Epping Forest District Council’s Draft Local Plan
Epping Forest District Council had identified the need to learn from the lessons of its last Local Plan consultations in 2011 and 2012 to make sure more people were engaged with the process this time around, as well as to encourage people to use a wider variety of methods of response.
We were instructed in April 2016 to provide public consultation and engagement support ahead of the ‘preferred approach’ consultation stage of the Local Plan.
Key Project Information
The key points we were instructed to assist the Council with were:
- Improving the user-friendliness of the consultation website
- Developing a simple to use questionnaire and encouraging more online responses
- Simplifying and streamlining the consultation documents, reducing technical language and improving the use of ‘plain English’
- Publicising the choice of response method
- Producing a robust strategy which would give members the confidence not to request an extended consultation period, which had been the case in the past
The online and hardcopy questionnaire was also seen as key in encouraging robust engagement. Previously the council had used a 90+ question survey, which was criticised by local politicians and the community.
How we assisted
We supported the Council with a number of activities to let people know about the Draft Local Plan, the public consultation, and how they could get involved. Promotion of the Draft Local Plan took place between September and November and consultation from October to December 2016. This involved Member briefings on the consultation strategy, and revisions in line with their feedback, to ensure their buy-in to the consultation process. Our briefings started with key officers, Cabinet Members, and full District and Parish Council presentations and meetings.
Key messages were updated and revised before re-engaging the local community for this stage of the Plan. Here the focus was overcoming consultation fatigue and re-invigorating interest, as well as targeting audiences less likely to get involved. We also created a website, hosted our in-house produced videos to easily explain the process, encourage people to register for updates and get people aware of the key dates to watch out for and where to find more information in easy to digest formats. The video included varied stakeholders and how the Local Plan impacts them – including the Youth Council members.
A hardcopy questionnaire was supported by an online questionnaire so that it was easy and convenient for people to provide their feedback in their own time, and social media was used to engage with those less likely to get involved. A Facebook and Twitter content calendar was produced from September to December. Close working with the Council’s in-house PR team utilised their existing social media channels with our content.
Consultation took place between 31st October and 12th December 2016. We organised, facilitated and monitored six staffed exhibitions, as well as 13 static information points that were available in public libraries and public facilities throughout the consultation period. In addition to this, we designed the Draft Local Plan document to ensure that it was an easier to understand document than before.
The following engagement was achieved:
- 3,387 responses were received from 3,082 respondents
- 7% of feedback was received through the hardcopy questionnaires; 22% by letter, 23% by email and 48% by online questionnaires. Online questionnaire responses to the 2012 consultation represented 19% of the total responses received
- 1,233 people attended the six staffed exhibition events
- Nine e-bulletins were issued with an ‘open rate’ of 6,327 in total, along with 3,177 direct engagements on Twitter and 1,211 engagements on Facebook