The importance of community engagement in planning

By Alia Khan, Consultant 

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) held their annual Nathaniel Litchfield Lecture and focused it on participation in planning 50 years after the Skeffington report.

The lecture was delivered by Professor Gavin Parker, member of the RTPI and Professor of Planning Studies at the University of Reading. He provided a thought provoking and at times a controversial talk on public participation in planning and how far the industry has come since the publication of the Skeffington Report.

The Skeffington Report, ‘People and Planning’, was a report of the Committee on Public Participation in planning, chaired by Arthur Skeffington MP. The committee was appointed in 1968, to assess how the public might become more involved in the creation of local development plans. The committee was set up following the primary legislation in 1968, and published its report in 1969. Essentially, the Skeffington Committee was set in place to translate the statutory requirements of public participation in planning.

The Skeffington report highlighted 9 key points;

1. Public should be given more information and advised on planning activity
2. Wide publicity should be afforded for planning activity
3. More efforts need to be made on educating the public about planning needed
4. The people involved in research need to inform the public on plans
5. Input from the public should be accepted throughout the plan process
6. Participation should be from a diverse pool
7. Community forums should be set-up
8. Community development officers to be employed
9. Participants should be informed of the use of their inputs

Marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Skeffington Report, Professor Parker argued that the report was as relevant today as it was 50 years ago, and that there was a continuing need for planners to be more strident in how they promote the profession. “Participation should not be an add-on,” he said, “it should be at the core of what we do.”

Professor Parker then explained that the post-war era brought in a new wave of disdain and distrust towards planners and planning processes. Furthermore, the Raynsford review in 2018 found that the Skeffington report was not being implemented, stating; ‘government has not sought to comprehensively understand the views of the key end-users of the planning system: the wider public’.

As a solution, Professor Parker proposed that the only way to be able to fully engage the public would be to hand ownership of planning to the public. He explained that his main reasoning for proposing public ownership of planning was based on the Grosvenor research in July 2019 which revealed the general public tend to distrust developers and local authorities, thus this would encourage planners, developers and architects to further engage consistently and persistently with communities and groups that need engagement the most, with those who would be most affected by new developments and changing landscape of their communities.

Overall, the lecture summed up various ways of improving public participation in planning. Vice-President of the RTPI also spoke briefly and emphasized the report’s continuing relevance, she said that the principle of public participation “can improve the quality of decisions by public authorities and give personal satisfaction to those affected by decisions.”

Finally, she concluded; “The Skeffington Report formed a marker in the sand in terms of community engagement in the planning system, so, 50 years on, what better time to reflect on the subject?”.

It is fair to say that 50 years after the Skeffington report, the recommendations of the report are still very relevant. It has become increasingly important to engage communities in planning processes, it is also worth noting that more developers today are recognising that by working together with communities, it leads the way to help shape and create places where people want to live, work and relax now and in the future.

If you have any questions about how we can help you with stakeholder engagement and community consultation support, please give Chelgate Local a call on 020 7939 7939 or email