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Three tips for working with the 5MB attachment limit

by on April 26, 2012

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:

DoPDF

CutePDF

PrimoPDF

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.

7 Comments
  1. Andy Ward permalink

    I use two superb FREE pdf programs that I strongly recommed to everyone:
    – pdf-xchange viewer (http://www.tracker-software.com/product/downloads/) allows easy mark-up and annotation of pdfs, including making accurate scaled measurements of distances and areas on drawings – it includes an OCR – ie. it will convert any scanned document so that the text can be searched and copied

    – PDF Tools (http://www.pdfill.com/pdf_tools_free.html) provides many ways to add to or edit a pdf, but the most useful tools are merging PDF files (eg. where a document has been scanned as separate pages) and splitting (I’ve reduced many a report below 5MB by simply separating the main report from its appendices; it’s also useful for sending someone extracts of a document)

  2. Simon Evans permalink

    I use Adobe Acrobat to manage PDF files. It is probably the pre-eminent software for this kind of thing and allows reduction of file size, combining, and splitting files. However, if you only have a file in PDF format, there is a limit to how much even Acrobat can reduce the file size. Sometimes there is no option but to split it up into arbitrary chunks for recombining at the receiving end. By modern standards, this is a pretty clunky way of doing things.

    On the upload page, you have an option to send things electronically or by post. No one wants to use the post these days as it can be slow, unreliable, and expensive. How about having a third option to send by a file sharing website such as Sendthisfile? The problem with using such sites is that documents have to be retrieved in a short space of time, but if the LPA is advised in the application, they would have little excuse for not retrieving them in time.

    Better still, why not have such a facility built into the Portal itself? Cloud computing is very much here so why not make full use of it?

  3. Chris D permalink

    As an architect we host our own FTP server on which we put files and issue links for people to download. That way we control the length of time the link is live. I have started emailing planning officers to say I have only submitted the cover page of some docs via the planning portal, and if they want the rest they can download it from our FTP server with the link I give them.

    Rumpus is the software running on a mac mini if anyone’s interested.

  4. Jana permalink

    Thanks for all of the above, it’s very useful. Chris D’s idea is v.interesting…for those of us who are single applicants that don’t have our own server’s, could we do a similar thing by creating our own personal websites with all our files contained on; then we could also provide the links via the Portal? This way we could also control the length of time documents are ‘live’ whilst enabling better quality documents to be submitted. Personal websites are sometimes free to set up [or for a minimal cost per annum, if you need more capacity etc]. With the new NPPF and emerging local plans insisting that applicants have to provide more detailed/better quality of information to enable ‘the community’ to truely understand what is being proposed in their areas, it is hard to achieve this aim if we then constrain the use of brilliant technology which would enable applicants to meet this requirement.

    • Chris D permalink

      You can use Dropbox http://www.dropbox.com/ to offer a similar facility to our FTP server – we used it for this purpose before we set our server up. The benefit of your own server is that you can log who is downloading what.

  5. Ian Hutchison permalink

    The Planning Portal Director has very little appreciation of a whole host of small planning consultancies or individuals who struggle with IT and the associatred jargon. We do not want to have to go to the trouble of having to change the format of documents we receive from Ecologists, Traffic and Tranport Consultants, Contamination experts, Drainage and Flood Risk Consultants, Noise Assessors, Archaeologists etc.

    I find most LPAs accept the form sent in on the portal and then receive documents direct. So the portal is not really doing much of as job.

    We need a simple system that does not take ages to complete. Incidentally the actual filling in of the forms is a stressful experience as it takes so long to move on when the next button is pressed and if one misses a tick in a box it can take ages to work out what is wrong. Also just moving the curser seems to take longer on the portal than on any other system.

    Ian Hutchison

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hello Ian,
      I’m sorry to hear your experience of the Portal isn’t what you’d like it to be.
      I’d like to address a couple of the points you make if I may, though.

      Firstly, on the matter of standardised attachments. The reason for this is that it is far more convenient for LPAs to receive attachements in ways that can be easily worked on, stored, processed and subsequently published for consultation.

      At the end of the day, it is important that documents are in formats that can be easily accessed and viewed by the majority of people.

      I would suggest that if you are commissioning reports from experts, that you stipulate that the reports are provided to you in the appropriate formats. This will save you and everyone down the line a great deal of bother.

      Finally, to your point regarding the performance of the website.

      Although it is possible to turn off certain features of our site to improve performance we find it is quite often issues outside of our control that lead to poor performance.

      Our support team would be very happy to speak with you about how to improve the speed and efficiency of your service.

      All my best
      Chris

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