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Advertising on the Planning Portal – what do you think?

by on January 18, 2010

As I’ve mentioned previously, Government is fully behind the Planning Portal and is not intending to privatise us at any point in the near future, however, we will need to contribute more significantly to our own costs in the coming year and beyond.
We have a number of cunning plans which we’ll bring to your attention as they pan out; but we’d be remiss not to consider the elephant in the room, namely adverts on the website.
In considering this, we have choices. For example, do we go for a low-volume, high-cost model and risk upsetting all the SMEs out there or do we go the other way and offer high-volume, low-cost and generate lots of work for ourselves that eats into the revenue.
I’d be interested to hear your views on the general subject or the specific approaches.
One thing I should say, whichever way we go, we will only carry advertising relevant to our industry.

UPDATE: Met Office web site now carrying advertising including from RAC and British Gas

  1. Mark K Smitham permalink

    You must be kidding. I cannot think or find any examples of other government departments or agencies that have private industry advertising on their websites. Even the Ordnance Survey do not have adverts.

    Having adverts on the Planning Portal has a number of perceived disadvantages:-
    – this would detrimentally impact on the reputation of the Planning Portal. Each and every advertiser would have to vetted and fully endorsed by the Portal otherwise their reputation would hang on the Portal. The Portal is a government agency. It is not Google or the Yellow pages whose sole purpose is advertising revenue.
    – advertising would distract users from finding the information they are looking for and efficiently using the services they need.
    – this could open the door to other agencies using advertising on their websites. Although it may well be helpful to have accountants adverts on the HMRC tax return website it would again be distracting from actually using the HMRC itself to file a tax return.

    I disagree with the idea of advertising even industry relevant companies on the Portal. However, I appreciate that the Portal must find further funding other than government pockets and so perhaps they could endorse advertising of the tools, software and services that the Portal, Inspectorate, and Planning Casework Service all use? For example, the Portal could hold an advertsing space that is ‘sold’ per impression or click to Adobe or IBM or Ordnance Survey or other suppliers of tools to the Portal?

  2. Mark K Smitham permalink

    Just a thought but could you tag the idea of advertising onto the Agent Accreditation Scheme when it is rolled out nationally? It would be a mechanism to approve who may advertise on the Portal, i.e. only those approved and accredited. This would also be an added incentive for agents to become accredited so that they can advertise on the Portal. You could also focus the advertising selectively based on where the agent is based and the areas that they serve, which would maximise the value for the agent and revenuw for the Portal.
    Just a thought because one of my reservations about advertising was allowing any company to be associated with the Portal. The Portal is a public body and not a company directory service or advertising agency like Yellow Pages. Allowing accredited agents and approved companies only to advertise on the Portal would maintain the reputation of the Portal.

  3. The other side of the coin is as follows :

    Advertising on government web sites could bring in a good revenue stream for. It can reduce the cost of providing the information and services, which saves the taxpayer money or results in better quality services and faster delivery of information and services on-line. It is a perfectly legitimate thing to do as long as sensible guidelines are adhered to.

    I agree that particular care is needed to make clear that the website retain it’s independence in every way.

  4. Nik Fleming permalink

    Assuming that the Portal segregates the adverts under a disclaimer banner, I think most of us are smart enough to recognise them for what they are and not assume there is any connection or implied endorsement. Let’s not be too pious about this.

  5. Keith Oliver permalink

    Check out East Hampshire District Council website, It has carried advertising – a discreet box in top right hand corner of the page, for approx 2 years.

    Not aware that this has caused any concerns.

  6. Rob Huntley permalink

    The Planning Portal is a useful tool to support the planning process, but it has no place as advertising medium. To do so would degrade its perception as a neutral and impartial gateway, the purpose of which is to increase the accessibility, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the process.

    However presented, carying advertisments would be perceived by users as the Portal conferring a recommendation in respect of the advertisers. A more useful and neutral approach would be, with the RTPIs agreement, to provide a link to the On-Line Directory of Planning Consultants.

    The language used in the Director’s Blog (“cunning plans” and “elephant in the room”) reinforces the impression that the Portal is moving away from its hitherto valuable role as a tool for use by professionals and lay users of the planning process, and is set to become indistinguishable from other web-marketing sites. If that occurs, the respect of the Portal will be quickly lost. If, as a public sector service, it tries to compete with commercial websites, it will inevitably loose and will therefore not survive.

  7. Ken Usman-Smith permalink

    The need to increase revenue to offset the big grants freeze about to come our way is compelling.
    The ‘media’ who normally carry adverising have already succeeded in stopping the prosal to end advertising legal planning notices, as it would reduce income to them, despite our dire finances. The politicians were unable to stand up to that lobby.
    The local press criticises the Council whenever it advertises on pay slips or in house magazines as ‘poaching’ so adverts do carry risk.
    But we see pop ups and understand the fact they are not endorsements.
    The real income streams are the knowledge base that the portal holds. Its advice on impementing software and better use of it, its access to the buttons of government.
    Extend into Building Control, Searches and strategic policy and other land ‘place shaping’ areas. But this time licence links and knowledge and think about the way web2 can work for the rest of us.
    The LPA owns the data and guards it, but its all about the links and what can be done with them, from convering files on line to exploring Software as a Service. You have the servers, rent us space on them and take on our carbonn footprints and support headaches.
    We are at the same point the national press was at when free papers took a major slice of advertising revenue. The battles to be fought are similar and the way we will work in 5 years have not even been imagined yet.
    The brand of the Portal is well placed to do this. We may buy your services, you may get economies of scale for yourselves and ultimately us. But that needs leadership and vison, so over to you Chris….Lets be ambitious.

  8. Mark K Smitham permalink

    I am not suggesting that we cannot recognise them, I am suggesting that not EVERYONE can recognise them. I am thinking of the end user, a member of the public trying to get information using a system that is utterly new to them. Professionals and Government users may not have a problem but what about the Public, I mean all of the public including disadvantaged and hard to reach groups of citizens.

    Those adverts are a little distracting from the main point of the website. If I am looking for when my bin is going to be collected again because of the snow I don’t need to be put off from this aim by a flashing advert for PC World or Red Letter days.

  9. The London Borough of Merton ( has adverts. Whilst I understand the need for revenue streams, I really find this route uncomfortable. For one thing if they are targetted ads, where’s the accountability? If I got to the Planning pages and see an advert for a Planning Consultant does it look like an endorsement (I know there are always disclaimers but they are always small print!)?
    Incidently I went to the planning pages at Merton and was presented with an advert for John Lewis!

    I guess on the onehand if you serve targetted ads it can look slightly suspect and on the other hand if I get a John Lewis ad on a child services or planning page it looks irrelevant and silly.

    As a government run website I think you need to rise above chasing revenue through advertising and look at innovation! For example, why haven’t you teamed up with to provide a easy to use consultation service? I think the planning portal is a great site that for once as a government IT project has delivered, don’t loose sight of this.

  10. Tom permalink

    How about not advertising on the public section of the website, but rather on the professional section? For example firms offering professional reports which typically accompany a Planning Application – land contamination reports, noise assessments, ecological surveys etc. In this way we’d avoid any fears about the integrity of the Portal as you’d expect a ‘Professional User’ to be able to distinguish between an advert and a endorsement (having said that I feel its somewhat insulting to assume a member of the public cannot make the same distinction).

    Alternatively/additionally, perhaps LPAs looking for tenders on the strategic policy document formulation (this may happen already) could advertise, again on the professional users section?

  11. Graham Cosslette permalink

    Good idea as long as you do not allow any planning service provider to advertise.
    There are many non-planning related services and products which could be advertised even building materials and DIY suppliers could be accomodated with some basic rules.

  12. David Alabi permalink

    I am thinking of advertising planning consultancy services on the portal.

    Is there a number to contact some one to find out about the cost of an advert and associated requirement?

    David Alabi

    07976 557 114

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hi David,
      the number is 0117 372 8901.

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