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The impact of electronic working on the presentation of planning applications

by on January 17, 2013

Thanks go to John Danahay in our hard working account team for the following article.

Chris

With electronic submission via the Planning Portal regularly exceeding 60% of applications (and as much as 80% for some LPAs), an increasing number of LPAs no longer print a copy of a Portal application at all.

This lets these LPAs make cost savings but still maintain, or even improve, determination times, particularly of smaller applications.

At these LPAs planning administration and technical staff can accurately check plans and drawings on-screen using on-screen measurement software. Planning officers can access the electronic case files and some even use a laptop or tablet on a site visit.

Many consultees also view planning documents on-screen via the LPA’s website and comment online and most applications have been electronically presented at committee meetings for a few years now. However, for LPAs to get the best from electronic working there may need to be some changes to the traditional way in which a planning application is packaged and presented.

Although an application needs to meet the standards for validation and registration, it may no longer be enough just to convert a paper application into electronic form. And of course, that is without the implications of BIM (Building Information Modelling) that must eventually come into the equation.

Traditionally, multiple plans and drawings have often been presented on a single sheet of paper. Obviously larger developments will require a larger sheet size depending on the scale, but is surprising how many smaller, less complex developments are presented using multiple plans and drawings on a single, large sheet.

In the paperless planning office and for electronic consultees, on-screen viewing of a single, large sheet with multiple plans and drawings of varying scales can be a real problem.

Although many LPAs have now equipped planning staff with bigger screens, an A1 sheet containing multiple plans and drawings means the viewer will probably have to scroll around the sheet and zoom in and out, and although the on-screen measuring tools are simple to use, this can make on-screen interpretation more difficult.

This will be even more the case with consultees and members of the public who are less likely to have big screens. Of course, some of these people may still want to print a copy of a specific document, so using smaller sheet sizes will also enable printing, if required, on more easily accessible office and desktop printers.

LPA electronic documentation systems also require that documents are tagged with metadata, eg the document type, to make categorising and searching for them easier. The Planning Portal is designed to let the applicant categorise these document types on upload. When multiple plans and drawings are submitted on one sheet some LPAs have to resort to making multiple copies of the document to represent different document types.

Therefore, a little bit of thought about how a document will look and work on-screen and in an electronic documentation system will help the increasing number of LPAs who are adopting paperless planning systems to process your application more efficiently and effectively.

Many professional architects and planning agents have already adapted their systems to this way of working internally, so have made many of these steps already.

Some recommendations:

  1. Where possible, separate plans and drawings on to different sheets with a single scale, and with a preference for A3 sheet size or smaller if possible
  2. Clearly indicate sheet size and scale and at least some key dimensions (always check the LPA’s guidelines/requirements)
  3. Make sure the document is correctly aligned for on-screen viewing
  4. When uploading the document onto the Portal make sure it is uploaded against the correct document type. (Some LPAs use these to automatically tag the document for their document management system)

Please do not upload all your documents against the Portal’s mandatory documentation section. Many other document types are actually available in the local level requirements and additional documentation – where there is also a user defined option

Fortunately, the Planning Portal multiple document upload feature now makes uploading multiple documents much easier and faster!

26 Comments
  1. Andy Ward permalink

    As we’ve all learnt, going paperless doesn’t happen overnight and I’m glad more and more LPA’s are getting there.

    Sadly, there are an increasing number of LPA’s who are going backwards as a result of some shortsighted cost-cutting.

    Some have started to insist on hardcopies along with a Portal submission before they will validate an application – ie. rather than adapt their systems to reduce the need for hard copies they’re simply attempting to pass the cost of printing onto the applicant.

    Others have stopped scanning in objections and consultation responses because of the time involved and charge for a copy of these.

    I think it’s high time that backward LPA’s like these are named and shamed on the Portal. There is no reasonable excuse for such backward steps.

    • I have very recently been made aware that one or two LPAS have now issued formal letters to applicants and agents stating that electronic applications MUST be accompanied by paper copies and that paper applications MUST be accompanied by CD versions or they will not be validated.

      We’ve been aware that for some time this may have been happening ‘off the record’ but we’ve never seen it quite blatantly put down in black and white before.

      It is my belief that after 10 years of driving this particular horse to water, it should know not only know the way by now, but it should have a capuccino machine installed.

      As I understand it, it’s not legal either, but rather than get drawn into a legal debate for which I am signally unqualified I will just say this.
      We stand by to help any local authority or agent overcome the difficulties they may currently face with electronic planning, with help, training and education at the LPA or agent premises.

      I won’t name and shame as suggested but rather will offer my team to turn these issues around for everyone’s benefit.

      If you are aware of an LPA or Agent who may need our help, get in touch with me by email at chris.kendall@planningportal.gsi.gov.uk (don’t name them here) and we’ll do our best for you.

    • Mrs S Killman permalink

      Why do planners require detailed 1:20 drawings of cross sections of secondary glazing? I submitted general cross sections of how the windows are made and fixed from the secondary glazing firms as they don’t supply more detail, for retrospective consent, but planners want these drawings and 1:1250 of the whole site with adjoining roads. This seem excessive for something so simple. The conservation officer has seen them, we have submitted photos and a site and property plan from our lease. Why is this not enough? I could understand it for replacement windows but not for secondary? They seem to be hell bent on making life difficult.

  2. Hugh Williams permalink

    With the advent and adoption of wide screen monitors the question has to be asked as to why the ‘A’ size format is still used. Whilst there is an industry standard for such sizes and A3 is a manageable size as a hard copy there is a format issue which neeeds to be addressed. As far as I am aware there is no requirement for the authority to stippulate a required format only a drawing to a recognised scale, so define drawing?
    Regarding print scales, use scale bars. Printed hard copies will then have a reference. The issue here is however that different pdf generators have different margins and when set to A3 plot size the output window alters the scale of the output drawing. Again there needs to be an industry standard insistant by the authorities. These issues need to be addressed before chaos ensues.

    • When, when, when, when, when, after many times of asking, are Planning Portal likely to accept drawings in DWF format????? This format is much easier to access and use than PDF and forms part of AutoCAD!!

  3. It is very helpful that PP has raised this issue. Most
    developments can be communicated in A3 format with a little forward
    planning and a good figure naming/numbering system. There is always
    an issue of exact scale with PDFs and their margins, as Hugh says.
    Stated scales are should be taken as indicative (that is probably
    all they need to be) but a barscale will enable acceptable
    dimensions to be taken by anybody with a few brains cells to rub
    together. On larger maps, a 1km grid (or as suits the map scale) is
    more useful in establishing sense of scale and distance than a set
    of numbers. A3 format works very well for paper and screen. My 24″
    (diagonal) screen comfortably displays A3 landscape drawings at the
    correct size (16.5 x 11.75″ in old money), with about 4″/100mm
    space to one side. Fullscreen mode (quite often F11 in PDF viewers
    and browsers) comes close to the experience of looking at the
    original A3 sheet, accepting the compromise of screen resolution
    relative to print resolution. And of course an A3(L) print can be
    folded neatly into an A4 report when required (eg for public
    inquiry, which is anything but paperless!). I know not everyone has
    a 24″ monitor, but a quick search found the cheapest 24″ monitor
    (on website named after a rainforest) is £120 – not exactly
    elitist. I am regularly surprised at how poorly technology is used
    by many people. One of our products is photomontage and if
    submitted electronically, the only processing is from the graphics
    software (say PhotoShop/CorelDraw) to PDF, giving a 300dpi image
    with a reasonably small amount of compression. If an LPA insists on
    paper, the process to get it in front of a stakeholder/decision
    maker is [Graphics software > PDF > laser/inkjet
    printer > scanner > PDF] – each arrow represents a
    process where quality is likely to be lost. In the case of detailed
    photomontages, this can be disastrous – but probably less so for
    line drawings of building elevations. So quite right, the horse
    should be drinking cappuccino by now!

  4. Although we are pleased that LPA’s are going paperless we are a little concerned that viewing elevations or plans in isolation makes them harder to understand visually.

    We usually present plans sections and elevations all on one page so that the relationship between them is clear and printing drawings out makes it a lot easier to get your head around how a new development works in it’s context.

    Big screens and multiple screens obviously help so that you can have multiple drawings viewed at one time, but I think all architects are going to have to seriously think about how to convey drawn information successfully on screen.

  5. Hugh Williams permalink

    Can we not forget that the Planning Process is there to give advice generally to lay people and councillors who in my long experience 1. Cannot read drawings as well as professionals. 2, need information in a format that they can understand, ie paper copies. 3 Cross reference them anyway. I don’t believe it is up to architects to consider how they are to convey information on a screen as it is still only a 2 dimensional media such as paper, in fact a large amount of submissions are not made by architects. I have been drawing for may a long year and the use of A3 format max size and multiple copies actually makes it easier to reference on dual headed monitors. Perhaps with the development of 3D modelling then complex schemes conveyed in such a media will satisfy those who have difficulty understanding flat 2D drawings! Regarding the DWF Format, this is again not understood by the layperson such as .pdf. It has been, as still is in my experience, that we as professionals have to cater for the lowest common denominator and communicate at a level suitable for all. Some people find this mistakenly patronising.

    • wishbone ash permalink

      All very interesting about how the LPAs and the Portal might want the drawings presented as A3 or less.
      However, a couple of key people are being missed out here…..
      One, the client who pays my fees.
      The other the builder who has to quote from and build to the plans.
      I’ve lost count, over 32 years, of the amount of positive feedback and compliments from both key players in the building process stating, words to the effect: “oh, thank goodness your plans are all on one large [A1] sheet. I can’t stand thumbing thru all those small sheets……..”
      Whilst the person that pays me expresses a preference and their builder, it’s if it ain’t broke don’t fix it as far as I am concerned.

      • I do understand and really appreciate good draughtmanship, however my job is to help applicants get permission swiftly by improving the flow of information in ways that improve efficiency and transparency, making it easier for everyone throughout the process to do their piece.
        I believe working electronically has the potential to achieve this.

      • Derek Tomley permalink

        I totally agree with Wishbone Ash’s comments. Floor plans, sections and elevations are better drawn in conjunction with each other to enable the design to evolve. No better way of acheiving this is on A1 paper layout. Additionally, all printed information and conditions can be applied prominently on the same sheet reducing the risk of being ‘overlooked’ on one of many A3 or A4 presentations.
        I would also agree that client’s have a better understanding of how and why the design was created in an A1 presentation. Equally, it is in my experience builders would prefer this method for the same reasons. Interpretations can be made accurately and moreover, quickly!
        However, I am an avid supporter and user of the Planning Portal and electronic submissions, and if only for selfish reasons, I am saving a fortune on postage costs, paper and toner.
        Alas!! My A1 copier is virtually redundant.

        Derek

  6. Michael Hayes permalink

    I have discovered that there is an LPA which doesn’t accept online applications via the Planning Portal at all.

    I know it’s not the policy of this blog to name names. Suffice it to say it’s a town at the end of a tube line just outside Greater London. So it doesn’t even have the excuse of being a remote community with non-existent broadband coverage.

    Is this the only LPA in the country which isn’t signed up to the Planning Portal?

    • There is one LPA in England and Wales that cannot currently accept our applications electronically wasn’t aware that they have a tube line but I may be wrong.
      Ww are in discussions with them and they do hope to address this as soon as they are able.

      • Michael Hayes permalink

        Thanks for the reply.

        It’s at the end of the Metropolitan Line actually.

        Things clearly haven’t progressed much at that LPA since John Betjeman wrote:

        Steam took us onwards
        through the ripening fields ripe for development
        where the landscape yields clay for warm brick, timber for post and rail
        through ******** for ********* and the vale

        Are they still using steam computers?

  7. Wishbone: I’m only a landscape architect but, I’m a little surprised that the drawings submitted for planning are the same drawings being used to price and build the project. I consider that I can save my client unnecessary expense during the uncertain stage that is the planning process, by producing drawings which tell the LPA only what they need to know. So, on a planting plan for example, we would set out the species, density and specification, but not provide all the figures required to cost, order, set out and plant the project.

    Of course, that doesn’t stop some clients from using planning drawings for tender purposes, once they have got planning approval, at which time we get phone calls from contractors saying “how am I supposed to price this?”. Answer: “You’re not, that’s why it says ‘FOR PLANNING’ in large letters above the title block”! Of the handy-sized A3 sheet 😉

  8. Another excellent issue. Long ago, we recognised that our planning applications would be more readily digestible by the LPA if we used A3 sheets, as opposed to putting multiple elements on an A1 or, as I have seen on more than one occasion, an A0 sheet. At a recent agents forum, representatives from the LPA highlighted this approach and advised that it made for more streamlined back office and officer appraisal processes. I was also heartened to hear that my LPA had ceased to download, print and scan the online submissions, a nonsensical approach, in favour of utilising the PDFs to validate and only printing the drawings for the officer level appraisal.

    As for the use of large sheets for tendering and construction, clearly there are different requirements and it is not always going to be possible to follow the same smaller sheet format. However, I feel it is important to understand how LPAs are handling their tighter budgets and adopt processes to fit in with this.

  9. I format and print my drawings on A2 paper. I used to use A3 only, because A3 printers were cheap and plentiful. I had many complaints from my Clients builders that they could not work from paper drawings that only showed half, or less, of the building over two or more sheets. So I invested in an A2 printer and the complaints stopped. I also find that my clients prefer this size, as it is still manageable ‘on the kitchen table’ and gives me the opportunity to show the plans at 1:50, which makes them far more understandable than at 1:100 for the planning. I have been a draughtsman for over 50 years and learnt my skills on drawing boards with T squares, so I do know how to layout a drawing and how to present information clearly. I do not relish the idea of having to format drawings at A3 for the planning application and then on A2 for the Client and Builder. Fees will not stretch to this. I also add a scale bar to each drawing to assist accuracy.

    I’m sure also that many of us who service Clients on domestic work are sole traders, perhaps working from a home office, as I do. My computer screen (20″) has to serve many purposes including my passion for photography, so it needs to be of the highest colour fidelity. 24″ screens of this ilk are not cheap. Perhaps LPA departments are different here and can use cheaper screens.

    To summarise, I would not wish to see us being shoehorned into using a drawing size that worked for a screen but was not to a printable format, just another constraint too far.

    • wishbone ash permalink

      Hear Hear David.
      Very well put.

      • ADS permalink

        Excellent comment David.
        I cringe when I see builders on a working site shifting through mounds of A3 , it just doesnt work and is far from practical.
        I still prefer to see my plans for domestic extensions contained within one or two A1 sheets

    • Thanks for the comment David.
      I do take your point about the usability of A3 drawings on site and of the quality of presentation afforded by larger folio sizes, however isn’t it the case that a clients best interests are served by providing ‘horses for courses’ if in doing so an approval moves more efficiently through the application process.

      I hear regularly that times are tough for Architects with many finding work hard to come by.
      I would respectfully suggest that an ability to deliver a range of plans in the most appropriate formats for use at diffefent stages of the application process, rather than one size fits all would be an asset that might differentiate an architect from the competition.

  10. Mike Jones-Pritchard permalink

    Valid points put in the article by John Danahay but, as pointed out in other comments, I hope that we will not get forced to submit drawing information only in A3, at a set scale. I accept that this is the planning process and not the building process but the plans/elevations/sections etc that are submitted are part of the design process and are often used for more than one purpose. I also use the same drawings for clients and others and although I do not use planning drawings for tender purposes, they do show details that are developed for tender. An big advantage of A1 is that it allows more than one elevation and plan to be shown, at readable detail level, alongside each other. However when it comes down to it, it’s only maths. An A1 at 1:50 is an A3 at 1:100 and if someone wants to see an A1 on an A3 just ouput the drawing to the paper size in the printer and set the scale you require.

  11. Gary permalink

    I fail to see the real argument against having to produce different sized drawings for different functions when using an electronic draughting tool. All the information is produced in “model space” and then different drawings are produced by creating windows into that space. OK one will need to create A3 sized windows for the creation of A3 drawings as well as A1 etc. sized windows for A1 etc. sized drawings but this will only take a couple of minutes max per window/drawing sheet. Even if a planning application for a domestic extension required ten A3 sheets thats 20 minutes max. Submitted electronically there is no additional printing cost so whats the big deal?

  12. Anthony Southey permalink

    I find that builders are more than happy to use A3 drawings as I laminate them for site issue.
    Problem solved for site issues of developed planning drawings ….

  13. Nick Charltom permalink

    I was amazed recently to find that applying for the renewal of a planning approval due to expire under standard condtions was only possible in an old fashioned paper format. Having fully embraced the online submissions and after 40 yrs of drawing on a board updgraded to using CAD being forced to waste time preparing a hand written submission is areal retrograde step.
    When can we expect this simply process to be included within the online portal facilities as I am sure that with the present climate I will be doing a few more of these renewals.

    • Nick, the problem is that we don’t have the funds to do everything we’d like to do and therefore have to be very choosy about our developments.
      In the case of extant permissions Government has not yet decided what the longer-term future is of this temporary measure. At the moment it is due to expire next year and therefore it’s difficult for us to justify the expenditure.

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