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CLERK'S BRIEFING NOTE

 

THE PLANNING PORTAL - E-CONSULTATION

 

 

1. PLANNING PORTAL BRIEFING. I attended a briefing at The Town Hall, Bexhill from The Planning Portal on 29/01/09.

 

2. GOVERNMENT'S VISION. It is the Government's vision that all planning applications will be submitted online and the PLANNING PORTAL has been set up for this purpose. The Planning Portal is now live and at the end of January 2009 was receiving 500,000 visits each month to its 40,000 online pages. 34 authorities were using the Portal and 7 national consultees. The DCLG is concentrating on getting as many planning applications as possible submitted online.

 

3. CONSULTEES. There are more than 50 statutory consultees, 34 highway authorities, 850 other national or regional consultees and 10,000 town and parish councils involved with looking at planning applications. Note that parish councils are not statutory consultees and there is no legislation requiring principal local authorities to send paper copies of plans to parish councils. However, Rother has done so for about the last 25 years. Prior to that, paper plans were borrowed overnight for the Planning Committee meetings.

 

4. SAVINGS. It has been calculated that the cost to a local planning authority of sending out paper copies of a minor planning application to one address is on average £20. A major application would average £100. This includes copying, staff time and postage. It is estimated there could be a saving nationwide of £63mn if no paper plans were provided. At this time of economic downturn, any way of reducing costs for local authorities is welcome.

 

5. LOCAL PLANNING AUTHORITIES. Local planning authorities have signed co-operation agreements with the Planning Portal and it will be up to the local planning authorities to decide how to deal with parish councils and their wish to have paper planning applications. Rother DC has not made any decision to date. Some local planning authorities who have already introduced use of the Planning Portal are continuing to provide free paper plans and others are charging parishes for copies. To start with parish councils are being encouraged by DCLG to take part voluntarily.

 

6. PARISH COUNCILS. What would a parish council need to do to be able to manage without paper plans?

  1. Ideally, councillors would need to look at not only the plans online but also all the background documents, such as tree and environmental surveys, access and design statements and other comments made by the public or consultees.
  2. As there is no internet access at the village hal, clerk would have to download the plans and background papers onto own laptop prior to the meeting or, in the case of a straightforward application on small size pages, to print out the plan (approximate time 30 minutes).
  3. If plans have not been printed out, clerk to store documents and take the laptop and council's digital projector (and clerk's screen if used) to the meeting and set it up in good time (take 15 minutes at least).
  4. Clerk to project plans on to a screen, or if suitable, onto a wall.
  5. Clerk to pack up equipment and transport home (a further 15 minutes).

7. ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

Advantages of Planning Portal and e-consultation   Disadvantages
Standardised planning system throughout the country.   Parish councillors like to take a paper plan with them to inspect a planning site and the applicants might expect this.

Huge potential cost savings, particularly for local authorities who find it difficult to find ways of making savings when they still have to provide services.

  Although there are potential savings for applicants and local planning authorities, it could cost parish councils a great deal more if they need to buy equipment and replacement bulbs (projector bulbs can be expensive). Printing costs should be minimal for a small to medium size parish.
Use of less paper to the advantage of the environment.   Large plans not easily viewed on computer screen. However, DCLG is trying to get applicants to provide smaller sheet sizes and to re-label pages. Similarly, large plans are not easy to print.
No reliance on the local planning authority's postal system or on Royal Mail which cannot be relied on to deliver plans at the right time especially when there is a bank holiday in the week.   Large complicated developments, such as that proposed at Pestalozzi, would be difficult/nearly impossible to study on screen, even a large screen, for most people.
Availability of planning legislation information, planning and building regulation guidelines, planning applications, appeals etc. all on one site accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Much of this information is currently available through Rother's excellent planning website.   There is the possibility that the equipment fails at the meeting, leaving the parish council without the necessary information to comment on the plans.
Ability for parish planning committee members to form an internet group so that they can pass comments such as "need to look at fence in front garden" around to each other prior to the meeting, so that all councillors can inspect the site for these items.   Need for some councillors to undertake DCLG-provided training or be computer literate and they must be willing to spend time looking at the plans and other documents online.
If plans are projected onto a wall or screen at a meeting, the public can see them clearly as well as all the councillors.   Some clerks would have to learn new computer skills in order to use the equipment, even if it was available.

 

8. SUMMARY. In Sedlescombe, it would be possible to:

  1. Print out planning application forms and background papers (as long as restricted in size) for all planning applications.
  2. In addition, to print out plans for minor developments such as a garage or a porch.
  3. Download plans onto clerk's own laptop and, using the council's digital projector, display the plans on the wall of the committee room, although this would create extra work for councillors and the clerk.

9. SUGGESTIONS:

  1. If parishes wish to continue to have access to paper planning applications, one paper copy could be available in the help and advice centres and parishes could collect it from there prior to their meetings and return it the day following their meetings (this is the system that worked successfully in Rother thirty years ago).
  2. Or parishes could press a button to request a printed copy of a plan to be posted to them. This could cut down the number of plans that Rother is printing.

P Raymond

Clerk, Sedlescombe Parish Council

3 February 2009