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PlanningAlerts – your thoughts

by on July 15, 2009

A now significant number of LPA’s are using a free service provided by PlanningAlerts to provide email notification of planning applications for any given location. The service scrapes LPA websites to gather its data and links back to the application as published on the LPA site.

I’d be interested to know what you think of this service from both a user and LPA perspective.

Chris

13 Comments
  1. My thoughts have been well documented on this matter I think! It’s a great resource and the team of volunteers do a great job.

    While the screen scraping solution isn’t ideal, until LPAs start publishing planning application data in a standard format, it’s really going to be the only way to get a system running (sort of) nationwide.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      We tried for a long time to get support for the idea of a national planning database that would extract data directly from LPA back office systems. This would then enable users to subscribe for alerts for any location and via email or sms. It would also provide real-time data on the planning pipeline.
      We had planned to surface the search tool on the Portal and on LPA websites.
      Ultimately though it did not get funding.
      Chris

  2. As a user, I think it’s great. I don’t have to regularly visit my council’s website to see if there are any planning applications near me, they simply get emailed to me as they appear – presumably even if they cross a council boundary, though I don’t live in a location where that would happen.

    I’m surprised this wasn’t available officially years ago (perhaps some councils do offer it, I’ve not seen any) – it’s not hard to do and would presumably be a great way to engage local people in the planning process at the earliest possible stage, rather than possibly alienate those who e.g. discover something happening locally far too late (or conversely, wish to write to add support to something local, something I’m hoping to do soon).

  3. community empowerment can only happen with the right information. planning in particular is an information game (i have fought dozens of planning battles in my community).

    council websites are in general very very hard to navigate and retrieve information. and you have to keep on top of what is going on in your area to hit the narrow consultation windows or the game is up.

    information push services are fundamental to a better planning system – planning alerts is a model of how to do it. the planning portal should just award an r&d or consultancy contract to the planning alerts team and learn how they did it and secure its continued operation.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Once we have our new I.T in place (September-ish) we will begin the implementation of our new functionality. This will enable our users to drop in services from other suppliers such as PlanningAlerts. This thinking lay behind the post.
      The idea being that you will be able to pull into the Portal frame the bits of the Portal that are useful to you alongside other services (it might be cricket scores or the weather or it could be planning application notifications or a discussion board from PAS or such)
      Chris

  4. I’m a user and I really like it. I had a problem a while ago where a nightclub was given planning permission and I didn’t know about it until it opened up and it caused all sorts of problems, so getting an early warning is essential. I can check every application even if most of them are just about cutting a tree back i’m glad I get them.

    I think more work and consistency could be applied to the actual details that you click through to on the actual council website as some of them are hard to use or depend on out of date and incompatable technology like Internet Explorer 6.

  5. Chris, We’d be interested to discuss how far you got with integrating with LPA back office systems – are there webservices out there that we could use rather than having to screen scrape? Also, anything you can do to help us financially would be greatly appreciated. For about £15,000 we can make sure that PlannignAlerts has a solid future for years to come (our users have donated nearly £1000 themselves). What do you say?

    On a different not, It sounds like you are planning to build a customisable page for people on the Planning Portal (much as the bbc homepage does)? If that is the case I would strongly urge against it.

    Government websites are never going to become destination websites, and the number of people that will take the time to use it will be small. (I always end up thinking of Tony Blair on the Millennium Dome – “governments shouldn’t try to run big visitor attractions”)

    As William says, this is all about information push, not attracting returning visitors. Planning Alerts is designed to be a signup-and-forget-service for that reason, and has an API so people can build things like TwitterPlan to take the information to their place on the internet (you can imagine a facebook version, and little widgets for community websites).

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hello Richard,
      we are going for a Pageflakes model not in order to become a destination for it’s own sake but in order to help our (mainly) professional users to do business more efficiently.
      Tens of thousands of businesses use our service to submit and subsequently manage planning applications on behalf of clients and themselves, many using our ‘My Application’ functionality. Feedback received through hundreds of surgeries and workshops have made it clear they would like more and better tools to manage applications and the surrounding matters without having to link off to different sites.
      My view is that we at the Portal would never be able to develop all the tools required nor should we.
      Rather we can create a frame much as Apple have done with Iphone apps and enable the private sector, be it commercial or not for profit to put forward the tools.
      We will accredit suitable services and promote them on the Portal, we may even seek a commission in order to maintain the service (from commercial services) and we will promote them to our users.
      In this way I believe we can share our reach with organisations such as your own and enhance our ability to improve the planning process at the same time.
      Chris

      Re the money issue I know Aled has been trying to contact you.

  6. I use the planning alerts email and find it great. It’s the only way I know about planning applications in my area. I don’t understand how any council can refuse to supply this vitally important public data. While it may be right that the council has a monopoly on the collection of this civic data it certainly shouldn’t have a monopoly on its distribution. I don’t want my tax money paying for yet another crap govt IT project. Just make the data freely available and let the citizens do the rest.

  7. Chris,

    If I have one thing to say that you can learn from PlanningAlerts, it is to note that Planning websites needn’t and shouldn’t be only for planning professionals. They may be your core audience, but the other 60 million of us live here, too, and planning decisions affect a lot of our lives.

    The great thing about PlanningAlerts is it’s such an incredibly easy way to find out how Planning permissions can affect your life, without actually having to be a property owner or developer. You should certainly work with the Planning alerts volunteers to work out how you can get the sort of non-industry traffic that a site like yours should have.

    best,

    Tom

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hi Tom, and welcome,
      I am a big fan of planningalerts and we are very keen to work with them.
      More than 40% of our traffic is from citizens and our primary goal is to help demystify the planning system and make it more efficient for everyone.
      Tools like the Interactive house are the first steps in what we hope will become a far easier process, facilitated by tools that simplify, explain and encourage individuals to engage in every part of the planning process.
      I’d welcome the opportunity to explain our approach to you in more detail and seek your input to our future plans.
      Chris

  8. To a certain extent, I don’t think it’s what you should be able to put on your Planning Portal homepage that matters, but whether you can put all your Planning Portal feeds onto your iGoogle/Yahoo/BBC etc homepage.

    And your PAS, PINS, Planning Resource, Planning Magazine, CLG, DirectGov, Info4Local, and, of course, RTPI feeds.

  9. PortalDirector permalink

    Hi Matt,
    we will be making several chunks of Portal content available via RSS after our IT refresh.
    Chris

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