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The tricky case of the 5MB attachment limit – revisited

by on February 14, 2012

Quite a number of you have responded to my posts on the recent changes to 1App by applauding the improvements but reminding me of the problem of file size limits.

As a result I thought it worthwhile reposting this entry which was first published on Valentines Day.

Thanks. Here it is…

We’ve been talking to some Portal users on Twitter recently about the issue of the 5MB limit on application attachments. We know it’s something that some users find a pain.

Rightly, in a time of superfast broadband (at least for some), why should we be constrained by a relatively small file sizes? Particularly for documents like Design and Access Statements where professional applicants may want to show things like architectural design and details in the best possible light.

I hope to achieve two things with this post.

First, to let you know the exact position on the 5MB limit and the reasons we have it.

Second, to open this out to discussion with LPAs and planning and building professionals about what to do about it.

Where are we now?

The current position is that there is a 5MB limit on individual application attachments. However, there is no limit (at least theoretically) on the total number of attachments associated with an application.

The reason for a 5MB limit is three-fold.

Firstly, without a standard size for attachments we risk returning to a fragmented position which varies from LPA to LPA. The Portal is working to the Government’s Localism agenda but a little surety for applicants on file size should aid and not hinder this.

Secondly, in theory the Portal does not need to limit attachment size – this request came from LPAs and also statutory consultees who have a size limit on the files that can pass through their corporate firewalls.

LPAs act a conduit for consultation of applications via their websites. Therefore they have to consider the file sizes of documents and other material they publish on their websites to ensure all interested parties can access the information.

We last asked LPAs about the 5MB limit a year ago. Here are the key figures:

  • 47% of LPAs are able to receive larger file sizes than 5MB
  • 45% of LPAs want to keep the limit the way is at 0-5MB per attachment
  • 32% of LPAs would like to accept file sizes over 5MB

Clearly, we can ask the question again and it’s safe to suspect that there will likely be an increase in LPAs accepting larger file sizes  – but there will likely be a significant number of LPAs still calling for a 5MB limit.

Thirdly, in theory we could adapt the Portal service to offer greater flexibility. This takes money and needless to say money is in short supply at the moment. In addition, making any change needs to take into account the first two points.

Where do we want to go next?

So, that’s the current position. The next question is what we (collectively) should do about it.

  • Does the system need to change to allow greater flexibility from LPA to LPA?
  • Do we keep the 5MB limit and find ways of working smarter with documents, sharing best practice on how to produce high-quality documents?
  • Or is it time for LPAs and consultees to accept larger file sizes across the board? And if so, what should the limit be?

We’ll be following up this blog post with some good practice tips from our corporate account team, gleaned from years of experience of working with professional applicants and LPAs.

If you have your own tips, ideas and suggestions, please share them below as a  comment.

  1. Richard Fletcher permalink

    In reference to the 5mb file size limit.
    A PDF file of a drawing or supporting photographs and other rendered images are unlikely to exceed the 5mb size limit. However LPAs are requiring more ancilliary information to support applications. Flood risk assessments, environmental impact studies and so on. These reports often run to many pages, are illustrated with copious diagrams, spread sheets, photographs etc. and consequently file sizes can be enormous.
    Printed copies delivered in the post may offer a solution. In my view impractical, time wasting, fraught with problems and least of all costly – hard to justify to an incredulous client.

    May I suggest LPAs first consider what supporting material/reports they actually need to arrive at a decision. There should be no need to apply the administrative blunderbus approach to every application tick box validation.
    Then where large files are required Planning Portal could set up an on line file sharing facility, similar to ‘Dropbox’ which would allow either referencing or downloading by the LPA as they wish. Public access could also be managed via LPA websites.

  2. Neil Johnstone permalink

    I think that there is a third group of users of these documents who must not be forgotten about within any review of the attachment size, that is the general public. Many Local Authorities store these attachements within their own document management systems and then make them publically available through various online application systems.

    Unlike LPAs and many professional organisations who are likley to have fast internet connections, this is not always the case for members of the public. It is very common in many areas of the country for internet speeds still to be very slow.

    So if the attachment size is increased or removed altogether, all this will do is to pass a file size problem on to LPAs, who will still have to find ways of reducing these for display and availability to the general public for consultation purposes.

  3. What I just don’t understand is why the Councils and the Planning Portal did not adopt AutoCad DWF Files as the upload preference. They are the design industry standard and far lighter file size than PDFs or bitmaps.
    It would have saved thousands of pounds if not millions on file storage.
    The DWF viewer is a free download and the drawings do not seem to distort or resize when printed.
    It’s just another typical poor decision by the burocrats in Town Halls and Government.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      I agree Autocad is industry standard for professionals and that most LPAs have viewers however members of the general public rarely do and it is they who are generally impacted by development.
      PDF is ubiquitous and can be easily viewed by the majority of potential respondents. The decision was taken to choose PDF with the support and agreement of LPAs.

  4. I had this problem with my D&A recently. I found that it is possible to reduce the file size considerably by condensing the pictures before converting it to PDF.

  5. John Perry permalink

    This is ridiculous. We are now well into the 21st century and 20th century file limits are being applied. I’d have thought a 20B limit is reasonable.

  6. Having spent a fair bit of time in the past trying to reduce PDF sizes by compressing pictures and/or reducing dpi settings or splitting documents into several files, an increase even to 10MB would make life easier when submitting.

    It should also help LPAs which otherwise end up scanning hard copies and posting the scanned versions on line; those usually have considerably larger file sizes and are much poorer in quality, sometimes to the point of being illegible.

  7. Architect Ian Treleaven Fitzherbert BArch(Hons) PPSPEng permalink

    Could we try to use a “drop box” or something similar ?

  8. Simon Evans permalink

    Keeping a 5 Mb limit will make the new ability to combine files almost valueless – seems such a shame. A lot of companies used to have a similar limit on file sizes, but things have moved on. LPAs need to move on as well and I am not sure they should be dictating terms to the rest of us. Altering their firewall settings is really not that hard to do. I agree with one poster above that we have to be mindful of the general public needing to access such files online, possibly with slow download speeds (I suffer from that myself!). But speed is probably not that important providing they can actually download a file eventually.

    I also agree with another poster above that 20Mb would seem a much more realistic limit nowadays, but even an increase to 10Mb would make life a lot easier.

  9. architectonica permalink

    Having just submitted a “major” application for 44 homes on CD, because the long sections came out at 12Mb, we are told by the LPA that they don’t accept CD’s any more. Great.

    Also, trying to submit a short fly-by movie via your site, I found I couldn’t do it without giving it a paper size! Gave up.

    What is the point? I thought we were in the business of communicating information so that elected councillors could make informed decisions, not merely to make life easy for the LPA.

  10. kevin elstow permalink

    The technology allowing faster connection speeds is already here. Everyone with experience of LPA’s knows that unless a firm date is set for them change any process they will drag their feet for years. There are no excuses a 20Mb download limit should now be standard.
    For dealing with ordinary applications within an eight week period LPA’s sometimes claim an 80%
    success rate however how can any corporation justify what is blatantly obvious i.e. a 20% failure rate.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 1APP improvements: what do they mean for applicants? « Planning Portal Director
  2. Three tips for working with the 5MB attachment limit « Planning Portal Director
  3. Smarter Planning: Advice on working with the 5MB document limit « Planning Portal Director

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