Community engagement

This page looks at community engagement methods to support the adoption of ambitious climate change policies in a neighbourhood plan.

The climate crisis is the challenge of our times. Climate records continue to fall: globally, the five warmest years on record have all happened since 2014; in the UK, 2019 saw the warmest winter and hottest summer days on record. And today, the British public is more concerned about climate change than ever.

As a result, the government is beginning to take more ambitious action. This summer, legislation was passed committing the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Local councils are also contributing, passing their own climate emergency resolutions which aim to reduce carbon emissions within their areas to zero even earlier.

Nevertheless the challenge remains formidable, and society needs to reduce carbon emissions faster and do more to plan how to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Communities writing neighbourhood plans are in a unique position to help. Once adopted, the policies in a neighbourhood plan have the same status as those set by the council, and can include policies to help reduce carbon emissions created by new development and to adapt to climate change impacts.

The need for community engagement

CSE has published a guidebook encapsulating the best policies we have seen, but experience shows that early and effective community engagement is vital to build public support for ambitious policies.

It is critical to incorporate climate change and sustainability considerations into surveys and initial community involvement processes. Doing so early enables residents to think about how resilient their community may be to the impacts of climate change and how emissions could be reduced locally. It can also build evidence to demonstrate that ambitious neighbourhood plan policies carry community support.

Remember, the questions you ask and topics you raise in your community engagement processes set the agenda for what follows, and ultimately influence what policies are included within your plan. 

CSE has developed the following resources to help Neighbourhood Planners carry out community engagement effectively. All workshops and presentations are accompanied by full facilitation notes.

Questionnaire picklist
This is a selection of questions you can use or adapt in your neighbourhood plan questionnaire, embedding sustainability and climate issues. These raise issues which are relevant to the climate crisis, but also build links to other subjects that may be important to local residents, even people who don’t believe in climate change.

Click here to download the questionnaire picklist (word doc).

Workshop - Policies for a zero carbon future
This 2.5-hour session is designed to be run early in your community involvement process and will help attendees to think of the kind of changes needed in your community to help solve the climate crisis. The workshop provides an overview of the context of climate change, and then asks attendees to imagine that its 2050, that we have solved the climate crisis.

Attendees are required to list how this has been achieved, concentrating on how we’ve adapted our villages, towns and cities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. The workshop outputs are an initial list of high level policy objectives, a list of possible community actions and initiatives to sit alongside the plan and an action plan, setting out next steps. The outputs can form part of your evidence base as the basis and can be used for wider community engagement and policy writing.

Click here to download the introductory presentation (powerpoint).
Click here to download the facilitation instructions (pdf).

School workshops – 'Creating a zero carbon future'

Greta Thunberg and the school climate strikers have brought home the truth that the world adults create through climate inaction, children will inherit - and the injustice inherent in this. These age-appropriate workshops for secondary and primary schools look at the lack of representation of younger people in town planning processes (usually complicated, boringly presented and pitched at property owners) and gives both secondary and primary school children an opportunity to express their views on how their area is developed and how the climate crisis can be addressed in their neighbourhood.

A child’s eye view is a valuable perspective when it comes to planning,. Older primary school children can't engage with more complicated concepts, but they do have views on road safety, provision for walking and cycling and access to green space in their neighbourhood - which may, after all, be their entire world. A neighbourhood designed to be safe and accessible for children and serve their needs is likely to be safe and sustainable for everyone.  
Healthy future for people and planet presentation
Healthy future for people and planet instructions
Healthy future for people and planet script

With a little explanation of what the planning system is and why it is relevant, secondary school age children are able to engage with this material in much the same way as adults. 
Planning for a zero carbon future presentation
Planning for a zero carbon future instructions

Energy and Landscape workshops 
This 1.5 day in-depth workshop can help your community work towards an informed consensus about what types of renewable energy might be acceptable within your neighbourhood and possible sites. The workshop outputs can provide the basis for a renewable energy strategy for your neighbourhood for further consultation and refinement and can form part of your evidence base. Read more at

Why use workshops

This can all seem like the long-way round when many people have strong opinions as to what policies are needed to address the climate crisis, and it can be tempting for committed individuals to draw up ambitious policies and objectives themselves and then seek to build support around them (the “announce and defend” approach).

A lesson we’ve learnt is that it can be more effective in the long-run to use workshops and other participatory processes like those above to build informed support around this agenda, rather than jumping straight in with the solution. Doing so builds a wider community of support around the policies you’ll come up with, and increases the chances of your plan being successful in the referendum at the end. For further detail on the statutory requirements for community involvement, please see the Locality roadmap.

Subject to our availability and capacity, we have funding to deliver these workshops and presentations around the country, to help you build support for the type of policies set out in the guide. Please get in touch if you’d us to deliver a presentation or workshop for your group.

Funding for these resources comes from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.