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Council websites perform poorly on planning



New Socitm survey points to shortcomings on ability of users to search for applications and lodge objections

Local authorities have made little progress in improving their website processes for people to object to planning applications, according to the results of the latest Better Connected survey by Socitm.

The public sector IT association said that a lack of integration with third party systems is the main factor in the shortcoming, and that on a number of questions councils did worse than in the previous test in 2013.

The percentage of councils given three or four stars, indicating a good or very good performance, amounted to just 34% in the new survey, marginally above the 33% of the last one.

Among the questions that produced disappointing results was “Can I receive an email alert when new applications are made in my area?”, for which just 14% of councils answered yes, the same figure as for 2013. This is despite the fact that it is a standard feature of one of the systems most widely used by planning departments.

Lack of customisation

The report says that few councils customise the implementation of their planning system, even in simple ways, and this undermines the customer experience. For example, many are let down by restrictions of the search function, few provide a clear link to see all current applications, and many assume that website visitors are only interested in a specific application or postcode.

In addition, some systems proved very slow during the survey, and team often had problems using maps.

A few councils are, however, credited for good practice in the area, including Eden, City of Edinburgh, Flintshire, Preston, Rushmoor, Southampton and West Berkshire.

The survey was carried out in January and took in all the shire districts, English, Welsh and Scottish unitaries, and Northern Ireland districts. Socitm said more are to follow on how council websites perform on leisure, housing and business services.

Picture by Sebastian Ballard CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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