CONSISTENT ACCESS TO INFORMATION ONLINE AND IN-HOUSE

Not all local planning authorities have an equal approach to providing information online or in-house. My local authority does not provide scanned copies of representations or consultee letters online. It also advises members of the public that files cannot be viewed until after determination. The local community council does not publish its representations. 

The process is not therefore transparent or representative. Individuals are isolated and kept in the dark. The process is neither democratic nor accountable. 

All local planning authorities should be tasked with providing full information about currrent planning applications and appeals. Information should be available electoronically and in-house. It should be available to the public and any interested party. Some Councils do this. Others do not. That must be changed.

Planning serves the public interest. It certainly does not do so unless there is a consistent approach required for all local planning authorities. The requirements need to be set out.

Why the contribution is important

Councils are there to represent the public. If they withhold or deny information, they are not accountable. 

The planning process is based on an assumption that it is in the public interest. Letters written to Councils are said to be in the public domain. As that is the case they should be able to be viewed at any time. 

At present not all local authorities allow access. That is shameful and a denial of rights of access. It is more than important to provide guaranteed access toi information, it is essential. 

by bling on February 04, 2016 at 12:05PM

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Comments

  • Posted by cheng February 04, 2016 at 16:54

    I would consider raising a few FOI requests to highlight the issue. If they get bogged down with FOI requests they may review their policy?
  • Posted by KRB February 04, 2016 at 18:09

    The ePlanning system has created unanticipated additional workload for planning authorities, as a fair amount of staff time is now spent on website maintenance and redacting documents instead of doing actual planning. In the days of paper files, an incoming letter was simply placed in the working file, where it was available for anyone who came into the office to view, but nowadays there is a whole administrative process of scanning, indexing and redacting everything so it can go on the website. The improved public access to information which ePlanning allows therefore comes at a cost, which councils are struggling to meet at a time of ever declining budgets.

    Some councils do put everything on the website, but (a) that is more work and thus more cost, (b) results in every petty little document cluttering up the website so that people trying to view the proposal cannot see the wood for the trees (which some people do complain about), and (c) can turn the whole thing into an online forum, where instead of commenting on the proposal people instead comment on the documents and the consultation process descends into nitpicking of documents or an online slanging-match forum between objectors and applicants . Councils are also paranoid about compliance with data protection laws, which can land them in trouble if they publish something with personal details in it (and again, the whole process of checking everything for that is costly).

    These are the reasons that some councils have cut back what they show online to just the core application documents. The fact that some documents may not be on the website may not mean that they are unavailable - you may just have to go to the council office to see them in the usual (if old-fashioned seeming) way.

    Despite warm words about community engagement and quality of development, the Scottish Government's priorities for planning are speed of decisions and keeping the cost down. Whilst they are also adept at dreaming up new bureaucracy for councils to comply with, I suspect that imposing statutory standards for website content would be contrary to their objectives.
  • Posted by cheng February 04, 2016 at 18:59

    My understanding is that our local authority has out sourced this scanning and indexing process on their planning website?
  • Posted by Edinburgh_Planner February 05, 2016 at 11:32

    Yes I appreciate that eplanning is an extra work load for LAs but surely scanning in documents is an admin task for a planning support team rather than one planners undertake.

    Most importantly why will the Scottish Government not give clear instructions in a planning circular about what and how to publish planning documents online to promote transparency and public accessibility and ensure data protection compliance.

    There are some things that just should not be left for planning authorities to "decide at local level" - cop out.
  • Posted by cheng February 05, 2016 at 23:01

    Peter Pendleton & Associates (PPA) carried out a survey in February and March 2010 on behalf of the Scottish Government. The aim was to assess the level of e-Planning services available on local planning authority websites in Scotland and to make recommendations where appropriate.
    The full report all 40ish pages can be viewed at PE 1518 and within written submission
    PE 1518/B all on the Scottish Government web site. The report gives an assessment of each planning authorities performance.
    PE 1518 was raised to highlight the lack of robust planning regulations.
  • Posted by KRB February 06, 2016 at 01:23

    Scanning etc. is an admin/clerical job, (and perhaps some authorities have outsourced it), but it still has to be paid for by the authority and the more complex it is the more it costs. Putting documents online adds to the complexity, and there is no getting away from the fact that putting things online ties up staff resources.

    Fundamentally, I think online planning registers are there to make it easier for people to view and comment on planning applications, and not as an online library of every planning document. Whilst that would be of interest to some people, councils are simply not resourced to provide it. Of course people are entitled to view all the documents, but that does not mean that everything must go online - there has to be a line drawn somewhere.

    I personally think representations ought to be online while an application is live, and agree that some helpful guidance from the Scottish Government would not go amiss - but I fully understand why some councils favour a "less is more" approach, and I am sceptical about whether new regulations would be in line with the present political winds.
  • Posted by BW February 16, 2016 at 19:20

    The answer is simple, developers should be responsible for the full cost of processing their applications which should include a complete, open and accountable disclosure of all correspondence and documentation used in determining the application. Currently there is a very cosy relationship between developers and planners with too much "behind the scenes" lobbying and negotiation. Why are local planning departments so worried about being open and accountable if they have nothing to hide?
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