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2020: a round-up

by on December 18, 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, we are taking the opportunity to look back over the year, understand how drastically things have changed despite a global pandemic and review some of our key achievements.

With so much uncertainty imposed quickly upon everyone, we would like to thank all of our customers and partners for taking a collegiate and collaborative approach to ensure a smooth and successful operational transition to new digital ways of working across planning and building. 

It is safe to say that it has been a year like no other, where application submission trends have not followed the usual norm and plummeted in April and May to recover from June onwards with figures above 2019 in comparison. This was not across all application types, although Householder applications in particular have increased beyond comprehension as homeowners adjust to working from home, with proposals to create additional living and working space.

Throughout this year, we’ve been listening and learning in order to deliver improvements whilst also supporting our Local Authority partners, applicants and agents alike by providing continuous digital planning and building services that remained unaffected.

As you will read below, there have been many legislative and other changes made. At Planning Portal we took the decision to absorb the increasing costs we face to maintain the service in order to help support our service users while they navigate the uncertainty created by COVID-19.

Changes to our planning application service

Starting at the beginning of the year – well, late November 2019 – we added 16 ‘Prior Approval’ application types to the 1APP online application service for England including applications for Larger Home Extensions.

These had been requested by applicants, agents, Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) and government, so we were pleased to start the year with the first stage of a larger piece of work to deliver significant improvements to the system.

In fact, looking at the stats for these applications so far in 2020, nearly 19,000 of these Prior Approval applications have now been submitted.

Review and update of existing application form question set

In May, we updated many existing questions across the whole range of application types to ensure legislative accuracy (e.g. updating Use Classes and residential categories), to improve validation requirements (e.g. review of mandatory/optional fields) and to ensure provision of sufficient contact details from either the applicant or agent. This was done in response to legislative changes and feedback from applicants, agents and LPAs.

Alongside the above changes and with the aim to support our LPA partners in easing the application process, we updated our data Standard. This allowed it to contain information in regard to all of our online Prior Approval applications, the additional questions for Greater London Authority (GLA) applications in London, and many other updates such as the latest residential categories. These changes have allowed the LPAs that use this latest version to be able to receive all this information directly into their systems, thus realising better efficiencies from the online application process.

New Prior Approval and Use Class changes

In August and September we reacted quickly to meet the government’s new planning policy changes that were introduced without any prior notice. We produced fillable PDF forms for all the new Prior Approval application types and updated our question content to refer to the changes to Use Classes. This allowed applicants to make their applications and provide valid information using our national service, while we continue to work to fully implement these changes on our new system in 2021.

Planning Market Insight Report round up stats

One of our proudest achievements this year has been the launch of our Planning Portal Market Insight Report in May. This monthly report, coupled with our expert analysis and invaluable insight, provides the reader with a unique understanding of proposed development data.

With analysis and trends on national, regional and local application data, the report uses unique data sets to understand what is being applied for at the submission stage for all application types, including residential, commercial and industrial sectors. The insight this information offers is perfect to use for business planning to inform future strategies.

We have had excellent uptake on this report over the last eight months and are looking forward to further developments in the new year, when new features will be added including interviews with industry figures and thought leadership pieces. Be sure to subscribe to the FREE report as January’s edition will include the full application statistics for 2020!

Response to the Government white paper – Planning for the Future

It has been a long-awaited document that has caused quite a stir throughout the planning and development industry: this summer, the government published their latest white paper entitled Planning for the Future. At Planning Portal, we 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. We felt it was this knowledge and experience, as well as working with a wide range of stakeholders, that positioned us to present unique insight into the planning system thus necessitating our response.

Our response was in-depth and covered many aspects of the white paper. Read the full summary.

Award of Northern Ireland contract (29 June)

When planning for our future and understanding new opportunities, we made an amazing step this year when our parent company, TerraQuest Solutions Limited, was awarded the contract to deliver the Regional Planning IT system by the Department of Infrastructure Northern Ireland. The modernised service for the region will provide improved planning services to the public, including the ability to submit planning applications online, as well as a more effective and efficient resource for council staff and consultees.

The new IT System will be delivered by a consortium led by TerraQuest Solutions, featuring Planning Portal and DEF Software. This completely integrated solution will demonstrate the efficiencies to be gained by passing data more effectively through the planning process.

Operating the different online submission services across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also present a fantastic opportunity for our customers to benefit from the innovations across all the regions.

Our future roadmap and webinars

With nearly 20 years of experience in application service management, we have the insight and knowledge to help our clients with the planning application process. Looking forward to 2021, we are extremely excited to be re-platforming the Planning Portal, in partnership with our parent company TerraQuest Solutions, to improve the user experience and make the way for the future of planning.

In order to help our clients and partners to navigate these developments and support the industry in its transformation to digital processes over paper based, we launched a webinar series called ‘Planning Portal; Past, present and Future’. These webinars continue to provide our users with a ‘show and tell’ of the upcoming changes and highlight the ways we are working to help improve the service.

Join us as we embark on this journey as we showcase the future of the Planning Portal service. If you are involved in the planning and construction process in England and Wales, this is a must-attend half hour a month, just follow the link to register. 

Webinar: Planning Portal: Past, present and future

Episode four – Application forms design and features on
Tuesday, 12 January 2021: 12:00 – 12:30pm

Register for the webinar

Planning Portal Virtual Conference

We hosted our second annual conference virtually from the 16-19 November.

The event was a roaring success with around 500 delegates tuning in at any one time. Keynote speakers included Joanna Averley, Chief Planner at MHCLG, Victoria Hills, Chief Executive Officer at the RTPI, Rachel Fisher, Deputy Director for Land Use Policy at DEFRA and organisations such as Objective Trapeze, ESRI UK and Savills.

While the topics were varied, incorporating a wide range of viewpoints from both the private and public sector, experts, and organisations, it became clear very quickly that the appetite for progress, modernisation, and digitisation across the planning system is high. The aims of automating processes, reducing invalid applications and ensuring access and transparency to all stakeholders in the planning process were some of the key points. These changes will in turn allow for increased engagement, time saving and reduced pressure on resources.

The dates are already in the diary for next year’s event – please keep an eye out to book your slot! If you would like more information about the event, or to understand the topics discussed in greater detail, please email

Read more about the event here.

GLA Planning Datahub

Across the year there have been a number of changes made to the Planning Portal. We aim to constantly develop our platform to ensure we deliver the best possible service. Throughout November, we worked with the GLA on a project involving amendments to the Planning Portal’s existing online application forms for submission to London Boroughs. This included the addition of new questions as well as alterations to existing ones. These changes enable LPAs in London to access information and data about planning proposals in a more effective way. These changes were piloted initially in the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames and the Borough of Ealing.

Historically, much of the data submitted as part of planning applications in supporting documents have been in PDF format, making it digitally inaccessible. By changing these processes the LPAs are able to collect and share data more easily, providing a clearer picture of the impact of the planning system on how we live and plan for good future growth.

For more information, please visit the Planning London Datahub.

Apse Capital Limited procurement of TerraQuest Solutions Limited

In addition to our excitement regarding the Northern Ireland contract, further developments have been made to the company we believe will support us in continuing to deliver a high-quality service. Planning Portal’s parent company TerraQuest Solutions Limited has been sold to Apse Capital Limited, a European private equity group specialising in investing in tech-enabled B2B businesses in high-growth sectors.

Apse Capital seeks to partner with high quality management teams to grow businesses, either organically or through acquisition, and this deal will secure the next stage of Planning Portal’s development, growth and expansion.

The team are really looking forward to 2021 to continue the developments we have in store as we re-platform our service, which is scheduled for release in Q2 2021.

We would like to wish all our customers and partners a restful Christmas and peaceful New Year.

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