Agenda item

Statement of Community Involvement and Community Engagement Strategy

To consider the Statement of Community Involvement and Community Engagement Strategy.


The New Communities Senior Planner introduced the report.  She said it had been adopted by the Council in 2006 following a requirement set out in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act of 2004.  It had been updated and reviewed regularly since then and the current update had taken into account the new Local Plan and the Covid 19 pandemic. 


The role of the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) is to encourage participation from residents and involvement in the planning application and Local Plan process.  The Council needed to comply with the SCI and demonstrate this to the Inspector.  She gave a brief overview of how the community could be involved, and how this process had changed to invite discussion and more responses to a variety of themes. 


She said that there was a lower number of people commenting on the SCI, but said it reflected the on going refinement, continued update of comments, and technical nature of the document.


The Local Plan and New Communities Manager highlighted that the SCI was intended to hold the Council to account on the consultation regarding planning applications and the Local Plan process.

Councillor Crisione said he had concerns about the SCI and, in the current format, he did not feel able to recommend the document to Cabinet.   He said it needed to provide details of how the developer should engage with the Community so that at pre-application stage they understood what was expected from them.  He asked if this could be revisited and a section on progression of strategic sites added.  He gave Epping Forest’s SCI as a good example and said he could share the details. 


Councillor Evans thanked Councillor Criscione for his views.  He said it might be difficult to incorporate and amend the SCI at this stage.  He said the process should be about working together with promotors of strategic sites, and a statement of common ground could be devised, but not all developers had and would engage. 


The Local Plan and New Communities Manager said there were a few issues:-

·         The SCI was intended to hold the Council to account not developers.

·         The Council was not able to force developers to comply; it would be better to engage and consult with developers to address these issues.

·         The Development Management team would need to be involved.


The Chair said that if the proposals were relying on developer’s good will rather than compulsion to act this would allow them to interpret the rules in their favour rather than that of the Community.


Councillor Criscione said he recognised that the document related to what is expected from the Council; however it would be interpreted and used by developers in community engagement terms.  He was concerned about speculative developers and said it was important for the document to be prescriptive so they knew what the Council expected from them. He said that it could not be too late for input otherwise there was no point in bringing the report to Scrutiny. 


Councillor Evans said he would revisit the points raised and asked the officers to see what could be done and how difficult it would be to incorporate.


Following a question from Councillor Criscione, Councillor Evans said there were only 10 responses received and no input from the developer community - he did not see how any document could be imposed.


The Local Plan and New Communities Manager said it was an issue of timing and he would start a discussion with the Development Manager to get his views.  The deadline for Cabinet was the 9th March, so any changes and discussions would have to be quick.


Councillor Criscione said it could be an addendum to the report as in the case of the Covid situation. 


Councillor Coote reminded the Committee that they had adopted a policy of pre-scrutiny, and therefore decisions were not made until members had put forward their resolutions. 


He asked how there could be more involvement from the community, although he recognised that some responses were collated from a Town or Parish Council responding on their communities behalf.  He asked what could be done differently to generate a better response.


The Local Plan and New Communities Manager agreed that the response was low but said it was similar to previous consultations.  He reiterated that the SCI was a technical document on how the Council would consult with residents and organisations.  He would prefer more engagement through the consultation for the planning function and the Local Plan. 


Councillor Sell asked if the SCI could be more customer friendly, he said there should not be an expectation that residents were experts.  He had looked at different Councils SCI’s and suggested providing a glossary of planning terms and the use of diagrams and graphics.  He had found an example SCI that explained how the Council would benefit from community engagement.   He said residents would come up with good ideas if they felt their contribution would be taken into account. 


The Local Plan and New Communities Manager said there was a glossary at the back which could be moved to the front and Councillor Sell agreed to send through the documents that he had found from other Councils.


In response to a question from Councillor Driscoll, the Local Plan and New Communities Manager and New Communities Senior Planner explained that the strikethroughs showed the changes that had made through representations received and the difference from the current plan.  It showed that the Council was listening. 


The New Communities Senior Planner said she hoped that the consultation was attractive to the public; they had tried to use plain English and diagrams with short facts and open questions to encourage people to comment. She said the actual planning documents were more important than the SCI which was a technical document that set out the procedure.


The Chair summarised the position of the Committee as:-

·         The document needed to persuade the public to engage.

·         Changes to the document should be considered to make it more prescriptive to developers in order to discourage speculative sites being brought forward.


The Committee recommended the proposal to Cabinet subject to the points made, consent was unanimous.


The Chair thanked Officers and particularly the New Communities Senior Planner for the hard work put into the document. 


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