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Rotherham launches paperless planning office

by on September 19, 2012

The planning department of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has become the latest local planning authority to go paperless.

Reduced desk and filing space from a recent office move, combined with the ever-present need to make savings led Rotherham to explore greater and more innovative uses of technology to achieve efficiencies.

The implementation of a document management system (DMS) has now drastically changed the way the planning department works within Rotherham.

The back-office is now completely electronic with no part of the planning application files being printed.

Meanwhile, any paper applications that are received are processed and scanned by the planning support team and sent electronically, through the document management system, to the relevant staff. All staff now combine hot-desking and working from home so access to this information electronically is essential.

The local planning authority is now receiving approximately half of its applications online and continues to work closely with the Planning Portal to encourage further online submission.

Nigel Hancock, Development Manager at Rotherham MBC said: “Officers have responded very well to the use of electronic working and it has let us make the transition to the new building far more easily.”

He added: “We are soon hoping to trial using tablets on site to view plans.”

As a reduction in office space means lower costs, more hot-desking and remote working, LPAs can easily introduce the use of technology to support these changes effectively.

Two other Yorkshire LPAs are heading the same way. In a previous post I highlighted how Doncaster Borough Council also made the move to go paperless; Kirklees is planning to take the same plunge later this year.

If you are planning to go paperless, bear in mind the following lessons learned from Rotherham’s move to a paperless planning office:

          1. Don’t expect to get rid of all the paper. Keep the paper submissions for the case officer to use and let them print out the bits that they need from the electronic submissions.
          2. Dual screens are essential. Use a laptop to write the report and a large monitor to view the plans.
          3. Be flexible in your approach to trialling new ideas. Changes like this need a lot of time to bed in and settle down but the benefits of this approach far outweigh any negatives that there are.

Meanwhile, if there are any other LPAs out there that have made the move to paperless working and would like to share information and lessons learned about their approach and implementation then we’d like to hear from you. Email our Head of LPA Engagement

12 Comments
  1. glenn1949 permalink

    You can take a great idea one step too far.

    Kind Regards,

    Glenn Moore

  2. crisby permalink

    Very praiseworthy but it would be interesting to know more of the cots, notably installation of extra monitors. Also this report, as for Doncaster, mentions only development management. What about the policy, conservation, environmental etc. teams? Was that easier or harder for them?

    • I’m going to collate questions from blog readers and pass them back to Rotherham’s team for a response. I’ll do this after the post has been live for a few days to avoid sending questions on a piecemeal basis.

      We’ve got a few more articles about ‘channel shift’ in the pipeline.

      Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and comment!

      • Please could you find out from Rotherham if the site visit is made without paperwork, since it looks like no paper is being printed. If this is the case, have they had to introduce anything into their processes to take this into account? Thanks

    • @ crisby

      We already had monitors with our old desktop PCs. These were all due for a refresh so the PCs were replaced with laptops which have the benefit of 1. being portable and 2. having their own screens. We dual screen using the monitor from the laptop and an external monitor attached to it.

      For the most part everyone else internally benefits from this system as the application file is available electronically to everyone at the same time rather than being held in Development Management. There are always some people that prefer to use paper, but for the majority of users this has proved to be a very successful project.

  3. Sefton LA have operated a similar system for sometime now and it is really effective. The only downside being the limitations of the xtranet / file upload service which can be quite tedious at times.

  4. @ Kenton Reader

    ‘Don’t expect to get rid of all the paper. Keep the paper submissions for the case officer to use and let them print out the bits that they need from the electronic submissions.’

    This is a quote from my first point in the lessons learnt bit of the report and acknowledges that you wont get rid of all the paper straight away and you will need to take something on site.

    We are hoping to trial using tablets to view plans on site soon but we are not there yet. The beauty of having electronic drawings is that you can print an extract from it rather than the whole thing.

    I’m sure we have all been there, grappling with a large A1 drawing, when it’s raining and blowing a gale and wishing they had submitted part of it on A3 or smaller. The thing is be flexible in your approach to this and recognise that it will be a project that evolves as technology allows. But for now, the benefits of having an electronic file compared to a paper file for outweigh any negatives that you may foresee.

  5. Mike Evans permalink

    The officers print off plans – as they presumably have to in order to measure distances and sizes which are crucial. So in fact Rotherham have not gone paperless as the headline suggests!

    • Michael Hayes permalink

      It is actually possible to take measurements from PDF drawings on screen without printing them out. Whether or not you have this facility depends on which version of Adobe PDF Reader you are using. Some alternative brands of PDF reader such as Foxit (which is free) also offer this facility.

  6. It’s always good to see a local authority do something cutting edge, as they always tend to be regarded as old fashioned and change-averse.

    Paperless (or paper-less) has to be the future, so why not get in at the start

  7. Paul Henry permalink

    It would be very interesting to know how much desk space has been allocated to each officer. Was this changed when the new system was implemented (assuming they had large desks for plan viewing previously)?

  8. glenn1949 permalink

    Kind Regards,

    Glenn Moore

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