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Planning Portal respond to Government white paper – Planning for the Future

by on November 30, 2020

Planning Portal deliver around 90 per cent of all planning applications electronically to councils in England and Wales whilst simultaneously maintaining a wealth of advice and guidance on permitted development, planning policy, and building regulations. It is this knowledge and experience, working with a wide range of stakeholders, we believe allows us to present a unique insight into the planning system thus necessitating our response.

Responding to several of the questions, Planning Portal support and believe in the collection of data-driven insight and the use of digital tools to make information accessible to all parties, and support community engagement in the planning system. We believe that the planning system should support all organisations, including housebuilders, planning consultants and architects who submit across local authority boundaries and the standardisation of the application process therefore brings the greatest efficiency, as well as significant economies of scale.  All parties play an important role in the understanding and delivery of planning, through innovation in the digital platform, tools and services as well as consistent guidance and information.  

We are keen to engage with our partners and stakeholders to drive digital innovation in the planning process and provide a nationwide implementation channel for the benefits identified in the white paper and by the many other parallel projects working towards these shared goals.

As part of the proposed reform, the government wishes to streamline the development management content of Local Plans and make accessing local plans and contributing views regarding planning decisions more open and transparent. Planning Portal promotes the use of digital channels to deliver a consistent and standardised planning service that can be used by all parties. We believe that this underpins the ability of any system or service to be able to utilise such information effectively and realise benefits for its users, and allow for more people to engage throughout the process. However, it is noted that there needs to be careful consideration of these processes to ensure people are not then excluded.

At various points throughout the document, views are gathered regarding the management of Local Plans and subsequent reforms to existing associated legislation. Planning Portal fully supports the aim that “all development management policies and code requirements, at national, local and neighbourhood levels, are written in a machine-readable format.” We have long supported, and believe this can benefit from, agile development and client feedback, facilitated through digital platforms and services such as the Planning Portal. With engagement with all parties and prior agreement both locally and centrally this would ensure consistency and scalability across all Local Planning Authorities.

However, there is uncertainty around “Sustainable development” tests being the way forward. The time and resource that will have to be invested to ensure this process works will be substantial. Whilst we believe that “standardisation of local plans across the country” is a worthwhile ambition and has potential to substantially improve access to information to aid applicants in their research and preparation of proposals, appropriate resources will need to be made available for all parties involved, whether they be businesses or Local Authorities.

This is an area where we believe that whichever the way forward there is a need to ensure that resources for those who will be involved in the processing are in place, be that businesses or Local Planning Authorities.

Equally, where associated geospatial information can be made available, we are keen to be able to provide this to our users to both:

  • aid in research and preparation of proposals; and
  • inform the application process of any location specific ‘modifiers’ that may require a specific type of consent or alter the information requirements for a valid submission.

One of the predominant aims of this proposed reform is to increase the speed at which proposals and decisions are reached. We believe that with gains in coming from automation, efficiency and process optimisation without risking quality or rigor, an appropriate and proportionate procedure may, in certain cases, necessitate it being a lengthy one. However, it can still demonstrate pace and momentum.

The ability for all parties to be kept informed of progress is critical in demonstrating this. However, the ability to monitor such progress is currently limited to each Local Authority and their specific procedures rather than being available in a standard way to external services such as the Planning Portal.

In our specific experience of providing a system that integrates with all Local Authorities in England and Wales, and processes around 90 per cent of current planning applications, it has been possible for us to work around some of these ‘gaps’ in specification to ensure a standard level of validation for every application.

Closing remarks bring attention to the risk of any ‘digital divides’ that may be created or reinforced by a transition to online services and functions. This also extends to the risk of current and historical bias that may be encoded in datasets needing to be considered and mitigated to ensure quality and fair use.

Planning Portal will be re-platforming our existing service early in 2021. We aim for this new platform to be a significant step in the right direction to being an agile and flexible platform capable of assessing, displaying, and utilising information to provide users with tangible insight and benefits throughout their journey, from the site/scheme viability to build out.

Our current ongoing programme of webinars discuss this process. Register for the webinars to receive the latest information.

One Comment
  1. Ian Madge permalink

    In the interest of fairness in the planning system surely the NPPF should be the policy adhered to by all councils. In the well known beauty spots and where there is a unified architecture there need to be exceptions but most of rural Britain is generally just functional, even in the AONBs. It is an old story, lack of housing in rural areas for local people (many of whom are the working heart of the countryside) and often they are prevented from building for themselves by local opposition. These applications should given greater consideration especially when there is support from parish councils, they do after all represent the community interest.

Please give us your feedback but we won’t publish any comments that are not constructive or that criticise any individual, any named business or any local authority. Please note, all comments will be moderated before being published.

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