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1App improvements in the pipeline

by on October 26, 2018

We mentioned a few weeks ago that we were working with our technical supplier to re-introduce the ability to download PDF versions of draft planning applications. This is based on feedback from many agents that they use these PDFs to allow clients to check applications prior to submission. At the same time we need to make sure that the downloaded applications are not valid for submission by email/post to an LPA as this will only slow down the process for everyone.

We’re therefore pleased to announce that the development is well underway and we are currently working towards putting the change live around the end of November/early December, the final date to be confirmed.

The downloaded draft forms will have the following differences from the standard application forms:

  • A watermark and header which states that it is a draft version and not valid for submission
  • Removal of some form details that would not need to be checked with a client

In parallel, our supplier has also been working on an increase to the maximum file size for supporting documents. When the original 1App service was launched, the maximum size for each file was set at 5MB as this was the limit for receipt by most authorities. Technology has moved on of course since then and we’ve wanted to increase this limit for quite a while. It’s still early days on the Financial Transaction Service as things continue to settle down, but this was the obvious place to start for us in terms of improvements made possible by income coming into the business. We know that this change will also be welcomed by many agents as well as many local authorities.

The change to double the maximum file size to 10MB will therefore be applied at the same time as the draft application downloads. You will still be able to upload as many files as you need for each application and the process for uploading won’t be affected. Any English authorities who cannot accept 10MB files, please contact us before 9 November, by emailing communications@planningportal.co.uk.

This is just the beginning of the pipeline of improvements and we’ll continue to update via this blog in the coming weeks and months. Thanks again for your ongoing support as we work together to improve the process for everyone.

29 Comments
  1. Shaun Richards permalink

    Excellent news Sarah, thanks for driving this change through! Could you give more detail please on the areas to be omitted from the draft forms which you say would not need to be checked by the client? Great news on the 10MB limit too. Whilst still restrictive it will certainly make life a little easier.

    • Planning Portal Content Team permalink

      Shaun,

      The current plan is to remove the agent details and the declaration.

      From discussions with users, these were the fields that they felt would not need checking with the client.

      The system will also be configurable, so we can make changes going forward as required.

  2. Brett Spiller permalink

    This is a step in he right directly. As a regular user I would also suggest that you need to ensure that card payments can be made for more significant applications. The current delay in transferring applications to LPAs owing to pending BACs transfers is not acceptable.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Brett, Thanks for your comment. I’ve just replied to Lee Wright who raised similar points , so please do take a look at that if you have a moment. Thanks, Sarah

  3. Lee Wright permalink

    It is good to see draft forms being available again; albeit, I would stress that bringing back something that was removed is not an ‘improvement’, but a reinstatement. Surely ‘DRAFT’ printed across each page as a bold water mark and your copyright printed with it in smaller print should suffice and stop LPA’s accepting the forms. You could also email all the LPA’s and ask them not to accept such forms and remind them it is a breach of copyright.

    The payment side is a mess and with so many applications now being over £1000.00, making electronic payments and the delays it involves is unacceptable and I am unsure why this is? It surely cannot be for fraud purposes, as card fraudsters buy a tv or computer and not put a planning application in!

    10mb attachments is great news.

    Just these few tweaks and it should be a really good system.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Lee
      Thanks for your comment. The £1000 limit on cards was put in place to allow us to keep the service charge as low as possible. We can’t charge a different amount for different payment routes, but on credit cards we typically incur a fee of around 1.5-2% depending on the card. If you have the option, Faster Payments are a better method than BACS, as they are usually with us the same day. Sarah

  4. Neil Warren permalink

    Not sure about this, why not just send to client prior to submission
    Regard
    Neil Warren

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Lee permalink

      Hi Neil – it’s because the new forms cannot be printed off in PDF prior to submission, as the portal have removed this facility with the last upgrade. The request is to the portal to add this facility back.

  5. Andrew Dunks permalink

    I agree with Lee Wright below – Just the watermark (and maybe the declaration removal) would suffice. I’m now going to get customers saying “I thought you were going to act as my agent but your details aren’t on the form” . . . .

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Thanks for the feedback Andrew. I appreciate it may feel a little ‘belt and braces’, but unfortunately even though many agents wouldn’t dream of misusing the service in this way, some have tried to get round it. To protect everyone therefore we do need to make sure its as watertight as possible. Offline feedback was that the client wouldn’t be asked to check the agents details in any case, so they are safe to redact. I hope this gives you some context. Best regards, Sarah

  6. Miles Forsyth permalink

    Excellent news ! I always used to send clients a ‘pack’, drawings, forms, all the docs, as pdf, to be agreed as a final ‘check over’ before submitting. While the workspace option was used by a regular client the other day without issue it’s a clumsy workaround that I can’t see being appropriate for ‘non-professional’ clients/householders.

    I ‘get’ the point about users circumventing the Portal’s fee but my ‘vote’ would be for a watermark saying ‘NOT FOR LPA USE’ or something across each page and otherwise leaving the form exactly as would be submitted – I’m not sure if omitting agent’s name and/or declaration or anything else adds or subtracts anything to the process beyond being slightly irritating. Whereas watermarking versus £16-67+VAT fee should deter all but the most ardent, errant Photoshoppers !

    More positively the zipped ‘pack’ that is available after submission is excellent. Thank you.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Thanks for the comment Miles. I’ve just replied to Andrew who raised a similar point about agent details. I hope that clarifies. All the best, Sarah

  7. Matt Hobby permalink

    It seems nonsensical to me that when we now submit an application, it stays in the Draft folder until the fee payment has been processed, and whilst it stays in Draft it shows as being incomplete and can be submitted again, possibly multiple times. Once submitted, the application should move to the Submitted folder, as was the case before the last update. Then it moves again to Transferred once payment is cleared. Simple…?

    It would also be handy to receive an email from the Planning Portal after an application is submitted, rather than having to wait sometimes days before the confirmation of receipt of payment email arrives. Confirm receipt of the submitted application ASAP, please.

  8. IanSsavagar permalink

    Hi Sarah
    I have reverted to using a P.D.F editor to fill forms etc and e`mail direct to the relevant authority but have been told on several occasions that they will only accept electronic submissions via the Planning Portal. Quoting the guidance within the Parliamentary Acts has had the required effect and enabled submissions to be validated. However there is already another company providing a similar service, but are at this time not accepted by many authorities, whereas on many of the Local Authority planning websites there are specific instructions to submit electronic submissions only via the Portal.
    Whilst the Portal was either a government organisation or indeed a free “government sponsored” organisation I can see no conflict of interests, but now the service provided comes at a cost I can already see other organisations wanting to offer the same service and if Local Authorities do not recognise this in their advice notes there may be trouble ahead.

  9. Mark Maxted permalink

    Just getting my head around the forms issue, and I’m still not happy. I agree with Lee Wright that giving back something that was taken away is not an improvement, and I’d go a step further than that in light of the fact that the form will have the word draft plastered across it and have bits blanked out.

    Any client hovering over their cheque-book to pay my invoice would understandably question whether the application has been submitted at all, and I’ve already had this a couple of times.

    I very strongly disagree with a third party marking my submission as a draft when it is not.

    I’m afraid that all of this is a backward step, and not at all the improvement that it’s being advertised as. Furthermore I see no reason for it, and the only explanation given appears to me to translate to “because we say so”.

    Not happy guys. The Planning Portal is gradually transforming from a useful servant to self-important master, introducing constraint where it is not required, and trumpeting the same as service.This is a classic case of “hang on guys, you’re supposed to be helping us, not making things more difficult”.

    I’ll be very interested to see whether this view gets posted or binned.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Mark. Sorry to hear you’re not happy. We have always tried to make things easier for our customers, but fundamentally we need to support ourselves financially or we can’t continue to provide all of the forms and content that we’ve done for so many years. As I’ve already said, we’ve tried to do that in the right way and largely its been well received, particularly now a couple of niggles have been ironed out and new processes are bedding in. Whilst most of our agents are supportive of the service, there are a few that have already tried to find a way round the system and of course we have to minimise their ability to do that – to protect the future delivery of our service and to make it fair for those who are using it honestly. You’ll see back in the thread several comments asking us to watermark the forms as draft for example, so whilst we can’t please all of the people all of the time, as the old adage goes, we will try to please some of the people some of the time as we continue to develop the service. Sarah

  10. Matt Hobby permalink

    Further to my original comment from a couple of weeks ago, can we have some guidance on the possibility of an acknowledgment email being issued by the Planning Portal to us as soon as a new application is submitted? On my most recent application it took a week before the email arrived advising about the cheque being received (which seemed to take 5 days to arrive at the PP, despite being posted First Class).

    Until the email regarding the receipt of the cheque arrives, we are in the dark about whether the application has been received – not helped by the daft situation where a Submitted application remains as a Draft application. It has been explained to me that until the fee payment has been processed an application is not complete – this is out of the submitting agent’s hands once the fee payment has been issued by our clients / ourselves, so it is incorrect for a Submitted application to be shown still as an incomplete Draft application.

    • Hello Matt,
      To outline the existing process, the cheque information screen is the final screen that confirms you have created an application, generated a payment reference number and chosen to pay by cheque. An email acknowledgement is sent when the cheque is received by us.
      Once received it is banked the on the same day (we receive our post daily at 8.30am to allow us to do this). There is a 7-day processing period where the bank clears the cheque and when complete, the application is submitted and an email is sent to you.
      We are exploring a pre-payment facility in future development to reduce the wait time for payment processing before the application is submitted.
      However, if possible we recommend using bank transfer if you or your client are unable to use the online or phone payment options. These alternative methods are far quicker than the cheque process.
      Please read our step-by-step guide to find out how each payment option works.
      Thank you for your comments regarding the application status, we hope to introduce an additional status into the process in the future.

  11. Kevin Brady permalink

    Is there an update on timescale for this to go live? – I have an application almost ready to go, but if it’s going to be another week or two I’ll just transfer it to a pdf and submit via email. I’d rather not have to.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Kevin. It’s in testing at the moment, but I’ll confirm the release date as soon as I can. We are still expecting it to be around the end of the month. Sarah

  12. James Wicks permalink

    What is everyone else doing to work around this at the moment?

    I am printing every page as a PDF then combining the pages online before sending to the client – the last time was 26 pages, what pain!

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi James. Fyi, I’m hoping to have a release date for this shortly and will post as soon as I do. Sarah

    • Matt Hobby permalink

      Don’t tend to send a draft application form to the applicant for checking, so in that regard the lack of a completed application form at submission isn’t an issue.

      It’s more of an issue when an application is a Cert B one, and therefore all the documents (plus the Certificate B) need to be issued to land-owners – this now can’t be done until the Planning Portal releases the application to the relevant Planning Authority, which then generates the PDF application form. Saying that, until the application is released the PA involved doesn’t know it exists so there’s technically nothing to serve on anybody initially.

      BUT, before the changes to the Portal were made, the full form was available to download immediately after submission, so I don’t see why this facility has been removed.

  13. Jane Terry permalink

    Excellent! Just need to sort out the payment section now!

    • Matt Hobby permalink

      Agreed. Previously the application went (almost immediately) straight to the relevant Planning Authority, and therefore providing the payment was made immediately and the application was valid at submission, the 8-week (or 13, for major apps) started straight away too.

      Now, especially when paying by cheque, there is a notable gap between submitting and the PA actually getting first sight of the application, so what was an 8-week period is now more like 9 or 10 weeks, depending on how quickly cheques arrive at the Portal’s offices (which seems to take several days, despite posting by First Class post).

      Yes, ideally it would be better if electronic payments are made to avoid the post & cheque clearance delays, but as agents we ultimately have to work with how the applicants want to make the payment, so if they say cheque then cheque it is.

      Technically a straight-forward application should be determined within 8 weeks, but it’s now getting to the point where we are telling clients to allow possibly 12 weeks from submission (especially if paying the fee by cheque), particularly as the majority of apps we’re involved with go to one specific PA who are overloaded and very rarely determine even with Delegated Powers by the original target date…

      • sarahchilcott permalink

        Hi Matt, You are right that cheques are not the best option. In fact only 3% of applications are now being paid by cheque which is great, as part of the rationale for launching the service was to reduce the reliance of cheque payments which caused so many validation delays. Card payments over the phone or online, either by agents or directly by clients using the ‘nominate’ function, now account for nearly 90% of payments and these are released instantly to authorities. Either way, the clock only starts once the authority receives the application and you will get confirmation of that by email and in your 1App account. Sarah

  14. Lee Wright permalink

    Would it be possible to include a free typing box under the trees and hedge section so some additional information could be added. The issue is that many sites have trees and hedges so you should tick ‘yes’ and this is especially relevant as to tick ‘no’ gets picked by objectors and you are made out to be a liar. However the trees and hedges can be far away from the development and remain unaffected and it would be useful to be able to tell the council this to stop them invalidating the application and requesting a tree survey. When using the old hand written forum you could of course write in your own note. Thanks

  15. Thank you for bringing back the forms
    Does it need to have such bold clunky red all over the page?
    Agent’s details are needed and you have a space for these – many clients don’t understand the planning process and it agent’s name and details are not shown, client may think he the client is submitting the application
    Please look at paragraph 15 – is ‘no’ the right answer if there is a need to give details of the units?
    Clive Wilson

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