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Getting your supporting documents right for online submission

by on April 17, 2013

This post was written by Robin Vaissiere, one of our account managers helping both LPAs and applicants with electronic submission.

We often hear from customers who want to submit online but need to include reports, surveys and drawings in differing formats, provided to them by third parties each with their own way of preparing documents without regard to the requirements of e-publishing.

As a result many are subsequently left with no option but to print and submit the application by post, on CD or DVD shifting the problem down the line to the LPA who may inherit the problem of publishing large or complex files for public inspection. It may even be impossible to publish via the online register which can prove frustrating to consultees or members of the public who may need to access the information.

Also consider that anything submitted on paper will subsequently need to be scanned by the LPA in order to publish it online. High-quality, perfectly bound supporting documents which may impress the client will have to be separated and manually scanned, leading to problems such as misalignment, fading, loss of detail and even surveys that are upside down!

Getting it right first time

We recommend that if you have paper documents from a third party then you ought to consider scanning it yourself and then submit it online. This way you have control over the quality of the reproduction.

Better still; ask your collaborator to provide all documentation in a format suitable for online submission in the first place. Ultimately it will get the application into the LPA system more quickly and with less opportunity for error.

We’ve provided a few important principles for preparing electronic supporting documents:

  • Individual files: 5MB maximum file size, use descriptive file names (e.g. ‘Environmental Impact Assessment – Public Rights of Way’)
  • All documents and drawings: Use PDF format in A4 or A3 size whenever possible
  •  
  • For large volume surveys, statements and reports:
    1. Consider whether they are absolutely necessary
    2. Reduce the resolution of photographs
    3. Separate sections into individual files
    4. Place large format drawings, maps and illustrations into separate annex files containing sheets of the same size
    5. Provide a clear index of sections and file names

Further guidance on formatting supporting information is available from the Planning Portal.

Reduce your file sizes

Minimise validation delays

If you (or your suppliers) need help with formatting supporting information for online submission, please contact Stuart Mockford (our head of corporate engagement).

35 Comments
  1. not a luddite permalink

    God. what a performance ??!! how long do you think weve got to sort out everthing just to make sure it will go thru the porthole. ? just get all the nice consultants professional looking reports, print the plans, put it in an envelope anf post it !!

  2. How many of us do you think have A3 or larger scanners? How much time will all this compiling take us and where is this paid for. Certainly not from the Client in the fees. If I had to charge for all of this, I would loose the job for certain. Nice in theory, but not at all practical at the sharp end, where we are trying to earn a living against fierce fee competition. The on line process was, I thought, supposed to reduce time and costs, but it seems that it is not. Also, the LA used to require interested parties to visit the town hall to inspect planning applications. The introduction of ‘see it on line’ has made all of this extra work of scanning everything necessary. Is it really progress I ask?

    Sorry if this seems like a rant, but life is tough on the front line.

    • David, re your question “Where is this paid for. Certainly not from the client”
      I would argue that it’s the client that is paying now, they may not be paying you but they are paying!
      Our advice is that where possible agents influence clients to demand from the consultants that instead of providing numerous copies of a beautiful (expensive) glossy hardbound report; that they request digital versions instead.
      It will make your life easier, speed up submission and cut costs for everyone.

      All these reports begin in a digital format anyway. If the client desires a paper version for their coffee table by all means proviide it as an add on, but where we can we ought for the sake of the planet and efficiency work digital.

      Providing access online means that all those who were previously unable to visit the local council offices can now engage in whats occurring locally. It cuts journeys into town, saving time, cost and carbon and enables us to provide lots of advice and guidance in plain English (and Welsh) to people who might otherwise struggle to understand the labyrinthine world of planning.

      • I certainly agree with your suggestion to get third party documents in an electronic format. What concerned me was your suggestion that I should scan them myself. That is what I meant when I said the design fee I charge would not cover that time aspect. Also, my scanner is A4, so how do I scan A3 or A2 drawings or documents if the third party will not co-operate?

        Thanks for your reply, which tidies up things a bit in this respect.

      • No problem David always trying to help if I can.

  3. It was helpful to me as I didn’t know about 5Mb limit. Thanks.

  4. One ‘problem’ with filing applications on line, I have found, is that any coloured drawings are reduced to black and white by the local authority. This somewhat defeats the objective.

  5. Melanie White permalink

    I think this is an excellent post, making extremely validate points. It covers many of the issues we experience as an LPA. We have made a commitment to providing public documentation via our website.

    With this in mind we’re conscious that due to the format and condition in which we receive this information it is often very difficult to display to the public in a clear and presentable fashion. We regularly have to remove spiral binding, cut-up glue bound documents and split inch thick tomes into more web-friendly sizes. But our greatest bugbear is A1 and A0 sized plans, these are often a source of irritation for our web users. The Portal offer excellent advice on the best way to present proposals, which plan sizes work best and information presentation for the web -just wish there was more take-up.

    I really think that it is time to accept that the 21st century is here to stay and acknowledge that members of the public expect to have documents available at the click of a mouse, and the choice of accessing them when it suits their lifestyle i.e. not just between the hours of 8am-5pm. Furthermore many statutory consultees are now requesting information in electronic form and a few will not accept paper anymore. Assisting LPAs in this regard enables delivery of a more efficient and valuable service with benefits to all those engaged with the Planning process.

    Great advice from the Portal. Some agents should really take note.

    • Melanie, could you please explain the problem with A1 sized drawings. Why are they more difficult to look at and what would you suggest as an alternative for schemes that, when shown at a reasonable scale for reading, are larger than A3 or A2.

      • Melanie White permalink

        We still receive large sheets with multiple drawings and find that looking at these on a computer screen means using a pan tool to navigate around the screen to pick out particular bits, then having to zoom right in order to appreciate the details, zooming back out to choose a different area of the plan etc. Attempts to view an A0 plan in its entirety, even when displayed on our office (19” to 21”) monitors, regularly results in frustration. Overall a very exasperating experience.

        We find that generally our customers are thankful to find application documents on line however they do often comment on the hindrance outlined above.

        The recommendations made in the post above are extremely helpful both to the public, consultees and the LPA, but have added my own little notes as follows.

        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. …Because it results in a much better viewing experience enabling better interpretation and appreciation of the scheme/drawing/proposal.

        2. Clearly indicate sheet size and scale and at least some key dimensions (always check the LPA’s guidelines/requirements). …Surely this needs no explanation, but you would be surprised how many plans/drawing are received lacking in this basic information.

        3. Make sure the document is correctly aligned for on-screen viewing. …Because wonky or skewed plans and drawings never look great and don’t do a scheme any favours.

        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). …You may think that this is entirely for the LPA’s benefit but some web systems use this metadata to catalogue and display the drawings/plans/documents. It’s incredibly frustrating for customers when they think they’re going to be looking at an elevation and up pops a roof plan.

        Hope this clarifies my earlier post.

  6. John Ongom permalink

    All, as most stuff is produced electronically, there are free PDF writers (they behave like printers) which you can download from the internet. They will print anything, A0 – A4. I use Cute PDF but you have to watch the file sizes. If you get the professional versions they have the ability to reduce file size yet maintain clarity.

    • not a luddite permalink

      “……. It cuts journeys into town……”. So, the Planning Porthole helps to slow town centre activity and thereby retail vitality, something Planners are seeking to avoid all the time, and quite rightly. And what of all the inward investment depts and economic regeneration initiatives trying to get town centres working …? do they know Gov think it a good idea people dont go into town too often ?

    • John,

      Cute PDF’s default setting is 600 DPI (dots per inch) which is great in terms of quality but can make the file sizes a tad on the large side. This can be changed in the advanced settings quite easily. I think most LPA’s generally work to 200 DPI for drawings/plans which should keep file sizes down.

  7. Nick Edwards permalink

    We provide photomontages and visualisations which are key to our applications for wind turbines. Reducing file resolution really is not an option. Larger size file capability is needed.
    Also when will the portal start accepting docx documents. This is a frequent bug bear which I have raised previously. All of our documents are produced as docx documents as this is the most up to date version of word. Surely it should be possible to submit these without having first convert to pdf or an older version of word?

    • Hi Nick,
      I agree completely that file size caps are a great pain but I must reiterate that this is not a problem of the Portal’s making.

      We can accept files of any size and almost any format.

      The difficulty is with the limitations on local authority firewalls where there is currently no standard approach and a large proportion are unable to accept files greater than 5MB.

      We are working to find solutions to this problem, but you’ll no doubt appreciate the intricacies of delivering a one-size solution for 400 LPAs with dozens of differing back office requirements. The Portal is not mandated which means everything we do has to be achieved through collaboration and compromise.

      Please search the blog for “5MB” to see more detail on this issue.

      • Nick Edwards permalink

        Hi,
        I can appreciate the difficulties and hope that these will be resolved in he near future.

        The issue with docx documents is with appeals to PINS submitted via the portal – they still cannot accept docx documents, cannot accept links to documents, and are asking for all large documents to be printed. PINS are just so 20th Century!

    • Melanie White permalink

      A somewhat flippant response but probably because most Planning Departments cant afford the latest version of Word

    • Michael Stephenson permalink

      Just a quick comment regarding the 5mb file size limit – even if the portal manages to lift this restriction you may still find your large documents reduced in resolution or split into multiple parts.

      The LPA I work for doesn’t allow uploading of any documents over 5mb so even if the portal allowed you to upload 10mb or 15mb I would still have to reduce the size or split the document before publishing. I fear a lot more of my time being spent doing this if the limit is upped.

      Also thanks to the Portal Director for the comments regarding glossy bound documents, these can be an absolute nightmare to separate and get scanned in! I’d also add uploading documents in the correct orientation to the list of things to get right (may sound trivial but the option to rotate is removed once plans are downloaded from the portal. A copy needs to be saved elsewhere, rotated, then moved back to the location of the original file). Not too bad for the odd householder application but this can become very time consuming with lots of large applications!

  8. Michael Hayes permalink

    Re The comments above about uploading files in DOCX format.

    It isn’t advisable to upload files in either DOC or DOCX formats because they are editable. They could be changed by a third party. Also both DOC and DOCX formats contain a history of the document which you may not want others to see. So if, for example, you have created it by editing an existing document from a similar project then that information although hidden will be extractable by anyone who knows how.

    Furthermore, there is the issue of compatibility for users of older wordprocessor versions. But perhaps more importantly there is the issue of future readability. Any document uploaded as part of a planning application is part of the historical record for the property concerned and may need to be read several decades in the future. DOC and DOCX are proprietary formats and there is no guarantee that the company which owns them will still be producing wordprocessor software at some future date.

    PDF format, although originally proprietary, has been adopted as an open standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and is thus likely to be supported for the foreseeable future. PDF format also has the benefit that the content is effectively locked in the final form that its author intended, so it cannot be casually or accidentally changed.

  9. Adrian Thompson Design Practice permalink

    I recently made a Listed Building Application on the Portal which finally worked out fine – all forms completed etc. The process of dealing on site with the Conservation `Officer went well. The Client requested to see details of the forms submitted so I called up the application only to find that all the completed forms were now blank. I had to explain this to the Client and on mentioning it to the Conservation Officer she was at a loss to understand it. Could someone explain what happened to the hours of time filling these forms for them to be wiped clean?

  10. Peter Davis permalink

    I do not understand LPA’s difficulties with navigating around big, (A1/A0), drawings. My pdf viewer allows a single click to shrink or expand the drawing to the display size and a single click zoom in/out to/from an area. It could not be easier. For anyone who is interested it is PDF X-Change Pro from Tracker Software. It cost about seventy quid and it does everything and does it right every time. I have tried most of the recognised offerings and they all had failings but X-Change Pro is magic.

    While I know LPAs prefer multiple A3 sheets to define a project, contractors out on site would much sooner have fewer, larger drawings. For retrieving data quickly and efficiently I would have thought fewer properly titled A1 sheets would be preferable to four times + A3 sheets any day.

    • I may be wrong (and please correct me if I am) but as I understand it the problem is not necessarily that LPAs cannot view the files, but that their citizens cannot.

  11. Trevor Irvin permalink

    I read with interst your article regarding the correct formatting of document for on-line planning applications. The answer is simple just use PDF formatted documents. I work on a Mac and any file in any application ( CAD, Word etc.) can easily be converted. Open the print dialogue box and click on the radio button marked ‘PDF’. This allows you to open, save or email the chosen document file as a PDF. If the file is large either export as a JPG and reduce file size then re-export back to PDF or import into iPhoto and then export back as a PDF as a reduced file size. Sounds a lot of work, but it can be done in seconds.

    The main advantage of using PDF files (at least on a Mac) is that in Preview is that you can combine documents prepared in different applications into one collated document. I’m sure that this can be also achieved on a PC, however as an Apple user of over thirty years I have no idea how this may be achieved.

    For those Ludites who think it is all too much of a faff join the 21st Century. The on-line application process is brilliant. Just get organised. Everything these days is produced electronically. There is no need to scan documents, just insist that all documents are emailed to you. Take care in the compiling the documents and enjoy the results. Simples!

  12. bob davies permalink

    What a pity the general public may not be able to read the drawings easily or to download, I use mostly A1 size drawings for mine and my clients convenience not theirs, it also stops downloading of plans at full size for them to be used and copied for another project. Since the advent of the planning portal I have found many instances where plans have been cribbed.
    Either the plans should be blocked from being printed off or go back to the system of viewing plans at the council offices.

  13. I think the public are very capable of navigating a large document on line, such as google maps. People will look at applications with smart phones, tablets, laptops etc and a format suitable for the smallest of these may not be what is in the best interest of public viewing. Also the LPA often project documents for committee meetings and paper copies are needed for Parish Councils etc. So suitability for a range of presentations is required. So I do not see the problem with A1, yet. Perhaps it can be explained?

    Or perhaps the real concern here for the LPAs is the cost of printing / scanning A1 drawings?

    • Michael Stephenson permalink

      I don’t believe its the LPAs driving the push for A3 and/or A4 plans. Certainly from my point of view I would rather deal with uploading a couple of A1 plans to our website than lots of A3 drawings. In terms of printing & scanning I don’t believe there’s much/any difference in cost (certainly the case with scanning & portal applications as these will be downloaded from the portal and not actually scanned at all). It could be argued A1 plans are more cost effective as renaming and uploading a few large plans is lot quicker than lots of smaller plans which frees up my time to do other work.

      With that said I can certainly see the advantage of smaller plans to members of the public who might just want to see a particular elevation or floor plan. They don’t need to download a potentially large file and mess around zooming in on the relevant part of the plan (there have been some good suggestions on how best to do this but having seen elderly relatives try to view plans it would certainly be easier and quicker for them if they could just click a link and see what they want to see without any zooming).

  14. Peter Davis permalink

    Thank you Chris for your comment regarding LPAs/citizens difficulty viewing large drawings on screen.

    About twelve posts back the lengthy first paragraph of the post by Mealnie White was about LPAs having difficulty viewing large drawings on their 19″ – 21″ monitors. In the next paragraph she goes on to say that her customers find it a simlar hinderance.

    As I said in my post I use a paid for PDF suite which I find excellent. I don’t know what LPAs use but I would hope it would be something pretty good and I would assume most of the citizens are using the free Adobe Reader.

    I have just tried Adobe Reader on my wifes PC (garden designer). Right click on a drawing and select Marquee Zoom, left click and drag to select an area of the drawing and the software zooms to display the area. When done left click on the full screen icon on the toolbar and the software zooms out to the previous fuill screen view. Marquee Zoom remains set until you disable it so repeated zoom in and out is easy.

    As Trevor says two posts above……Simples!

    Architecture and design has traditionally been done, usually, on large sheets of paper. Drawing boards in drawing offices of the past were not A3, they were gernerally A0. Thats the way we do it. I do not see why, just because we are now presenting our wares electronically, we should change that. The tools are there to view the drawings and they are easy to use. I bet the citizens who are claiming they are struggling to view drawings do not have any difficulties mastering the requirements of Facebook or Twitter software. If they paid equal attention to Adobe Reader they would not have any difficulty with that either.

  15. ADS permalink

    Be great if all the LAs accepted everything digitally , not all do . they would prefer to pay someone to stand and scan .

    • Michael Stephenson permalink

      Why would a LA prefer this? Maybe the reason they ‘pay someone to stand and scan’ is because they still receive a lot of applications & documentation in paper format and they need to be scanned?

      Just because a LA could/should be able to receive everything electronically it doesn’t mean every applicant & agent wants to do it that way.

  16. ADS permalink

    Micheal Hayes coments regarding documents being editable . Everything can be lifted scanned and edited if you have the right software , Pdf gives no protection against it .

    • Michael Hayes permalink

      Yes, you are correct PDF documents can be edited by any third party who actually sets out intentionally to do so. However, it is not quite the same thing as opening a DOC in a wordprocessor where you are immediately in a full blown editing environment even if you only want to read something.

      Also part of my point was future proofing as far as that is ever possible. Many years ago as an architectural student I had a summer job microfilming documents for long term archiving purposes. Who uses that technology anymore?

  17. Some points to raise with the various LPA officers that contribute on the portal.
    Quality of an application is often raised, but some of the poorly hand drawn designs that I see submitted and subsequently approved can be very annoying when as a small practice, we feel that we should always produce high quality drawings for the paying client, and ensure that the documents submitted are presented correctly. Before meeting a new client I always search past planning applications in the locality to see what precedents have been set and familiarise myself with the type of extension that the LPA have accepted and so advise the client accordingly. In this case the LPA should refuse the application on the grounds of poor and insufficient information.
    Similarly building regulation drawings being submitted with the wording “All work done to the building regs” , written in large letters some be returned as having insufficient information. But that is another story!

    In doing these searches, I have even discovered that some applications have been made by using “pirated” drawings. These drawings have simply been obtained from a neighbour or downloaded from the LPA website, the title box was crudely altered with a felt tipped marker pen and the drawings then used free of charge for a different address. As this can be classed as a commercial use, then it is a criminal offence. The last thing that an LPA needs is being caught up in a legal case. We have had this happen to our practice but thankfully we were alerted by a planning officer who was good enough to tell me “off the record” after a planning meeting. If LPA’s are going to police the process, then a simple observation of a drawing should at least been sufficient to alert the original architect and an email or phone call made. The LPA officer has the records in front of them and a check easily made. It is not a case of the LPA being copyright police, but being fair to practices who work with LPA’s and who are trying to make a living in today’s brutal economy.

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