A live hub of planning data for London — update

By the Greater London Authority’s Peter Kemp, Planning Change Manager, and Molly Strauss, Principal Policy and Programme Officer

As part of the Chief Digital Officer for London’s Smarter London Together work we are working to create a ‘live hub’ of planning and development data open to the public, so that we all have a much better sense of what is happening on the ground. We’re doing this by improving the way we collect planning application information to begin with, so that it can travel easily through different IT systems and out to Londoners.

In collaboration with other authorities across the UK, we’re making sure that the London solution can be applied in places like Plymouth, South Hams and West Devon. (If you’re interested in more background on the project, you can read through the problem driving this work, our vision for a solution, and our plan for how to get there.)

We have now reached a key stage in the project — consulting London’s Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) on the draft London Planning Data Standard.

This standard sets out the information to be collected up front on planning applications in machine readable fields, so that planning application information can travel automatically through systems and out to the public.

15 LPAs responded to the consultation. Overall, councils welcome the move toward automating the collection of development data across London. Many of them provided granular feedback on the standard, asking questions and making suggestions regarding specific fields. We have captured our responses to these granular issues in a table that you can find here.

There were certain overarching questions that arose in more than one consultation response. Here, we provide answers to these larger queries about the process and our methods:

1) Will LPA workloads increase due to increased validation requirements? If not, how will the GLA ensure information collected through the automation process is correct?

The GLA will not expect council officers to validate the accuracy of the new data fields collected through the automation process and we do not anticipate workloads increasing for validation officers.

The GLA will ensure that the fields are ‘required’ in online submission platforms, so that fields do not return to LPAs missing data.

The new automation process will also have ‘sense checks’ built in to catch obvious errors or places where applicants have included filler text — for instance, if ‘Floor Area’ says ‘0.’ These obvious errors will be flagged so that validation officers can easily feed this information back to applicants.

This automation process will improve over time — we accept that there will be a learning process at the beginning as applicants become accustomed to completing the new fields. The quality of the data should therefore improve over time.

Our ambition is to build more complex cross-checks into the automation process, using other datasets within a council to confirm basic information about the development. However, these will go live after the initial launch in March 2020, with the potential exception of cross-checks with Exacom systems which may be available by then.

2) Councils still receive paper submissions for certain types of development, and some receive paper applications even for development types that can be filed online. How will you handle this?

By the time this project is live, the major application portals expect to accept online submissions for Permitted Development, which is the biggest category of applications that currently cannot be submitted online.

For those that still receive a larger percent of applications beyond Permitted Development in paper form, we are creating bespoke plans to help address the challenges for each.

3) Information changes frequently between the initial application submission and the final decision. How will the automation process ensure these changes are captured?

Submission portals and back office systems have the capacity to receive amendments — there are options to fully supersede an existing planning application, to partially supersede, or not to supersede so that multiple applications for a scheme sit side-by-side. The GLA will ensure this process works smoothly from a technical perspective.

However, the GLA also recognises that expecting applicants to resubmit applications when there are changes to elements of the scheme will entail a culture shift among both developers/agents and local authorities. The GLA will support LPAs to make this shift — so that when a development management officer agrees a change to an element of a scheme with a developer, that officer immediately sends the developer back to the submission portal to enter the change.

Back office systems will still be accessible to council staff, so if an officer needs to alter information herself, she will still be able to do so.

For information that is not available up-front at the initial application submission stage, the GLA will accept a rough estimate from the developer/agent until this information is confirmed, at which point the confirmed information should be entered.

4) Has the GLA engaged the developer community around the automation project?

The GLA is currently engaging the developer community around these changes. It was important to the GLA to begin with councils first.

5) Certain fields in the Planning Data Standard are brand new and linked to the draft London Plan. Why are you collecting this new information?

The purpose of the London Development Database is to monitor implementation of the London Plan; therefore a new London Plan will require certain new pieces of information to be collected. Even in the absence of the automation project, LPAs would need to monitor and report on these new pieces of information when the London Plan is published. Including this information in the automation process is a means to avoid new information being collected manually in future.

Some councils have noted that the London Plan is still in draft and undergoing an Examination in Public. In order for this automation to go live in conjunction with publishing the new London Plan, the projects must be twin-tracked. Based on the outcome of the London Plan EIP, we will amend any fields in the Data Standard that do not align with the final London Plan before the automation project goes live.

If you have further questions on the Planning Data Standard or the London Development Database Automation project, please get in touch.

Based on this consultation, we have published an updated version of the standard that can be found here.

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