Digital engagement isn't just for the traditional 'public consultation' phase. It can add real commercial value at every stage of the planning and development process. Here's how:

Site identification

You might have your eye on particular village, town or city, looking for sites that meet your commercial requirements. At this stage, you could launch an interactive map for citizens to highlight and endorse places that they would like to see development take place and 'agree with' locations suggested by others. In turn, this builds a map of potential development locations that benefit from community support, feeding into commercial decisions over which sites to pursue.

Planning appraisal

Once you've got a site 'signed-up', you might want to ask the community to highlight ideas and aspirations for your site on an interactive map, before the architects and urban designers get started. Identifying key local political issues and aspirations before you embark on the design stage reduces the time and cost risks associated with having to retrofit solutions at a later stage, whilst building a sense of trust and collaboration with the community and local politicians from the offset.

Masterplanning and design

Now that you have a firm grasp on the key local issues, you can create your masterplan in an informed way, with less risk of issues emerging later and the resulting costs associated with redesign. Building evidence of community aspirations at an early stage gives you a strengthened hand going into pre-application discussions with the local authority, knowing that there's a weight of opinion behind what you're suggesting.

Public consultation

Now that you have local support, in principle, for development of your site and designs that take account of the key local issues, you can gather feedback on your plans with a level of comfort and enjoy a much smoother process. Adopting a 'digital first' approach, by using a smartphone-compatible consultation website, helps you reach a younger and busier consultation audience, whilst helping you identify key feedback themes in real-time to enable a quick planning submission.

Planning submission

Now that you've consulted on your plans and built trust and support from the local community and politicians, you can send an email blast to let your supportive consultation respondents know that you've submitted your application and set out ways in which they can formally register their support for it. You can also let them know when the committee will make a decision and invite them along to demonstrate their support at this crucial stage.


Now that you've been granted planning consent and have built a positive, collaborative relationship with the community, you can use your project website to provide updates on construction activities, such as road closures, deliveries, meanwhile uses and development milestones. If you're building new homes, you can let homeseekers among your consultation respondents know how to register their interest in buying or renting.

Written by Paul Erskine-Fox - Founder, Participatr

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