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Progress not perfection

by on February 27, 2013

The image below illustrates the growth in online planning applications over the last few years. As you can see it has been remarkably steady.

We are now at what all business strategists would agree is the difficult 30%, the “late adopters”

It would be great to hear how you think we might tackle the businesses who have yet to join the party. Perhaps you could share your lightbulb moments, offer a testimonial or simply tell everyone when it was that your business flicked  the digital switch.

Yearly Eclipse

From → Statistics

  1. steve permalink

    Have you dealt with any glitches like the one that does not save all the info when you save? Does any one else have any problems like this?

    • Yes, I agree with the comments by BWP Architects. This would also speed up the process in line with the online application. This can be particularly frustrating during the Christmas period when the postal service is delayed. Cheques have also been lost in the post.

      For all the reasons mentioned, I would very much appreciate such a facility being introduced although I would like the ability to pay by cheque preserved for those applicants who are not pc literate!

    • Hi, I do not use the `on-line` system as I`m hopless with computers and often lose stuff; recipients also deny having received e-mails sometimes.. I would never wish to move from a paper system and I can`t see this being made compulsory as there must be an appreciable number in the same boat or people who don`t have access to computers. Also I pay for planning apps. and appeals etc, via cheques. I guess I`m the archetypical `Luddite` !!
      Arthur Bayley
      Bayley Design Associates

      • But here you are communicating via a blog and joining in with the communication revolution!

  2. Well, where to start? The massively reduced reprographics bill; the ability to send coloured images without printing; instant submission and confirmation; guaranteed receipt and not ‘lost in the post’; paying planning fees online; single zip file containing whole application including forms; online form filling; almost all types of application possible… Why on earth wouldn’t any sane person use the Planning Portal? It’s a no-brained!

  3. Wholeheartedly agree Leigh. We went paperless in 2007 and have not looked back.
    As non-portal users use up more resources they should have to pay more in planning fees; a green tax if you like.

  4. Bryan Cadman permalink

    Apart from all the advantages Leigh describes(its a bit like what has the Portal ever done for us), maybe there needs to be an upfront financial incentative. So if we ever return to charging fees on a cost recovery basis, then applications not submitted by the Portal would cost more.

  5. Still some dinosaurs out there – i know of one CS who doesn’t have a PC!!

    Does the next leap comes from LPA’s themselves? How many individual staff members ever used the portal to prepare and submit applications (eg by DC/validation staff themselves? Even for dummy runs). Discussions i have is that they are very few but doing so might help them get the message out?.

  6. Simon Evans permalink

    In terms of take up, much must depend on your organisation type.

    If you are a one man band, the time and cost saving in not having to print things out in multiple copies, collate them, and despatch them is much appreciated. If you have minions to do that, the advantages will appear less significant.

    If you rely on documentation provided by others then you rely on them to provide you with that documentation in digital format and of a size that the Portal will accept (old bugbear!). There must be times when it seems simplest just to forward the paper copy of what you get sent.

    Leigh has succinctly covered many of the advantages of using the Portal. One of the biggest advantages I find is being able to make an application in draft form (perhaps while I await third party input) and delaying final application, knowing that everything I have done will not have been wasted and is all in a location that is easy to retrieve.

    Finally, it has to be pointed out that uptake must also depend on LAs also taking up the gauntlet of paperlessness. At present, many end up printing out paper copies their end which reduces their appreciation of the system. They in turn are dependent on others, like Parish Councils, being willing and able to operate digitally. But it will all come. I mean, who uses a fax machine any more?

    • Thanks Simon – I missed that one! Being able to prep the draft and leave it there until the missing bit of information is available is great!

      I was pleased to read the other day that Birmingham (I think?) have now moved to a permanent switch to using tablets for planning meetings. I wonder if the other LPAs will be considering it?

      Oh, and Bryan, of course I also missed sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health…..

      And reduced fees for online applications? Hmmm, that would rely on the LPAs not printing stuff out themselves and asking why should they foot the reprographics bill rather than the applicant; I mean, its not as if the applicants have got to pay for anything else like consultants, surveys, reports, section 106, CILs, more spurious requested reports, a couple more meaningless surveys, public consultation exercises….. blah blah blah….

      I’m going to lie down now….

  7. Peter Lutterer permalink

    The Planning Portal is very good for the one man band but could you put pressure on my Local Authority (Wealden) to accept online Building Regulation applications. I still have to print out all those drawings and documents and delivery by snail mail or by hand when another department in the same building already has them in digital format. This is a nonsense and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

    • Peter – why not switch to using Approved Inspectors then? We use a local one for us for the vast majority of our work and they request everything is submitted electronically rather than papercopies. Pre-application advice, a quick turn around, flexibility and discussion, turning up on site when asked, cheaper than local authority building control departments, professional attitude, properly resourced… why on earth would anyone not make the switch?

  8. Richard Haig permalink

    My simple objection is payment as I get my Clients to pay upfront for the Planning fee buy cheque made out to the LA. I don’t want to pay and then invoice them as recovery can take some time, reminders etc! I am a small sole trader.

    All the best


  9. Speedier decisions. Is there an analysis that shows development can start earlier if the portal is used? As a town councillor on our planning committee, we review planning applications electronically every two weeks; often we do our bit long before others, and then even longer before final decisions (although there may be good reasons for delays).
    But then there are other aspects that slow down the development process. Public notices here have to be on a distinctive colour paper, and are thus still mailed to applicants, who have to sign and return a note to say they’ve displayed it. Why not go to a distinctive black and white design that can be printed and displayed instantly? Why not make it a national standard style, so all get used to what these notices are?

  10. We have used the Planning Portal for all our applications for a number of years. However, a quick look at the Havering website shows many agents still submitting by post and writing out the applications by hand.

    I cannot understand why there is such reluctance to change. Could it be they imagine it to be more hassle than it’s worth? Perhaps a short film on YouTube style showing a submission in action could help?

    One slight annoyance I have is concerning application fees paid by cheque. The cheque is sent out the same day as the application is submitted online correctly referenced but often, the Council insists it cannot wait a day and writes directly to the applicant stating they haven’t received the fee!

    • Hi Sue,
      if we introduced a facility where, by a seperate tool the applicant could pay online for an application submitted by you, would it be useful?

      • That would be really useful from our point of view – if we could email a link to a client and say click on this to pay your planning fees online I know most of our client’s would be very grateful (it would save them our handling fee of 5% or save them time trying to remember where on earth they put their cheque book, the hassle of writing a covering letter, finding a stamp, walking to the post box….)

      • Peter, do what I do with Wealden and many others; email it to them in pdf format.

      • Payment facility suggested would be fantastic. Also be aware that if you pay the planning fee on behalf of the client then you are providing a service so must levy VAT on it.

      • In reply to Glenn, I too send PDF application to Building Control (Havering). Despite noting in my covering letter that a signed application form with cheque attached is in the post, they insist on writing to the applicant the same day stating they’ve not received the cheque! They state their system does this automatically!

        Regarding VAT, I believe Council fees are disbursements and thus zero rated?

      • Sue, Having been the ‘lucky’ recipient of a VAT inspection where my only misdemeanor was not having charged VAT on planning fees paid on an applicants behalf. HMRC are adamant that this is providing a service which attracts VAT. Planning fee are disbursements, but only if paid by the applicant. I would check with HMRC, they may have changed their attitude in the last two years, but I suspect not.

      • Kevin Davis permalink

        See note below on VAT and disbursements

  11. Anne permalink

    You may find that your local LPA already has the facility for your clients to pay for their planning application online or over the phone with a credit card as it is preferable than processing cheques……

    If they do, all you need to do is provide your client with the planning application reference number for them to provide with their payment so that the LPA can marry the two.

    • Hi Anne,
      thanks for pointing that out.
      What I am suggesting though is a service that is integrated with the application so that the authority gets everything in one go, but still keeps the financial seperation between the agent and applicant.

      • Anne permalink

        Yep, that would be even better for the LPA also. My suggestion was just “in the meantime”….:)

  12. Hi Glenn, that sounded very unlucky! I am in fact not VAT registered, so don’t have to worry about this one, fortunately! However, in my previous role working in solicitors for many years, all ‘disbursements’ such as search fees paid out on a client’s behalf are entered as zero rated for VAT purposes. I think this would be different if you charged a fee on top for administering the disbursement, and then it would be classed as a service. A tax expert could perhaps confirm this
    but to avoid any problems, to the Portal Director, I think all things considered the financial separation would seem to be a good one!

  13. I have my hand up! Definitely an expert on wine!!

  14. Anthony Peake permalink

    I am not sure it is about a difficult to reach 30%, but instead down to processes that have yet to be optimised with the customer in mind. I recently tried to do a renewal of an out of date planning application with my own council and was shocked as the process. Firstly, I could not renew a planning. Application online (what % of applications are renewals), secondly I could not do it on the phone, which I had assumed would be a 5 minute process, thirdly I had to book an appointment to see a planning officer (what a waste of time and money for all involved) and then it for worse. I was informed that nothing had changed in the last 5 years, but that I would still need to buy a copy of the plans from the council (£25), take it to a copy shop and have 3 more copies made (another £50), then I had to hand these back to the council with a new application form (which was exactly the same information taken from my old application), then I had to wait 8 weeks (and the council needed to debate the application again) to then be informed it had been approved as it had not changed.

    You tell me if the final 30% is down to citizens not using online tools, or if it is a set of very silly council processes?

    I am sure that fixing this would at least get another 10% of applications online.

  15. Henry T Spence permalink

    Hi everyone – interesting reading the comment’s posted, however as one of the “dinosures” – I run a one man design practice and would coment as follows: –

    1. As a Practitioner, I have found the “portal” a pain in the past so do not use it. I now present my submission’s electronically to the Planner’s & Building Reg’s, but on a cd (inclusive of application forms & supporting doc’s), plus a cheque – all forwarded by Registered Post, which I can track all the way to delivery.

    2. As a former Parish Councillor in a rural part of North Yorkshire I would also comment as follow’s – the Planner’s cannot get away from providing “hard copies” for review / comment as most Parish Council’s cannot afford to purchase the neccessary technology / software packages to view application’s properly and under the current financial state of the country could not justify increasing their precept’s to their communites to be able to do this.

    3. The myth of a “paperless society” is a dream, practical reality dictates that Client’s, & other people involved in the design / submission process – especially on smaller scheme’s require hard copies of drgs & doc’s to understand the proposals.

    4. As a former member of the “big league” – having run major project’s in the past – I would suggest that the “portal” is better suited for these kind’s of project’s rather than the type of schemes I now undertake.

    • glenn1949 permalink

      The only problem with a paperless society is if you go one step too far and extend the policy to include w.c.’s. My office has been paperless for 6 years; it is the best move I ever made. Many LA’s have supplied parish councils with laptops as it has proven to be economic.

  16. Chris Goodman permalink

    Economics, personal preferences, planning professionals, etc, is irrelevant. Paper is the proper way to prepare and submit documents giving those preparing the opportunity to thoroughly check for errors and, just as important, avoids the recipient printing one or more copies anyway.
    While those wishing to use electronic submissions should not be prevented or discouraged, the use of prepared paper applications must continue to be the accepted norm and applications must continue to be sent to the local authority for action by their planning department.
    It must always be remembered that “planners” are the elected members of Councils and that the planning departments, whether they like it or not, are there only to check legalities, etc, and advise Councillors.

    • Chris,
      Whilst I absolutely respect your right to your opinion, I feel I must correct a factual error.
      Paper applications are no longer the norm.
      It has been some time since the number of electronic submissions overtook paper and we are now rapidly approaching the point where 70% of planning applications are submitted online.

      • Can I correct another factual error – planners are not elected council members; they are employees. Planning Committee Members are “elected” except of course they are not as when was the last time anyone voted for someone to be on a planning committee.

        Moreover, not every application goes to Committee, in fact I’ll wager the vast majority don’t but are dealt with by case officers under delegated powers.

        Paper applications are a waste of paper, postage, resources etc. There is no more benefit in checking applications on paper than on a screen – in fact paper copies are less accurate if you want to be pedantic due to scaling errors in the printing process.

        And how many paper applications drawn by draftsman have you seen that are full of errors? How many errors actually get picked up by the planning officers? This is a false argument.

        Time to move in to the modern world…

    • glenn1949 permalink

      And here I was thinking that dinosaurs were extinct. Silly old me. How do these people who refuse to give up paper rationalise their use of the web, mobile phones, computers, satnav, etc, etc.

      • Maybe they use OS Explorer paper maps instead of Satnav, semaphore or paper-cups-on-string instead of mobiles, and the Encyclopedia Britannica instead of t’internet to research new products….? And I’ll bet they’ve even still got a fax machine…!

  17. Don McCabe permalink

    I dont submit until the clients paid which also includes planning fee which if its done online is without printing fees.If this is explained they will go for it.
    Also for peter you have to go to submitaplan for building reg online applications.

    • glenn1949 permalink

      Don, there are still some dinosaur LA’s which don’t use submit a plan.

  18. Henry T Spence permalink

    In response to glenn 1949 & Leigh Brook’s recent post’s – we all have valid reason’s for using the system’s we do – so being idiotic in the language used in a public forum against other professional’s just illustrates ignorance & bad manner’s!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Peter Allan permalink

    I am a sole practitioner and I like drawing. It is one of the reasons I became an architect in the first place, and after nearly half a century in practice I think I have become reasonably good at it. Who is the dictator who decides that everyone must change? Most Local Authorities scan the drawings when received to post them on the web site. Of course I could do that before making the submission, but why? Domestic clients like paper drawings, and so do small local builders when it comes to tenders and construction.

    Peter Allan

    • Hi Peter,
      I completely support your right to choose the method of submission, however as more and more lpas become able to work electronically throughout the process the economic case for ‘e’ will become overwhelming.
      How much simpler and transparent it will be to share and consult on local plans and applications without the need for printers and plotters.
      I am a fan of the skill and art of architectural drawing, i just believe that electronic processing offers opportunities for efficiency and democratisation that will ultimately lead us to a better and more inclusive planning system.

    • glenn1949 permalink

      Peter, There is a solution; continue to draw manually, purchase a colour A3 printer/scanner/copier (around £250), scan your drawings to PDF, then submit electronically. Everyone is happy then.

  20. Dave Sermon permalink

    My thoughts, the 30% non users might be the sensible ones as they haven’t encountered the difficulties of using the portal and it’s planning map partners who I see are the same from years ago. Having just one part governmental / part commercial agency monopolising this industry with little incentive to improve service and prices isn’t good for the consumer.

    • Hi Dave, I must repond re the mapping element of our service.
      One of my first acts as Director of the Portal was to open out the service to a selection of mapping suppliers, rather than a single supplier as had previously been the case.
      Our customers have the benefit of choice and competition, including the option to upload a map from an entirely different source outside our service.

      • Dave Sermon permalink

        Thanks for the response. However I urge you to stand behind a normal person, like me, trying to order a plan from some of your planning map web sites, it won’t be pretty or necessarily the most cost effective option for them. Five years is a long time to have such a ‘closed shop’ in most peoples’ judgement and I’m afraid you haven’t convinced me that you offer the customer the benefit of choice or competition and I will stick to google.

      • David,
        I would be grateful if you would suggest ways in which we might improve the service or choice.

  21. I have never used the Portal for downloading OS maps. There are a large number of suppliers; shop around to get the best deal for you via your web browser. I have an account with my supplier and it only takes me about 2 minutes to locate and download in dxf format. The Portal is just making a service available, primarily, I suspect for householders.
    The Portal is not a closed shop; it is a free choice to obtain your OS data from any source.

  22. Dave Sermon permalink

    To the Portal Director – a regular review of suppliers to find the best and cheapest in class I would have thought would do it or simply point people to google? In my job, if I used the same suppliers for 5 years unless they were the best or cheapest, my boss would fire me. Hope this helps.

    Hi Glenn – I think you said it in your first sentence..”I have never used the Portal for downloading OS maps”. ..if you had you’d see what I mean (I don’t want to name the worst ones though).

    I think the fact that all councils seem to link to the same planning map suppliers on the portal and the portal is a quasi governmental body seems to endorse these, so to Jo average they appear to be the best options when they are clearly not. The free market has the effect of weeding out poor offerings, a closed shop does not.

  23. I agree, it would be a great idea to include in your App1 an e-mail which the agent could send to client giving payment on line details. I have had an instance recently where the LA cashed my clients cheque (with pp number on the back)but did not inform the Planning Dept of payment. Planners just left the application on the desk for 2 months until I enquired about progress. Then of course all hell broke loose.

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