'Paper Tigers’: a critical review of Statements of Community Involvement in England

This 2021 report from researchers at the University of Reading, and commissioned by Civic Voice, presents findings from an independent study into current practice in statements of community involvement across England. Recommendations about how these documents - or similar arrangements - can be more effective are provided.

Date added 2 November 2021
Last updated 2 November 2021

*This resource is about community involvement. It is not specifically about the High Street, but has been included in response to requests for more studies/information about this topic, as well as linking to networks and place management priorities for High Street vitality and viability*

This report presents findings from an independent study into statements of community involvement (SCI) across England, which “... express how a local planning authority (LPA) will engage with the public in the development of their local plan, neighbourhood plans and development management cases” (pp. 5-6), and LPAs are expected to review these statements every 5-years. It is part of a broader movement towards greater collaboration and community involvement, as captured in policies such as the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the 2017 Neighbourhood Planning Act, NPPF 2019, and NPPG.

The research assessed current practices in SCIs including an initial baseline review of 164 across England (50%) to ascertain the coverage, age, length, and usability of these documents. Second, the researchers explored 8 SCI case studies from different English regions to explore the actual experience of using these documents, including interviews with local planning authorities (SCI producers) and community representatives (SCI end users).

Based on this research, the following findings are discussed:

Desk research findings

  • The SCIs reviewed were largely readily available for community members to access through the LPA website.
  • There were issues around multiple versions of the SCIs being located which can cause confusion.
  • Not all community members are necessarily aware that these documents exist or the terminology to use in searches to find the SCIs in the first place.
  • Most authorities had updated their SCI since 2006 at least once – but there were many that were over 5-years old and so outdated (25%).
  • The SCIs studied were relatively lengthy documents (average page length 25 excluding appendices).
  • Very few SCIs included measurable principles to see if community involvement took place and to what extent.

Case study findings

  • When producing a SCI, the majority of LPAs did not draw on local data or information.
  • The SCIs studied generally did not go beyond statutory requirements, but they did attempt to engage in certain innovative practices beyond this (e.g. use of digital means to engage the community through social media).
  • Although the LPAs had consulted the community when producing the SCI, it attracted few comments as people did not feel they could productively contribute.
  • A SCI can seem to be just a procedural tick-box exercise unless its principles are embedded in a wider culture around community involvement in practice.
  • There were mixed views on whether the SCI had impacted the quality of community engagement.
  • There seems to be limited ongoing monitoring of SCIs.

Based on these findings, some key recommendations are provided:

  • Clean up the versions of SCIs online so there is just one up-to-date version to access.
  • Keep the SCI document clearly located and labelled on the website and ensure they are widely promoted.
  • Ensure that the substance of the SCI is clear and upfront.
  • Prepare SCIs well in advance of local plan preparation.
  • There is a need for some form of SMART principles that can be co-produced, agreed and actioned by the local authority and local community.
  • The SCI should be locally specific to an area and should not just repeat the national statutory (minimum) requirements.