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Announcing improvements to the online application service – Updated

by on March 22, 2012

Are you sitting down? If not you may want to as I’m delighted to be able to tell you that we are, at long last, going to be making some significant improvements to the Portal’s online application service in the coming weeks.

While money is more than a little scarce at the moment we have found enough down the back of the Portal sofas to address some of the key issues you’ve been telling us about for some time.

The changes we’re making contain a handful of legislative-related changes, but in the main we’ve tried to focus on what our users want improved to make it quicker and easier to use.

So without further ado here are some of the key improvements:

Better process for adding supporting documents – according to feedback, one of the big bugbears with our service is the process for attaching supporting documents to an application. You’ve asked us to simplify it and make it less repetitive and that’s just what we’re doing.

Improving the submission process – we’re moving payment to the final part of the submission process, which you’ve told us will make the application process easier for agents, applicants and LPAs.

Simpler help and guidance – a key change for new users, we’re improving the presentation of the help and guidance text by putting the information in the context of the questions.

Improved forms – we’re making it easier to complete the forms by marking required fields with an asterisk. This means it will be easier to see – at a glance – what needs to be done.

UPDATE: This is not the complete list, we are attempting to squeeze in more improvements as money and time allows. We are constrained by only being able to include those changes that can be substantially completed on our test system by March 31st.

The additional changes we hope to add in include the ability to automatically repeat location and site address . More details will be blogged as we confirm the changes are to be made.

I’m aware this is only a start and believe me, there’s more we’d like to do to improve the service. Rest assured that we still have any feedback you’ve previously sent us and we’re always revisiting this to prioritise future improvements.

Applications submitted through the Portal now represent more than 60% of all applications in England and Wales. By the end of 2015 our target is to have 80% of applications submitted via our site. To achieve that we need a world-class application service and these improvements represent our ongoing commitment to meet that goal.

I’ll be blogging more in the coming weeks with some more information on how the changes will affect applicants and LPAs and, importantly, when we expect these improvements live on the site.

As ever, you can share your thoughts by adding a comment below.

  1. Its a shame the agents still have to type the same address in “Location” and again in the “Applicant” fields rather than a copy button (reported 2 years ago). Especially as nearly every Householder application the address’s are the same.

    But hey ho you look after the 360 Local Authorities, don’t worry about the thousands of Agents doing repetitive entry and making use of the portal for the benefit of the LA’s.

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

      Slight change of direction – Appeals on Line – why do we have to repeat everything about an application ? Could the IT people please develop a system whereby we call up one of our previous applications – HIT the APPEAL button & merely add the date & copy of the refusal ?

      • PortalDirector permalink

        Ian, we’d love to be able to help in this regard, but at the moment you’ll no doubt be aware that there can be an awful lot that happens to an application between submission and appeal. It’s clearly vital that the full application as finally submitted, with any changes implemented subsequent to submission included, is used as the basis of the appeal.

        To be able to do what you suggest would require either reciprocal connections from LPAs into the Portal and on to PINs or the recasting of the Portal as a central hub into which applications are made, processed and managed. It’s the latter thats been my dream for years as this would do away with the need for hundreds of local solutions and wipe away many of the issues such as file size limitations etc.

        However, this never likely to be more than a dream I’m afraid.

      • Architect Ian Treleaven Fitzherbert BArch(Hons) PPSPEng permalink

        I appreciate that there are often “extra documents” that are added post initial application – but surely these could be simply uploaded to add to the already provided information.
        There is also a problem with the Portal Appeal document in that one cannot (perhaps only me!) save on a page by page basis – as with an application – and when one is on page 7 the machine crashes !! – so one must “start all over again”. For the moment the Inspectorate version of a form that can be filled in and saved page by page will just have to do – what a shame!

  2. PortalDirector permalink

    Barry thanks for your comment. Please see my updated post where I hope you’ll be pleased to see that we do intend to make exactly the change you mention.

    I’d just like to reassure you that we do worry about our agent customers, but like everywhere else right now, there’s little cash around. We tried to cover the changes that deliver the most impact for the least cost.

  3. Jeff Clarke permalink

    Please take the opportunity to simplify the ‘materials’ section, so I don’t have to save each material separately – walling, roofing, windows etc

    • Architect Ian Treleaven Fitzherbert BArch(Hons) PPSPEng permalink

      Yes – and please add a section for “No external alterations” – for change of use applications.
      We could also do with an “as existing” tick against each item please.
      Really appreciate your feedback.

      • PortalDirector permalink

        Hi Ian,
        I’ll pass your comments re the Appeals form on to the good folk at PINs and your comments re the change of use to our team.

      • Architect Ian Treleaven Fitzherbert BArch(Hons) PPSPEng permalink


  4. Chris D permalink

    I saw your recent comments about attachment size but pressure needs to be put on LPAs to accept large file sizes.

    Design and Access Statements in particular are often larger than 5mb and compressing them lowers the image quality.

    There is also the issue of third party reports like Ground Reports that the architect receives from other consultants on CD due to their size and then we’re stuck with manually splitting them in Acrobat into twenty uploadable chunks – this can take all morning sometimes – a massive time waster.

  5. Clive Milburn permalink

    A bit harsh Barry. As a user I think the Planning portal is the best thing to happen to planning in a long long time. The constant problem I have is with the LPA’s themselves who are far too beauracratic for their own good. They seem to make an art form out of how to our lives difficult and hence more work for themselves!!

    Another point Mr portaldirector – I would not be averse to paying a token amount per application to use your system if it means the money can be used directly for upgrades etc. Something simple and easily taken on a standing order may help. (Again lets not get bogged down in red tape)

    Please also try to get Building Regs on board – it still amazes me that LA Building Control bodies aer not all taking electronic submissions.

    • Building Regs applications go through “Submit a Plan” and have done for many years, if that helps.

      • Clive Milburn permalink

        I do too but not all Councils take them electronically so you have to print the forms and either email them or send in hard copies.

        In my area only 2 out of 9 Councils use SaP. A couple have theor own bespoke system but most have none – yet all say they comply with E-Government directives.

  6. Clive, my local authorities accept building regs applications by email. a
    All you need is the LABC application form as an interactive PDF (generally available on the LA website) then all you do is complete it on screen which is very quick, then attach it to your email message to the local BC dept along with the plan sheets. I then get clients to pay the LA direct by telephone & Debit card to keep my turnover down.
    Dare I say it but it’s much quicker than submitting a planning app on the Portal (good though that service is Chris!) or the Submit a Plan service.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Don’t worry Andrew I don’t take it personally.
      You have no idea how frustrating it can be to deliver a service that we know could be so much better, but to not have the resources to make it happen.

  7. barry tierney permalink

    Excellent well done…

  8. Michael Hayes permalink

    I don’t know if this is already on your list of improvements.

    The majority of householders applying for planning permission are couples and like to appear on the form as joint applicants. There is already a “Mr & Mrs” option on the form. However, unmarried/same sex applicants are not catered for.

    Space for two names, rather than just one, would solve this.

    • Michael, I have come across this issue, and I just put the ‘…Smith and Ms Wilton’ (not real names) in the surname box…

      Here to help…

      • Michael Hayes permalink

        Yes, the point though is should we as agents really be reduced to fudging the form? All government departments have an obligation to be non-discriminatory and the form could be construed as treating unmarried couples less equally.

      • PortalDirector permalink

        Our challenge is to effectively prioritise our funding in order to deliver the maximum benefit for each pound we get.
        This does leave gaps I’m afraid but we try to plug them we can.

  9. In similar vein to Michael’s comment, why will the Portal not accept adjacent property nos. eg. 29/31 in site addresses. Many adjoining properties in city centres, especially London, have been combined into one over the years, usually for conversion into hotels, but the portal will not accept examples as above and the LPA insist on the number of both properties being included.

    In such situations it becomes necesasry to complete the form as far as possible on the Portal, print it, fill in the address by hand on the hard copy, scan it, and then submit by e-mail with all attachments. Complete waste of time.

    What happens when the site address is ” land at the junctuion of such and such with so and so etc” – fortunately I’ve not yet needed to discover.

  10. D J Porter permalink

    Having tried once, I now never use the Portal simply because it is too complicated as the above comments demonstrate. What I would like is for the paper forms to be shortened by using space sensibly. Is it really necessary to have a WHOLE page to list the materials for a simple residential extension? There are now 7 pages to the forms resulting in 28 sheets of paper sent to the LA plus 7 for my file giving a total of 35 sheets. What a waste of paper! A Householder application used to be on ONE sheet which was perfectly adequate to provide all the necessary information. Heaven forbid that you miss filling in a box or don’t sign one of the Certificates because the whole shooting match, plans and all, is sent back rather than the LA asking for the missing information by telephone or email. Another trick I have found some LA’s use is that they claim that not sufficient copies of, say, one drawing was submitted. This enables them to not register the application and they can therefore delay the process to suit their workload.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hello Derek,
      I’m sorry you find the online process too complex. We are happy to provide help should you wish to give it another go.
      This is the logical way to deal with your second point about paper waste, registration and validation.
      Once mastered many of our customers regularly report huge efficiency and cost savings and some LPAs will gaurantee faster turnaround online via accreditation.
      It’s worth noting that we at the Portal do not control the content of the forms or the number of questions, they are set in legislation after wide consultation.

  11. John Mullins permalink

    Outbuildings for residental use; I wish somebody would make it cristal clear exactly what one can use these buildings for. One LPA will say nobody is permitted to sleep/live in them and others say family members can use them as additional living accommodation. Even SSE Inspectors cannot agree. Many Inspectors will say, “The GPDO does not permit the erection of outbuildings for use as additional accommodation such as a living room, bedroom, bathroom or kitchen” while others say they can be used by family members. We need clarity urgently now please. Thanks.

  12. David Parry permalink

    The 5MB upload limit is really too small, some BIM plans, especially if they include rendered images easily exceed this, as do scanned spurious ‘Sustainability Questionaires’ being insisted on by some authorities on even the smallest of applications.

    I would really love some pressure on LA’s to validate applications that have sufficient information to validate. The list of additional local requirements from some Authorities is now ridiculous, with much being actually of very dubious legal precedent. Should a LA really be able to insist on a draft S106 just to validate an application, as one authority has recently done. If they feel that they need more info to determine they can always ask, and if the applicant fails to supply it, refuse on the basis of lack of information.

  13. Hi Derek,
    I work for a company called TerraQuest and we carry out validation for the London Borough of Hillingdon and we regularly come across the issue of the portal not accepting addresses for numerous properties or ‘land adjacent to’ or when a property has been subdivided into flats. This leads to the site address not matching the location plan/block plan/documents and the application is made invalid. However, we have figured out a way for applicants/agents to avoid this unnecessary delay.

    For example if the address is Land Adjacent to No.4 & 5 High St,
    • enter either No 4 or 5 High Street and the postcode.
    • Pick the relevant option that appears.
    • Confirm that this is the site address.
    • Choose the relevant form required.
    • This should bring you to the overview page, click on the ‘forms’ tab and then click on ‘site location’ you are then free to amend the site address to match the location of your proposal.

    I know this is a bit messy but it has to be better than submitting an application that will be made invalid.
    I hope this is of help to you; any queries then please post another comment.

    • Thanks Sarah,

      Sounds a bit long-winded but not as time consuming as what I have been doing so far. I will give it a try next time the need arises.

      Derek Wickenden

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