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This resource is intended for any member of a community who wants to be more involved in (or informed about) planning for their local area. It contains links to information about some of the areas anyone getting involved in community planning should know about.

Many of the materials may also be useful to housing practitioners and local authorities looking to engage with their local communities in delivering new development.

Let us know about additional useful resources by emailing

  • Creating new places
  • Guides to Planning Policy
  • Local planning
  • Neighbourhood planning
  • Toolkits and techniques
  • Planning and design
  • Community-led housing
  • Ensuring long-term benefits

Why get involved?
Communities have an important role to play in the development of new housing and neighbourhoods locally. World Habitat has worked with communities across many different countries to collect knowledge and practical examples of this role in action. Many of our World Habitat Award Winners and Finalists provide great examples of what can be achieved when communities mobilise. Recent examples include:

Creating new places
In 2013, World Habitat held a consultation at Windsor Castle on the theme of ‘Delivering Successful New Settlements’. The World Habitat report, Creating the Conditions for New Settlements in England, explains how creating new places can be an effective part of the solution and that communities can and should be integral to the process of place-creation.

Communities have an important role to play in developing new places. Their involvement throughout the process brings a wide range of benefits:

  • Local people have the opportunity to shape development so it meets their needs
  • Society in general can benefit through the creation of sustainable and desirable places
  • Developers and landowners are likely to face reduced opposition to their proposals as they meet community needs and aspirations

Examples of historic planned settlements, such as Letchworth Garden City and Milton Keynes, demonstrate the potential of new settlements. They remain visionary examples of places to live and work, whether neighbourhoods, villages or entire towns.

Guides to Planning Policy

The Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI) provide Planning Aid, which includes The Handy Guide to Planning, the Planning Explained – and free, independent, professional advice. The site includes a section specifically for London.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) site Planning Help provides an overview of the planning system from top to bottom with information on how to get involved.

The Planning Portal is provided by the UK Government as a resource for England and Wales.

The Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI) Planning Aid site includes a section specifically for Scotland.

The Scottish Government web page provides a Guide to the Planning System in Scotland

Planning aid for Scotland also provides a comprehensive overview of information and resources, with a number of information sheets on key terms and processes.

The Royal Town & Planning Institute (RTPI) Planning Aid site includes a section specifically for Wales.

Northern Ireland
The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland hosts Planning NI, the Northern Ireland Planning Portal. It includes a lot of information about the planning system and information on the processes involved.

Local planning

Local plans
At the local level, development is governed by Local Development Plans (known as Local Plans in England and Development Plans in Northern Ireland), which set out local authorities’ intentions with regard to development. These are a statutory requirement for local authorities and must be kept up to date (although there is currently no specific guideline for what this means).

The most recent local plan should be available from your local authority’s website. Local planning varies between the different nations of the UK. Details can be found by following the links for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Unlike the rest of the UK, local authorities in Northern Ireland are not responsible for creating local plans. Instead, Development Plans are completed by local area planning offices.

Local authorities are required to consult communities when they review their Local Development Plan. This is an opportunity to actively shape the future development of your town, city or neighbourhood.

Planning applications
When a developer or landowner wants to build on a piece of land, they need to obtain planning permission. The exact process of obtaining planning permission is different in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but it is always possible to have your say on local development.

It is possible to comment on any local planning application, but for your comments to have an impact, they must relate to “material planning considerations”. This means that they must relate to planning law and are not purely personal considerations (e.g. impact on the view from your house or on property values).

When a planning application is submitted, local authorities are required to inform nearby residents. For larger applications they are required to consult more widely (e.g. through public meetings and notices in the local press). Again, the exact details differ for England, Scotland and Wales.

In Scotland, consultation is required prior to the planning application stage for large-scale development, while it is advised (although not a requirement) in England and Wales.

Local authorities in Northern Ireland are not responsible for planning applications. Instead, five local planning offices take responsibility for local applications, with major applications being assessed centrally by the Department of the Environment. However, despite a different structure, the grounds for objection and the process for consultation is similar to the rest of the UK.

Neighbourhood planning
In England, the government introduced Neighbourhood Planning in 2012 as a way to involve communities directly in the planning process. This enables communities to set up a Neighbourhood Forum, which can draw up a plan for their local area. The plan has to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework and the council’s Local Plan, and if agreed by a local referendum, becomes binding on the local authority. A wide range of different resources exist to guide communities through this process.

This quick guide to neighbourhood plans provides a good introduction to the issues, or for a more detailed explanation, see Neighbourhood Plans: Roadmap Guide

The RTPI has produced a series of one page briefings covering different aspects of neighbourhood planning, including The Community Infrastructure Levy and Non Statutory Tools for Neighbourhood Planning

To discuss practical issues, the RTPI runs an online forum for neighbourhood planning.

To see what other neighbourhoods are doing, take a look at these case studies from Locality

The Department for Communities and Local Government has provided some financial support to assist communities with Neighbourhood Planning, which is administered and provided by Locality.

Community rights
The government in England has also introduced a series of “Community Rights” with the aim of enabling local people to take greater control of their area. This includes a Community Right to Build, which enables local people to undertake development of homes and facilities for the benefit of the community. The My Community Rights website offers a comprehensive guide to these rights and how they can be used.

Scotland and Wales
In Scotland and Wales, there are also means of supporting the greater involvement of local people in planning issues. Scotland has a system of Community Planning, which aims to ensure that people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them. In Wales there is a system of Collaborative Community Planning (pages 7-10 of the report linked to here provide an overview of the process).

Toolkits and techniques
To create new places that work, it is important that local people of different ages, cultures, backgrounds and circumstances are involved, including residents and businesses. There are many ways in which communities can get involved and have their say. These can be led by communities themselves or by another facilitator such as the local authority.

This list of principles of community planning provides a good starting point in considering what community involvement should look like and what you want to achieve.

There are many ways in which people can be effectively involved in the planning of a new place:

  • lists numerous ideas, including how to set up an area forum or conduct a photo survey.
  • This Community Empowerment Discussion Toolkit provides questions to consider in identifying important issues for the community and activities to aid discussion.
  • Enquiry by Design is a service provided by the Prince’s Foundation, which includes a three or four day workshop to support community planning.
  • Charrettes – interactive design workshops, in which the public, professionals and stakeholders work directly with a specialised design team to generate a specific community masterplan – are another way to bring people together for discussion. The Scottish Government’s approach provides further details of the process and their Charrette Series Report contains several case studies.
  • A useful guide to Community Engagement has been produced as part of the Community Planning Toolkit. This contains practical advice, including different techniques and information on how to choose the most appropriate approach for your community.
  • Brighter Futures Together contains information and ideas to help people improve their community in different ways, including through protecting and enhancing the built environment.
  • Locality is a nationwide network of community-led organisations. As well as numerous online resources, they offer training and support for community-led groups, including those with a housing and planning focus.

Planning and design

There are various options to consider when planning a development, depending on the size and the scale of the proposal. However, any larger development can benefit from some sort of masterplan, which sets out the vision for a place and takes a strategic view of issues such as layout, service provision, job creation and community development.

A masterplan presents a vision for the future of an area and considers the way the land is used, the design and look of a neighbourhood, the kinds of community facilities needed and a range of other factors such as business needs, transport and green space. Some examples:

Who commissions the masterplan (the client) is often dependant on who owns the land and who will be financing the development. Situations where a masterplan is more likely to be used include:

  • New settlements
  • Regeneration programmes
  • Strategies for tackling local issues
  • Neighbourhood Plans

The main stakeholders involved are, in general: The local authority; private developer(s); landowner(s); and the affected communities. There is no formal requirement for masterplanning in national planning policy. However, a masterplan helps partners to understand how different elements will fit together and like any part of the planning process must comply with the relevant local and national planning legislation. Masterplanning will not necessarily be community-led and the extent of consultation involved will rely on who leads the process (the client).

The archived CABE guide to masterplanning outlines five main forms of community involvement

Support for Community Involvement in Masterplanning

There are a number of different organisations providing advice, information or funding for community based or community led initiatives.

  • Locality provides a wide range of services to support community led organisations, including grants to assist with the development of neighbourhood plans.
  • Big Lottery Fund has numerous funding programmes available for community groups and projects.
  • UK Community Foundations is an umbrella organisation which can direct you to a local foundation to access support for issues relating to community development and the environment. Visit the website to find your nearest foundation.
  • Planning for Real supports communities to take an active role in neighbourhood planning, new housing and regeneration projects.
  • Enquiry by Design uses workshops to assess a complex range of design requirements for the development site or place, with every issue tested by being drawn. Technical experts work alongside local experts to share expertise and inform the design.
  • Placecheck provide online resources for communities to assess their local area and identify ways to improve it through ‘walkabouts’. The resources are designed for anybody to use and do not necessarily require professional input.
  • The Glass-House Community Led Design provides “independent advice, training and hands-on support to community groups and organisations, housing associations, developers, local authorities and other stakeholders, to help them work more effectively together to create better quality places and spaces”.

Design codes
Another way of ensuring high quality development is through the implementation of a design code. Design codes are sets of rules regarding the design of new buildings and spaces. They can be enforced in various ways including incorporation in a Local Plan or in contracts with developers.

The government’s National Planning Practice Guidance provides information on the role of design in planning, including how design codes can be used. This Design Codes Factsheetformed part of Plymouth City Council’s Local Development Framework and provides a useful introduction to the concept.

Design codes can be…

  • Part of a Local (Development) Plan
  • Part of the planning application process
  • Communities can call for a design code to be incorporated into the Local (Development) Plan.
  • In the case of planning applications of a significant scale, communities can lobby local authorities to impose a design code as a condition of planning permission. This may be particularly influential in the case of pre-application stage consultations which are undertaken for many major developments.
  • Different local authorities have adopted different approaches to design. For example:

A design code has been successfully implemented in Upton near Northampton. This article explains how design codes were used as a collaborative tool in Upton, while the details of the design code can be downloaded from the Northampton Borough Council website.

North West Leicestershire has an Urban Design team, which seeks to improve the design of prospective planning applications, for the benefit of the local community.

At the national level, CABE is a government body whose focus is improving the quality of the built environment. They offer various services and online resources on issues relating to the design of buildings and places.

Community-led housing
One way that communities can be involved in delivering new housing locally is by taking part in a community-led housing initiative. While community-led housing currently plays a small role in the UK it has been successful in many other countries, including Germany, the USA and Uruguay.

  • Cohousing is a community housing approach where households each have a self-contained home but residents come together to manage their community and share activities.
  • Community Land Trusts are community organisations that develop housing, community facilities or other assets that meet the needs of the community. They are owned and controlled by the community and are made available at permanently affordable levels.
  • Community Self Build is where groups of households work together to build their own homes. Different models exist but the emphasis is always on supporting one another through the process.
  • Housing cooperatives are housing organisations where members (residents) democratically control and manage their homes. Many housing cooperatives also own their properties collectively.
  • Self-Help Housing brings empty properties back into use for the benefit of communities.
  • The Confederation of Co-operative Housing has published a guide to building new cooperative and community-led homes. The guide is aimed at community groups, local authorities and housing associations, and is available in English and Welsh.

Ensuring long-term benefits
When planning a new place it is important to consider its long-term prosperity. Some communities have done this by taking ownership of income-generating assets to provide for the future needs of the place. For example:

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation holds a substantial property portfolio, with which it was endowed when the city was established. The income generated from this is used to fund services for the community, including a cinema, day hospital and minibus service. The Foundation has strong community involvement and representation, ensuring that it meets the community’s priorities.

The Parks Trust, Milton Keynes is an independent charity that owns and manages parks and green spaces in the city. The Trust ensures that the green spaces are well cared for, for the health and wellbeing of the community and environment.

The Town and Country Planning Association has produced this comprehensive guide, which demonstrates a variety of ways that financial assets can be used to ensure long-term community benefits.