Code of Practice for any organisation wanting to improve their delivery of effective community consultation and engagement.

Heavily informed by the academic research, at the centre of the Code of Practice is the need for collaboration with local communities and other key stakeholders throughout the planning and design process. The Foundation believes there are shared ethical standards that support effective consultation which have been brought together as eight standards, as outlined below:

  1. Be accountable

  2. Be effective

  3. Be transparent

  4. Be inclusive

  5. Be timely

  6. Support mutual learning

  7. Demonstrate impact

  8. Publish feedback

There will be multiple routes to embed the Code of Practice into an organisation or individual’s work and workplace culture: informal commitments, self-assessment, quality

assurance, accreditation and awards. The Code is currently in its Beta phase, and the Foundation is seeking organisations to help test it.

Matthew Morgan, Director, Quality of Life Foundation, said:

“The planning systems in the UK have been dysfunctional for many years, but it is shocking that community engagement has been so clearly neglected. We know that many organisations take pride in undertaking comprehensive consultation processes, but this seemingly represents only a small proportion of activity across the UK.

“Local people know their neighbourhoods better than anyone and can add huge value to schemes, so we urge organisations across the built environment to embed our Code of Practice into their operations, for the benefit of communities across the UK.”

Professor Flora Samuel, who led the research, said: “At the moment, as far as the planning system is concerned, poor community consultation looks exactly the same as long term thoughtful, inclusive, deep community consultation. The Code of Practice will enable local authorities and others to differentiate between the two, to ask for something more and better for their communities. The result could be transformational.”