DPP Planning has helped prevent delays in the planning process by deploying its online consultation portal, which has supported 13 applications in England and Wales during the Coronavirus lockdown.
It has resulted in higher levels of feedback from the public and stakeholders, demonstrating the valuable role online consultations should continue to play in the planning process. With experience of delivering online pre-application consultations in Wales, where they are a statutory requirement, DPP was able to quickly apply its web-based process to schemes in England at the start of the pandemic.
Since the end of March, DPP has supported nine applications with online consultations, with a further four currently underway. The first consultation, for a significant school extension in Derbyshire, was due to take place as a community event two days after lockdown. Anticipating the likelihood of a lockdown, DPP converted it to an online event, informing residents and local council ward members of the change by letter.
Since then the online portal has been deployed to a range of applications, including hotel developments, residential schemes, retail stores, hospital units, factory extensions and offices. DPP has also provided strategic advice to local authorities in the North East and Cumbria to support consultation events hosted on council websites for two major redevelopment schemes.
Michelle Davies, Director at DPP, said:
“With the Chief Planning Officer encouraging a more innovative approach to consultations, online activity will become more widespread. The technology is there, and we have proven it is effective in generating engagement during this unique period.
“Developers and applicants will increasingly embrace online consultation as it provides an opportunity to respond earlier to any issues raised by consultees. In addition, it will help identify and engage with residents’ groups, which perhaps didn’t exist at the start of the process but have been set up in a response to a scheme.”
“Online consultations aren’t, however, a silver bullet to deliver the highest levels of engagement. The obvious disadvantage, and one that the forthcoming Environment Bill looks at addressing, is excluding a section of the population who are digitally disadvantaged.
“So, we try and ensure that all of our online events have been as accessible as possible. We are backing them up with a fairly large-scale letter drop to local residents and businesses which contains all of the information on the website and also our contact details including a phone number so there are always alternative options.”