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Birmingham says: ‘Bye bye paper, hello tablets’

by on February 18, 2013

Birmingham City Council recently held its first electronic planning committee after ditching paper and using tablet computers.

Some of you may have read the city council started issuing tablet computers for its planning committee members as part of a pilot scheme in late November.

The six-month trial began at its 22nd November meeting, initially using the tablet devices in parallel with paper copies of agendas.

The committee has now been fully paperless since January. In addition to issuing the devices the council has streamlined its back offline office to provide improved information flows behind the scene.

The first paperless planning committee meeting took place at the end of January. The meeting went well and the committee is planning to follow the same process for subsequent meetings.

The team at Birmingham are also looking at how the format of the reports can be revised to take even more advantage of the electronic medium.

In future meetings, it’s planned to use more interactive elements in the committee such as links to online plans and possibly using Google Street View to aid the decision-making process.

Business case and savings

Birmingham’s business case estimates the 21 tablets (15 for committee members and six for planning officers) will be paid for inside three years, thanks to the savings their use will generate.

The initial cost of rolling out the tablets for the planning committee is £11,781 with support costs of £5,250 in future years. Annual savings are projected at £10,574. Over the five-year business case, the project would break even in year three, and subsequent net savings of £5,324 per year would then be achieved.

Councillor Mike Sharpe, chairman of the planning committee, said: “It would be very easy for things to stand still because they have always been done a certain way.

“However, the planning committee is one of the main stages for council business, has a busy agenda and the printing costs of all the paperwork mean it is no longer sensible or sustainable to avoid the benefits that technology offer.”

The council said the tablets will make it easier to view and annotate agendas and will provide a platform for more interactive reports in the future.

“It will also make our work more agile and efficient and is a good example of how modernisation and business transformation can be adopted to ensure that we are a smart city using new technologies.”

The scheme is a pilot and will be reviewed in due course to consider whether it has been successful and could potentially be rolled out to other areas of the council.

I’d love to hear from other local authorities using mobile technology to modernise their planning service or indeed how applicants and planners are using tablets or smart phones.

Please post a comment or question below or, if you have a more in-depth story to tell, email

  1. Melanie White permalink

    Our Cllrs and Officers have been successfully using tablets for Planning Committee for some time. It was a culture shock at first but things are running quite smoothly now, with the paper agenda having become a thing of the past.

    In the back office we’re currently making preparations for a fully paperless trial with our smaller scale applications. Everything is made electronic as soon as it arrives with us but the paper file still exists for site visit purposes and prompts workflow around the room. However, we think it may be possible to have the electronic case file lead the way -just waiting for one of our Planners to volunteer to give up the paper!

    We’re not far off… we’ll let you know.

    • Melanie or anyone else out there, I’m writing a report on the use of tablets in all areas of the public sector and would love to get some detailed input about their use in planning committees. This wouldn’t take long, can be by phone or email, and on a confidential or named source basis to suit you.
      Many thanks

  2. Hi Melanie, my Council is currently considering the use of tablets in Committee meetings as a way of streamlining the Committee management processes and reducing the paper and printing costs.

    We are about to embark on a full review of the processes deployed in the Planning department and would be very interested in learning more about your project and how you approached it with Members. I will be grateful if you can advise whether you have a case study or further information on your website outlining your appraoch etc.

  3. Emma permalink

    Is there anyway i can contact some of you or if you could answer a couple of questions on here? – We have started to look into options and i wanted to know what software/apps you have on the tablets and also what storage you have (i.e. 16GB).

    Thank you in advance!

  4. Paul P permalink

    It’s always been a mystery to me why, when I submit a fully electronic planning application via the portal, I get back posted paper aknowledgments and correspondance in return. So there’s decent savings in time, paper and postage to be made here. It’s also amusing to see planners struggling with large format paper drawings on windy, rainy site visits. As an agent I don’t want any paperwork off the council – it costs me time and money to file and store it – in fact I usually loose it! There’s something ironic about being asked by a council in letter format to provide an environmental impact statement. So I urge all councils to go paperless.

    • Lol, Paul P, so it’s not just me that has noticed this.

      It is not just planners, but it may be a local authority thing that they think a paper letter has to be sent rather than an “electronic” letter

    • Paul

      We are currently recruiting LPAs to our Smarter Planning scheme, which aims to improve best practice in the processing of online planning applications. One of the criteria is that LPAs communicate electronically internally and externally.

      We’re in the early stages of recruiting but so far of the 84 that have completed a survey requesting Smarter Planning status, 20 have been approved and we’re working with the remainder.

      I’ll post an update on the scheme shortly.

      More information here:

  5. Jerry Fryman permalink

    Pleased to see that they are not just making the assumption that it will be ipad. Buy a nexus for them at half the cost. Nexus 7 32gb should be ok. They don’t need a camera and the nexus has an adequate one for Skype.

  6. Emma permalink

    Great thanks Gerry

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