Two London councils have presented the case for a cloud based, end-to-end back office digital system to support simple planning applications.
Southwark and Hackney have recommended the running of an alpha project to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) for a service to handle simple eight-week applications, which account for more than 50% of local authority planning officers’ time.
It follows a discovery project that they have carried out with the Connected Places Catapult, Greater London Authority and service design and digital product development agency Unboxed as part of the Ministry of Housing, Community’s and Local Government’s Local Digital Fund programme.
This has investigated the potential of a system that, instead of moving data through a series of silos, places it in a cloud hub and flows through APIs with various degrees of access permission. It would make it possible to integrate relevant communications from email, SMS or the GOV.UK Notify platform.
This would enable two-way data flows for planning applicants, council planning teams, statutory consultees and the public, and enable the MHCLG and relevant bodies such as the Greater London Authority (GLA) to extract data.
According to the report on the project, it would require some standardisation of the data, drawing on existing schema such as the Planning Portal’s 1App, the Single Register of Planning used by MHCLG, and the GLA Planning Data Standard.
It says the system would open up a number of opportunities, including the scope to process clear-cut applications more quickly, reduce unnecessary manual processing, and increase confidence in the initial recommendations of approval to reduce checking and sign-off.
It could also help to redesign back office processes around a collaborative 3D workflow and make the status of applications more visible to applicants.
The report projects that the system could be developed through alpha and beta phases over the next two years and go live during 2021-22.
The project was prompted by the perception that the proprietary digital systems that are currently widely used in planning are developing slowly and have been resistant to interoperability. Its research also identified that the usability of the systems could be better and that they have made it difficult for planners to take advantage of new technologies.
Adapt and improve
In a video introducing the project, Southwark planning officer Jack Ricketts said: “I think other councils will be able to use this and work off the back of it because it will be done in an open fashion. The code will be open so they will be able to take it, use it, adapt and improve it.
“Hopefully it will be a constantly improving and adapting bit of kit.”
The organisations involved in the project are waiting to hear if it will receive further support from MHCLG.
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