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Or, to be more specific; shall we get engaged?

Okay, so not the most romantic of proposals, but given the media furore around recent Royal announcements, and that today is the one for the celebration of love and affection, my thoughts have turned to what the terms ‘engagement’ and ‘consultation’ mean to those of us who use the language on a day to day basis.

There’s usually a healthy debate among consultors - and indeed within the courts - about the terminology which should be used when delivering services, but the one thing we all agree on is that the language we use, and the terms selected to describe what we do should be clear and leave no doubt in the consultee’s mind about what is happening, and what their opportunities are.

‘Engagement’: The action of engaging or being engaged.

Or, to take it one step further and use the definitions used by the Consultation Institute (www.consultationinstitute.org), Engagement is Actions and processes taken or undertaken to establish effective relationships with individuals or groups so that more specific interactions can then take place.

By contrast, ‘consultation’ is The dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views and, with the objective of influencing decisions, policies or programmes of action.

To me, the difference is clear, but for a good consultation to be achieved (for all parties), the consultor must first of all engage with stakeholders, ahead of further interaction through consultation.

The two terms are familiar to us; we live in a democracy so are used to being consulted. So much so, that when we are not consulted, or the consultation is regarded as being substandard, communities are empowered enough to launch a challenge and demand better – sometimes through the courts.

In the world of planning, construction and infrastructure, guidance for engagement and consultation varies from one Local Planning Authority to another. But what is clear, in law as well as in principle, is that engagement and consultation should be done properly.

How developers and planning applicants as agents do this, is dependent on the size of the project in hand, and its potential impact on the community in which is it planned.

But what they need to do first, is understand their obligations as consultors, and what they can expect from consultees – including the risk that their project may be subject to a judicial review if the consultation process can be brought into question.

Ruth Shepherd delivers stakeholder engagement and community consultations through Results Communications Ltd and is an Associate with The Consultation Institute.
To discuss your engagement or consultation needs get in touch
Hartlepool Borough Council's planning committee has approved the largest housing development in the Tees Valley... with 800 fewer homes than originally proposed.

The planning application for High Tunstall in the North East town originally proposed 2000 new homes in the masterplan, which also included a new distributor road, local centre, primary school, amenity open space and structure planting.

Following the two-stage public consultation by Results Communications Ltd in 2014, and continual dialogue between the client, Tunstall Homes, and planning consultancy Prism Planning with Hartlepool Borough Council, the planning application was submitted for consideration the same year. The approved application represents the changes in market conditions, and the benefits of adopting a considered approach through early engagement with stakeholders.

Working on behalf of Tunstall Homes, we carried out the two-stage pre-application consultation with the community, gathering their views about the proposal for land south of Elwixk Road in High Tunstall. The scheme was one of the largest in the North East and required an Environmental Impact Assessment under current European legislation.

"It is great that this proposal has finally been approved. One of the take-aways for me was that that the proposed development raised a number of issues, many of which were brought forward during our public consultation events, and in feedback afterwards," explained Ruth Shepherd, Director of Results Communications, who led the delivery of the consultation.

"One of the issues which raised questions was about the number of new homes proposed, which at the time responded to the market conditions. In the intervening years, those conditions have changed, and through engagement with stakeholders and other information becoming available it was clear that the towns housing needs had reduced; in response, so did the proposal.
"This is a great example of how engagement and consultation - particularly early in the development of the proposal - can influence the final options available and - ultimately - the decision."

"It's not the first time consultees have influenced how a consultor's proposal changes through dialogue and negotiation, and it's great to see stakeholders getting involved, being informed and influencing what happens in their communities."

Is your device Adobe-ready?

Feedback Forms prepared for our community consultations are designed to be interactive, so you have the choice over how you complete the form, and whether you choose to keep an electronic or printed copy of the comments you provide to us.

We are aware that not all of Apple's devices are set to allow users to fill and sign Adobe PDF documents, but this will not prevent you from providing feedback.

Apple has made available a downloadable app to enable anyone using one of their devices the ability to fill, sign and send electronically documents. For more information click here .

If you prefer, you can also provide feedback without completing the feedback form provided - simply navigate to our Contact us page and complete the form.

Planning approval for Yarm Country Club

Proposals to build a multi-million pound new country club in Yarm have been approved by planning officers.

Results Communications managed and delivered the stakeholder engagement for the development, on land off Leven Bank Road. The new country club, spa and vineyards will provide Yarm and surrounding communities with a range of much-needed community and leisure facilities and create around 150 jobs.

There will also be private allotments, an allotment and orchard, and the leisure facility will be run by Tees Active, the not-for-profit company which runs Stockton council’s sports facilities.

Redmarshall development allowed following appeal

Results Communications' client Prism Planning is celebrating after securing permission for a village development proposal following an appeal.

Darlington-based Prism Planning lodged the appeal for the proposed development within the grounds of a nursing home after Stockton Council failed to determine the application within the required timescale.

The outline planning application, for a development of four four-to-five-bedroom family homes, within the grounds of The Mains Nursing Home in Redmarshall, was the subject of considerable discussion and negotiation between Prism Planning and Stockton Council, as well as with the local community and statutory stakeholders.

The final proposal took on board concerns about the number of proposed houses and their proximity to water mains, and landscaping, and was revised to meet the requests and advice from Stockton Council.

Despite this, planning officers advised that the application would be heading towards refusal. In an effort to save time for their client, Prism Planning submitted its appeal.

Rod Hepplewhite, Director of Prism Planning, said: “We set out to work with planning officers from the outset, and worked closely with them to revise plans in accordance with officer advice and requests, so it was galling to see the application heading towards a refusal.

“Incredibly, the reason for the recommendation to refuse was based on the site being in an unsustainable location, with limited services and provisions, and requiring occupants to travel to employment, education, retail and recreational uses. Our argument was to the contrary; and that Redmarshall and nearby Carlton should be considered as one settlement when determining planning applications.”

Planning Inspector Paul Singleton visited the site last month, and in his narrative report identified the main issue as being “whether the proposal would constitute sustainable development having regard to the accessibility which future occupiers of the proposed dwellings would have to employment opportunities and essential services”.

Allowing the appeal, Mr Singleton explored the proximity of Redmarshall to Carlton – just 400 metres – and found that the available services within both villages was acceptable, and that the council’s assessment of the sustainability of the village was too narrow and did not have proper regard to the guidance within the National Planning Policy Framework which states that where there are groups of smaller settlements, development in one village may support services in a village nearby.Mr Hepplewhite added: “During our pre-application discussions it had become clear that the council had a closed mind to our arguments; submitting the appeal was the only sensible option.

“We were delighted that the Planning Inspector accepted the strength of our case to the extent that he agreed with us on every relevant planning issue. Of particular note was that he agreed with us that Redmarshall and Carlton should be considered as a single entity for planning purposes.”

Work will now commence to develop the details of the proposal, all of which were reserved with the exception of access arrangements.
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Proposals for new neighbourhood in Warrington to go on display

Exciting plans for a new residential neighbourhood of up to 1,200 new homes in Warrington are to be unveiled.

The proposal includes a comprehensive vision for a proposed new neighbourhood at Peel Hall.

Outline plans will go on display next weekend, and will reveal how the site, which sits south of the M62, will be transformed over 15 years through a phased masterplan.Proposals include up to 1,200 much-needed, high quality and affordable starter homes to the area, along with employment, a local centre and community support facilities to the area.
Investment will also be targeted to the local community, with a range of open space for active sports and areas for informal use being created.

The development proposals are being brought forward by Satnam and will deliver a mix of housing types and sizes, including family homes and affordable and starter homes for first-time buyers trying to get a foot on the housing ladder or key workers such as nurses and teachers.
Significant investment in the community will see new and improved facilities at Windermere Avenue as well as a range of other initiatives to benefit other stakeholders in the area.
The scheme has been designed to be in keeping with the existing character and to respond to identified needs of the area.
Ruth Shepherd, consultation manager and spokeswoman for the project, said: “We are aware the proposals brought forward in 2012 received a mixed reaction, and since then a lot of work has been done behind the scenes to respond to concerns and suggestions made at the time.
“While this proposal includes more homes, the development is comprehensive and will enable local residents and business owners as well as other interested parties to make an informed decision based on a whole masterplan rather than just a part of the vision.

“We are keen to hear from as many people as possible and would encourage those who can attend to come along and see the proposals and vision, and let us know what they think.”The proposals will be on display at The Church of the Resurrection and St Bridget, St Bridget’s Close, Fearnhead, Warrington, WA2 0EW between 11.30am and 5pm on Saturday 23 January. Members of the project team will be on hand to answer questions about the scheme.

Feedback forms will be provided at the event so you can tell us what you think about the proposals, as well as make additional suggestions for the development. Anyone unable to attend can view the proposals and provide feedback online via www.resultscommunications.co.uk/consultations.aspx from 10am the following morning.


Second consultation for Westfield School development proposals

Plans to bring improved sports facilities, including a county-standard gymnasium at Westfield School, are to go on display again next week.

The independent day school in Gosforth will be hosting a public consultation to showcase development proposals for the project, which will see some existing buildings demolished or refurbished and a new gymnasium built.

The buildings earmarked for demolition are old, outdated and would cost a significant amount of money to bring up to the required standard.

Governors and the Senior Leadership team at Westfield – one of the region’s leading independent girls’ schools - are proposing to transform the existing undersized sports hall into a new maths hub, drama suite and art, graphics and textiles studio. A new gymnasium suitable for Sports England and county level sports is proposed within the current grounds. No facilities will be lost as a result of the rolling project, which has already seen the creation of a new administration hub, and refurbished library, classroom and sixth form spaces in the Senior House.

Headmistress Catherine Jawaheer said: “We had a fantastic response to our first consultation and since then the project team has been working with feedback and stakeholders to develop the proposals.

"This is an exciting opportunity to be able to continue the lasting legacy we have here, and to provide improved facilities for learning and developing both in the classroom and in sports activities at Westfield."

The project has already improved significant areas of the Senior House, and through the proposals the school will be able to not only further improve the school’s offer to current and prospective students, but to the Gosforth community and beyond.The proposals include plans to sell off a small part of land which is currently occupied by old classrooms and two temporary Portakabins which need to be replaced and the former Sixth Form Centre, to a development partner, which will in turn fund the refurbishment and new-build elements.

The cleared land would be developed into 22 residential units, including duplexes and houses. Associated parking, which would be provided in excess of current levels, would also be provided. The new gymnasium would include a netball court built to county standards, and intended for use by the county’s premier and first team.

The public consultation will take place between 6pm and 9pm on Wednesday 13 January 2016 in the Dining Room at Westfield School. The proposals will also be available to view online from 10am the following morning at www.resultscommunications.co.uk .

Members of the project team and school staff will be at the public consultation to answer questions and discuss the proposals.