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Our Social Mission

Our social mission is to enable community-supported, high quality and sustainable development to be delivered and to engage successfully with local communities along the way. 

Our Social Objectives

We strive to achieve our social mission by:

  • Providing professional planning advice and support to local communities via their town and parish councils or neighbourhood forums

  • Pricing our services to community clients at a significant discount to the market so they are affordable

  • Helping our community clients to plan for development that will deliver new homes to meet local needs and timely supporting infrastructure in a way that will have a net positive sustainability impact

  • Working with landowners and developers to deliver sustainable development of the right type in the right place that is supported by the local community

Measuring our Social Impact

We measure each year how well we are achieving our social impact through the following key impact indictors:

  • The number of community-led projects we support

  • The financial value (£) of the in-kind support we provide to community clients*

  • The % of plans and projects that are independently verified as having a net positive social, economic and environmental impact

  • The number of new homes that are either allocated in plans we support or are approved by planning applications and orders we submit

* this is measured by ((A/B)*C) - C where:

A = average professional planning consultant day rate (£) (as published annually by Planning Resource)

B = ONH average day rate for community client projects (£)

C = total annual revenue from community client projects (£)


2022/23 Impact Data

43 community-led projects supported (38 in 2021/22)

£123,750 in-kind support provided (£91,525 in 2021/22)

100% projects with net positive sustainability impact (100% in 2021/22)

2,750 homes planned/proposed (4,000 in 2021/22)


Access to affordable, high quality professional planning consultancy services by local communities is very limited. The market for those services is almost entirely comprised of private clients (landowners and developers) and local planning authority clients. The vast majority of consulting businesses are able to achieve far higher fees (both on day rates and project scale) and will often be conflicted by working for community clients.


Although not unique, ONH is the largest independent supplier of professional planning consulting services to community clients in England by number of projects and total value of fees generated. Its community clients comprise town, community and parish councils and neighbourhood forums in six of the eight English regions. From the outset its owners have chosen to serve this segment of the market as part of its social mission. 


Every professional planning consultancy must ensure the standard of its services and behaviour adhere to the professional ethics of the Royal Town Planning Institute. However, those ethics still enable planners to promote and justify development schemes of the wrong type in the wrong place, especially if they and their clients believe that “any new housing is better than none at all”. There has been widespread concern over the last decade that for many reasons the quality of outcome from the planning system is too often poor.


This is a key factor that has encouraged more local communities to want to engage with the planning system in a proactive way through neighbourhood plan making and seeking to influence the plans and proposals of others. ONH chooses as clients those communities that want to play a positive role in planning for a type and scale of development that is appropriate for the location.


ONH’s private clients are landowners and SME developers and house builders. The landowners are those with land that a community has chosen as a preferred option to bring forward in a neighbourhood plan. The owner will not yet have a developer partner and may be unwilling to invest at risk time and money in actively exploring and promoting a development opportunity. As their interests coincide with those of the community, ONH is the perfect partner to both parties to make sure a high quality scheme that delivers on the community’s expectations secures planning permission and the right builder.


Its developers and housebuilder clients are locally or regionally focused, so are not any of the volume housebuilders. Clients will share its values in delivering community-supported schemes that do not attempt to wiggle out of policy commitments or value-engineer out the expected quality. Importantly too, ONH will not work on schemes that are speculative and hostile in locations that it considers are unsustainable.


In all cases, the operation of the plan making and development management systems requires the social, economic and especially environmental impact of development to be measured and scrutinised by the local planning authority before it is approved. Plans must show they contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and will avoid harming the environment. Proposals must show they comply with national and local policies and environmental regulations. 


Integrated into both systems is also the requirement to engage local communities. Neighbourhood plans must pass the ultimate test of majority community approval through a referendum of local voters. Planning applications must be consulted on by both the developer and planning authority.


For each social impact objective and measurement there is therefore a rationale to support the social mission and enterprise status of ONH and the means to report its social impact. ONH retains its operating profits to reinvest in its business and social mission. It also distributes a dividend to its owners to reward their effective management of the business and to make team performance bonuses which are also aligned to its social impact.

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