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Communicate electronically and save time and money

by on September 22, 2011

Towards the end of last year the Planning Portal met many LPAs to discuss and review how they receive and determine online planning applications.

Surprisingly, in the majority of cases it emerged that LPAs were communicating and sending decisions notices by post – even though the applications had been submitted online.

To make savings and work more efficiently, we always encourage LPAs to communicate with all applicants and agents electronically, wherever possible.

This is supported by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the DMPO (Development Management Procedure Order) that gives guidance on the use of electronic notices in Part 2, Article 6(5):

(5) Where an application is made using electronic communications to transmit a form to the local planning authority, the applicant shall be taken to have agreed—

(a) to the use of such communications by the local planning authority for the purposes of the application;

(b) that the applicant’s address for those purposes is the address incorporated into, or otherwise logically associated with, the application; and

(c) that the applicant’s deemed agreement under this paragraph shall subsist until the applicant gives notice in writing of the withdrawal of consent to the use of electronic communications under article 40.

We continue to actively encourage e-communications for all LPAs as it removes unnecessary and duplicate activities and lets them quickly realise savings and efficiencies with no effect on the service provided.

It also sends a clear message to applicants and agents that LPAs do have the ability to work more effectively by electronic means.

Don’t take my word for it: Bristol City Council introduced an e-communications approach, including sending decision notices by email, around 12 months ago.

In this time, they’ve realised significant savings and efficiencies.

Project officer Allison Tarrant told us: “Since we introduced electronic communications our processes have become more streamlined and removed many duplicate activities of parallel running a paper and electronic planning system.

“This realises benefits for all parties as communications are received quickly and efficiently with no postal delays. Alongside this our online register is also updated keeping everyone involved fully up to date.

“Electronic working has also encouraged us to review other areas of our work that may benefit from using technology. We support the Portal’s savings method which accurately reflects savings that could be realised.”

You can use the following method to calculate savings for electronic decision notices and other communications.

LPA savings calculation

Print and post costs based on 2,300 applications per year.

Minimum 1 decision notice @ 5 minutes each = Cost to LPA – minimum of 5.18 weeks = £1,992.30 + postage = £828 – Total cost = £2,820.30

Admin officer salary: £16,000 plus 25% on-costs = £20,000 p/a
Print, pack and post decision notice = 5 minutes
5 mins x 2,300 decisions 2009/10 = 191.66 hours
Divide by 37 hours (per week) = 5.18 weeks p/a
Staff cost = £20k / 52 weeks x 5.18 weeks p/a print time = £1,992.30
Postage @ .36p x 2,300 = £828

Total cost = £2,820.30

At a time when all planning departments are coming under increasing scrutiny about planning costs and facing restructuring, it’s essential all resources are used as effectively as possible and immediate savings can be realised by using existing technology for electronic communications.

I’d welcome your feedback and if you have a different method of calculating savings based on electronic-only communications, please leave a reader comment below.

  1. ian hewitt permalink

    I agree that many LPA’s are making strides with e-communication but worryingly, we still have a hardcore who, via their over zealous validation teams, cash cheques/process credit card payments with indecent haste whilst taking anything up to 20 days [ very recent example ] to notify me of invalidation by post of course as phones and emails don’t suffice! Another LPA refused point blank to accept emailed documents to form part of an application and I still find many ask for hard copies of plans due to issues of scale when printed.
    Moreover, the reasons for invalidation border on the ridiculous often and one recent example was due to the fact that the annotation of ridge height on a building, clearly marked with lines/arrows and dimensions, did not state ‘above ground level’. When challenged, the young girl, clearly with limited drawing assessment experience, considered that the measurement could have meant, ‘above sea level’ which, if correct, would have seen a good proportion of the UK under water!

  2. GRPA permalink

    And, of course, electronic communications are received almost instantaneously by agents which means they can be addressed quickly, and everybody benefits through efficiences.

    It would also remove prejudices against non-paper decisions (the number of times I’ve had to photocopy paper decisions for clients because they – or their layers – wouldn’t accept downloaded decisions that explicitly state they hold the same validity).

    If PINS can manage it, then I am sure LPAs can!

  3. I agree with the comments so far, its about time LPA’s treated Agents and Applicants with respect and as customers, if we treated our Clients in the way in which we get treated in the majority then none of us would be in business, a good example of this is how successful the “Approved Inspectors” have been at last someone wants our custom and treats us as we would expect to treat them, I’m afraid waste in LPA’s goes a lot deeper than saving a bit of postage, it’s a start but I could identify significantly more savings that this little item!

  4. Darryn permalink

    I agree with Ian’s comments. The LPA regularly mark applications invalid for the daftest of reasons and take their time notifying us by post. I’ve had one application refused on the basis that a site block plan was invalid because it wasn’t an extract of an OS map and didn’t show a scale bar or north point. As I sternly pointed out to the LPA registration team it was an OS map overlaid on a toned down aerial photo (the OS map lines were very clear to see), the drawing also had a very clear scale bar and a very clear 2inch diameter north point.

    These very simple errors by the registration teams regularly cause delays and cost us time and money, especially when they take nearly 3 weeks to notify us of the invalid application by post (or valid as it turned out to be).

    Ive even had an application marked invalid for not containing historical building information, impact statements etc. Again I pointed out that if the registration team looked at all the submitted documents that they would notice all of the information was clearly submitted as part of the supporting documentation in the Design and Access document.

    At least if we were contacted by phone or email we could correct their mistakes much quicker and avoid these problematic, costly delays.

  5. Sir The Electronic applications are good neat and most of all economical as long as the system is made more user friendly with separating and in places integrating the two The(1)planning permission (2) Building Control, professionally so that any school kid can learn to submit minor home extension work for their parents rather than going to agents who go to over charge for homes

  6. Eileen Baldwin permalink

    I am a neighbour of a builder who is now building a bungalow in our small close .we fought him and lost after two appeals.
    now he is changing his plans with out letting us know. why is it so hard to see on line his actual plans ? or am I in the wrong place.

    We moved to a pretty close. Now its been ruined by him pulling trees down and buiding which has been going on since he moved in a few years ago

    I apologise if I aqm on the wrong site. but the Gravesham website for planning is difficult to navigate

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hi Eileen,
      I’m afraid I can only refer you back to Gravesham.
      Once a planning application has been submitted all the info rests with the local authority.
      Can I suggest you call their planning team I’m sure they’ll do their best to help.

      • Eileen Baldwin permalink

        Thank you Portal Director. should I still stay subscribed with you or am I not the right person i.e a worried neighbour.
        We were to meet a planning officer this morning but he did not bother to turn up although after a phone call from us he has agreed to another meeting. I am coming up against brick walls (pardon the pun) all the time.

        I am worried re the new government directives and the future. if this builder is already riding rough shod over us when there was planning laws.

Please give us your feedback but we won’t publish any comments that are not constructive or that criticise any individual, any named business or any local authority. Please note, all comments will be moderated before being published.

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