Three tips for working with the 5MB attachment limit
The subject of the 5MB limit on supporting documents seems to be a bone of contention for some and clearly something that some applicants are having problems with.
I won’t get into the reasons we have the limit – I covered that in another post earlier this year – but I have asked my colleagues to gather together some tips for working with the 5MB limit.
1. File size reduction/compression
The majority of supporting documents (D&A statements, Environmental Impact and Transport assessments etc) are created in word processors and include photographs, graphs and other images.
Word processors are often set up by users looking to create print versions of documents so all images are saved at a resolution appropriate for high quality printouts: 300 pixels per inch or higher.
This regularly results in attachments that are well over the 5MB limit. Documents with resolutions of 72 pixels per inch are perfectly adequate for LPA needs and show no detectible reduction in quality when displayed on the LPA website.
Guidance on how to use the facilities built into Word to reduce the resolution of images in documents and so minimise their file size can be found on the Portal.
In many cases, this will reduce the file size below the 5MB limit. Documents can also be reduced by converting them to PDF prior to attaching them to your applications. If you have already reduced the file sizes in Word then PDF reductions will be smaller.
2. Convert documents to PDF
In addition to reducing file size, PDF is a widely accepted file format and commonly used by LPAs when publishing application documents on their websites.
Converting supporting documents to PDF prior to submitting them helps to minimise the risk of delays caused by LPAs having to convert them prior to publication. This ensures the quality of attachments is maintained when displayed by the LPA and also adds a degree of security that prevents changes being made to your documents once submitted.
These have both been long term concerns for many of our users.
Free software to convert any document type to PDF can be downloaded from various sources including:
By way of a quick reminder, the Portal automatically adds a software ‘token’ to all plans and drawings attached to applications in PDF. When viewed on a screen this token lets planning officers, consultees and others measure any dimension, calculate any angle or area to the scale provided on your documents and add comments (annotate) to them.
This helps cut out the need to print documents in order to perform any of these activities. This also supports detailed electronic consultation letting LPAs save time and money by not having to print, pack and post paper copies to consultees.
3. Avoid merged plans and drawings
Prior to being able to submit applications online, many applicants used to (and in some cases still do) include several images on A1 or A0 paper (e.g. site location and block plan, existing and proposed elevations etc).
This was done to minimise the volume of paper involved and give recipients the convenience of viewing multiple images at the same time.
However, at the Portal we have always recommended limiting the number of images to just one per page on smaller paper sizes (A3 or A4 for smaller images).
This has several advantages, in addition to reducing the likelihood of these documents exceeding 5MB most of the planning officers, staff and consultees who prefer to work with hardcopies can print A3 paper sizes using a nearby desktop printer rather than sending them to a large scale printer/plotter that may be located on a different floor or even building.
Meanwhile, those who prefer working with digital images can, depending on the software used, view multiple drawings at the same time and use on-screen facilities to pan around and zoom into images for closer inspection and also annotate them.
LPAs and statutory consultees are increasingly investing in providing planning staff with two large monitor displays to facilitate this.
We recognise there will be instances where some attachments are still going to be too large to submit online despite following these recommendations.
While very high quality/resolution, complex and multi-colour plans and drawings may be essential for clients and marketing purposes, they often far exceed the needs of planners and consultees to determine planning applications.
It may therefore be worth consider submitting lower resolution documents for planning approval purposes and retaining the higher quality versions of these documents for all other purposes.
If you have any other tips or advice that works for you, please add a comment below.