New Socitm survey points to common shortcomings in making information on planning and land use easily accessible to the public
Half of the district councils in England and Northern Ireland are doing a good job of guiding people through the Local Plan on their websites, but there are shortcomings in many, according to the latest survey in public sector IT association Socitm’s Better Connected programme.
It has revealed that nearly 40% of 210 websites surveyed were designated ‘good’ and 10% ‘very good’ for task of promoting and presenting information on their plans – which set out planning policies and identifies how land is used – in a way that is accessible to the public.
But the reviewers suggested that councils need to do considerably more to communicate their Local Plans.
Some councils started well with a good introduction on their website but then reverted to technical jargon and terms that were not explained or sufficiently contextualised for the general public.
Not enough high level information was presented on web pages, leaving the impression that planning departments regard the communications task as done simply by uploading huge PDF documents or providing links to hard-to-use GIS maps designed for professional use.
The reviewers said that getting a grasp on where councils were at in the timeline towards adoption could be difficult, providing an obvious deterrent for anyone thinking of getting involved in the consultation process. For the completely uninitiated, sites were often lacking in simple explanations of what a Local Plan is and what it is for.
The use of maps to explain local plans came in for particular criticism, with reviewers describing this as “simply terrible” and “appalling”. Too many sites linked to extremely technical GIS systems with highly complicated and (to the layperson) meaningless filters.
Only 36% of the websites were able to answer positively the question ‘Can I find an easy to use map showing locations of at least some key aspects the local plan of interest to residents, eg housing allocations, industrial/economic development, flood and conservation areas?’
In addition, only 15% were able to answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘Are there any tools or apps or other assets (other than downloadable documents) on or linked from the main planning pages to engage local residents with the adopted plan or one in development?’
The survey report also notes that there is a mandatory consultation process around local plans, but as with other local planning issues these tend to engage property and development professionals and small numbers of residents whose property or other interests may be directly affected.
It recommends the provision of a high level web page summary and a PDF summary as well as the full document for a Local Plan in PDF format.