Sector: Engage Online

All change in North Yorkshire

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On 1 April, residents within North Yorkshire will wake up to North Yorkshire Council – a new unitary authority replacing the current county council, and seven district and borough councils, to become the geographically largest council in England. This will work alongside the existing unitary City of York Council.

The move is set against the backdrop of wider plans for a £540 million devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire that will see the election of a mayor in May 2024 and the establishment of a newly created mayoral combined authority which will have much greater powers in driving forward strategic infrastructure projects and large-scale development schemes.

Results of the consultation on the proposed deal, held in December 2022, have now been submitted to Government. It is expected that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP, will approve the drafting of legislation, enabling the creation of York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority in the coming months.

Who will make the decisions on planning?
From 1 April, North Yorkshire Council will become the local planning authority, resulting in any planning proposals not yet submitted or approved by the current local councils to be passed over to the new council.

Under a new tiered planning system, applications for significant infrastructure projects including large-scale housing developments and energy and physical infrastructure proposals, will be reviewed by a newly formed strategic planning committee, comprised of cross-party councillors from across the seven districts and boroughs. Six new planning sub-committees based around the parliamentary constituency areas will sit underneath this committee and make decisions on smaller, more local planning applications.

A new Local Plan will also be created to identify land that can be developed, replacing the seven Local Plans of the current district and borough councils, although residents could wait up to five years for an approved final document.

Until then, individual Local Plans will guide planning decisions whilst North Yorkshire Council devises a plan to integrate the priorities of each of the seven Local Plans, including different house-building targets, into one unified document. It is likely this adjustment process will temporarily create a complex local policy context and potential inconsistences in decision-making, which in turn, may lead to a greater number of appeals, particularly for large-scale housing developments.

Impact on engagement
Up until 2027, the political make-up of North Yorkshire Council will mirror the current composition of North Yorkshire County Council which in the May 2022 elections, narrowly maintained Conservative control to secure 47 seats out of 90. The current political spectrum of the new unitary authority– including 13 Independent, 12 Labour, 12 Liberal Democrats and 5 Green seats – brings a widened, diverse representation of political voices but may also lead to gridlocks in decision-making and a less clear overall direction of policy, including in planning and development.

Whilst councillors have been keen to “clear their desks” of existing planning applications ahead of April, issues have been raised over the new authority’s commitment to supporting existing proposals as councillors from outside the current district and boroughs will be brought into the decision-making processes mid-way through an application’s progress.

A new centralised planning system means fewer committees will be deciding on more planning applications, some of which may be geographically distant from them. For example, a councillor sitting on the Strategic Planning Committee, whose local patch borders Lancashire, could be voting on projects located on the North Sea coast. Greater distance between application and councillor could prove beneficial for large-scale, controversial projects by making it easier to bypass nimbyism and ensure applications are reviewed objectively without pressure from local communities.

Projects, particularly if they are significant and or controversial, must also factor in the procedural impacts from the council’s adjustment period, with potential for delays. Maintaining clear and consistent communication with planning officers and relevant planning committees will be critical to mitigate against any impact to a project’s timeline.

At Grayling, our on-the-ground consultants have extensive experience working on large-scale infrastructure projects across North Yorkshire and will be actively engaging with members of the new Strategic Planning Committee as part of our ongoing work.

If you would like further guidance on how to navigate these changes, or more information on the new North Yorkshire Council more broadly, please get in touch with Joe Cawley, Head of Engage at

As residents gain a greater say in local planning, homebuilders should seize the chance to change

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New planning laws unveiled in the Queen’s Speech will require longer, more complex, and more personal engagement programmes with residents. They could also mean much higher costs to home builders if they do not get the consultation process right and projects become drawn out. Here’s my take on what this part of the ‘levelling up’ agenda means for the construction sector.

In a Sunday Telegraph interview ahead of the 2022 Queen’s Speech, housing secretary Michael Gove hinted at some of the legislation to come. Standouts include:

  • A proposal for ‘street votes’ aimed at giving local residents a say over the design of any new builds
  • A plan to reduce empty high street property by forcing landlords to take tenants to regenerate high streets and support small businesses

The new emphasis on consulting residents includes plans for ‘local design codes’ for communities to decide what type of building they want in their area. This should help maintain a consistent aesthetic, especially in rural communities fearful of identikit modern housing arriving on their doorstep.

The downside for home builders is that the consultation process will now be longer and with way more barriers. Here’s how I believe they should pivot their local consultation.

The future of local planning consultation

For years, local planning consultation has been stuck in the old ways and needs a reboot. Residents often feel bypassed by planning developments, which could have contributed in part to the Conservatives’ surprise loss of Chesham & Amersham to the Liberal Democrats and may have prompted a rethink at the government level.

While the benefits are clear for local communities – a much-needed increased sense of ownership over planning decisions – the way I see it, Gove’s plans will:

  • Prolong the engagement process
  • Require more integrated and hands-on community engagement from planners and home builders
  • Fuel the need for more savvy use of technology, such as modelling and simulation software

There’s an opportunity here. As the pandemic demonstrated, public consultation has moved on from the traditional meeting in a local community centre to a hybrid model, where the ramping up of online content helps broaden the reach of public consultation.

Grayling’s research finds that around half (49%) of Britons we interviewed say they’d be more likely to be involved in public consultation if they could respond digitally. We see a cross-generational trend, too; it’s not just younger, digitally native people who want digital engagement on local issues that matter to them.

What the Government proposes in the Queen’s Speech invites home builders to be more creative in the way they present plans to locals, involve them and, over the long term, even build trust between two factions that often are at odds.

Whisper it, but a good experience and happy community could make future planning consultations that much easier.

Modern local planning consultation in action

At Grayling Engage, we’ve also demonstrated that local engagement through digital channels can inform and persuade locals of the value of a development and encourage their feedback and support.

In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Grayling Engage led the public consultation process on behalf of the developer Cube Real Estate for Unilever’s new global HQ in Kingston-Upon-Thames.

Due to restrictions in place at the time, we couldn’t present plans in person for the new development, which would see the regeneration of an underused, largely vacant site in the centre of the town. So, we used Grayling’s proprietary tool, GraylingEngage, to communicate with residents about Cube’s plans.

Our two-phase consultation also included digital meetings with key stakeholders in the town, including the local university, politicians, and business groups. We also hosted exhibition boards and a live chat function so residents could speak directly to the project team. We also delivered 2,500 leaflets to neighbours and took out adverts in the local press.

Across the entire consultation period we:

  • Reached 45,153 people for each phase of consultation through press advertising
  • Reached 31,101 people through social media
  • Received 3,828 visitors to the website
  • Received 293 responses to the two phases of consultation

Following consultation, more than 50% of respondents agreed in principle with the plans for the site. You can read the full case study here.

The Kingston-Upon-Thames project shows what can be achieved when planners engage with local residents and stakeholders. It’s all about keeping the communication flowing and listening to feedback.

We can expect to see a lot more of this type of digital-first engagement following the Government’s announcement on the future of planning. If you partner with Grayling on your next consultation, you will be working alongside a communication team that has proven expertise at delivering successful digital-first consultations with local residents and stakeholders.

If you would like to find out more about the Grayling Engage platform, get in touch on

Rikki Butler, Head of Engage at Grayling

The Future of Digital Engagement

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Grayling Engage launches new report and virtual consultation offer

To mark the launch of new platform EngageOnline, Rikki Butler, Head of Grayling Engage discusses the rapid shift to digital consultation methods during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we engage. Society as a whole has switched to using technology at a greater rate than ever before, while businesses, politicians and stakeholders have been forced to rethink their approaches to engagement.

The impact this has had on consultation and engagement practices came across loud and clear in our new research, highlighted in new report The Future of Engagement, published today in partnership with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Through UK-wide research with the general public and industry professionals, we explored how the pandemic changed public decision making, and what this could mean for the future.

We found that the rapid shift to online platforms has led to the vast majority (83%) of consultation professionals changing the way they engage with local communities on key projects across the infrastructure, housing, retail, energy, and health sectors. 

However, while many industry professionals said they would now feel more confident in proposing creative methods of engagement, many recognise that their teams often lack the digital training, skills and tools they need to be as innovative and effective as possible (73% of industry survey respondents). In addition, two out of three professionals believe it’s possible to go ‘too far’ with digital engagement, suggesting there remains a firm need for face-to-face activity post lockdown.

Engaging new audiences

As conversations that traditionally took place in town halls, libraries and other public spaces have moved online, almost half (49%) of the general public surveyed said that having the ability to respond digitally as well as face-to-face would make them more likely to get involved in consultations, particularly with younger respondents.

The need for the UK’s local places and services to adapt to a changing world, and the desire to involve local people, was also highlighted. More than half (53%) of the general public surveyed agreed that changes to local places, spaces and services will need to happen to adapt to life post pandemic – and that local people should be involved in these decisions.

This suggests digital engagement could be the key to unlocking participation from a larger, younger and more diverse cohort – which would help ensure the many decisions needed to help the country adapt after the pandemic more accurately reflect the needs of a rapidly changing society. But it shouldn’t be a choice between digital or face-to-face engagement – both have an important role to play.

Grayling launches EngageOnline

That’s why our new virtual engagement offer, EngageOnline, has been designed to be as effective for ‘digital only’ consultations as it is for ‘blended’ programmes. It is not a pastiche of in person events – it is a user friendly, all-device-compatible online home for the project.

EngageOnline is a fully-customisable platform to facilitate online consultation and engagement programmes. Designed to provide the tools needed to comply with the consultation requirements for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, it is also flexible enough to meet the needs of a wide range of other projects from planning applications for housing developments, to change programmes being run by the NHS.

To find out more about Grayling Engage’s new offer, contact Rikki Butler on 

To download the new report, The Future of Engagement, click here.