There is an increasing need for reliable data on proposed and approved development in order to measure progress toward housing delivery and other Government priorities.
Obtaining even limited data on consented development is costly and labour intensive. Data is often out of date before it can be used for policy development or decision making. Emerging issues are not identified until it is too late to proactively address them.
In London, the 35 Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) feed certain information on development manually into a GLA database. Research suggests this process costs taxpayers over £750K pa (0.5 FTEs per LPA). Outside of London, currently no non-statutory monitoring is carried out.
In addition to this burden, London LPAs have limited information about performance and pressures in adjoining authorities—limiting their ability to work collaboratively or take into account how proposals relate to wider development of areas. This is also a problem nationally.
A lack of live development data also constrains Government, which must assess impact of policies based on limited information.
PRODUCT AND SCOPE
We want to prove the concept of automating the flow of planning application data from applicant through the LPA, to the regional authority and out to the public in order to collect more and better information. This grant would fund the IT changes required to streamline the data collection and reporting process along with an ‘alpha’ updated database that automatically collects and collates this information for London’s 35 LPAs. This is the first step toward developing a live, interactive hub of planning application data for London.
Success would be: Altering fields in London’s application submission portals and back office systems to facilitate automation, and producing an alpha database that can accept this automated flow of information.
The resulting product and our model for data collection and collation will be available for all planning authorities to adopt.
The product proposed is part of a wider project which will be completed and live by February 2020.
Our biggest challenge is that the data needed to monitor proposed and consented development is not collected in machine readable fields at the application stage; and the legacy back office system providers do not include appropriate locations for this information in their systems. Resolving these issues is critical in order to automate the data collection process.
We will appoint a project team to deliver these changes. This will include:
- Recruiting a Delivery Manager and two project officers to be employed by the GLA who will co-ordinate the required business process changes and IT projects.
- Work in partnership with all of the affected LPAs to develop a GLA data standard and to alter all of the Local Validation Checklists to amend the information requirements to support planning application submissions.
- Working in partnership with Plymouth City Council, South Hams District Council, West Devon Borough Council to explore their adoption of the development database model.
- Work in partnership with all application submission providers (Planning Portal, Idox, Hackney, Tuscomi and Northgate) to ensure the data submission channels are updated to support the new machine readable fields
- Work in partnership with existing and new back office system providers to ensure that back office systems are amended and updated to receive information automatically
- Look to the market and in house to develop a suitable ‘alpha’ database to collect and process the data into an analyzable format.
- (Beyond the timeline of this grant: procure a supplier to develop the accessible public hub of planning application information.)
This project will be led in-house using Agile, with milestones set out in the Project Plan.
The benefits from this project are wide spread. It will:
- Deliver a new single data standard for planning that can be adopted widely
- Deliver changes to back office systems that would enable LPAs for the first time to collect and monitor development in a constructive way
- Enable a boundary free approach to planning – with LPAs able to look at wider development data in adjoining boroughs in a more accessible way
- Enable a strategic approach to spotting trends of development
- Enable LPAs to monitor and evidence delivery of housing and other KPIs in live time
- Enable a more dynamic approach to policy development for LPAs
- Save all LPAs money (in London this equates to 0.5 FTE per LPA, outside of London there is currently no robust information)
The product produced at the end of this project will be capable of being rolled out to many other LPAs across the country, as all of the changes to legacy back office systems and submission systems will have been carried out. The changes to business processes will be widely publicised. The data expected to be collected is:
- Live planning application information:
- Development Proposals
- Unit Numbers (gained and lost)
- Tenures (inc. affordable housing)
- Floor Space (gained and lost)
- Infrastructure (drainage, power requirements, etc.)
- Decisions, including the above plus:
- S106 agreements and CIL
Part of this project is a communications exercise which will enable all interested parties to monitor the progress of this project and be involved in its development, as evidenced by our frequent Medium posts explaining our process and progress.
We conducted discovery research from February to May 2018. Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell contacted London’s 33 local authority chief executives to request participation in December 2017. We met with all 26 that responded, travelling to their offices so that we could speak with wide-ranging groups including planners, development managers, monitoring officers, administrative support, and ICT.
Our research revealed that the LDD process is onerous for local authorities: officers manually search for information in PDFs, then enter it (often manually) into the LDD web interface. This process costs approximately £750,000 for London in officer time.
Although many local authorities receive planning applications automatically through Planning Portal, key information is not entered by the initial applicants in machine readable fields. Local authorities’ back office systems also do not contain the right fields to hold required monitoring data. Councils report difficulties negotiating with back-office suppliers to make the software fit for purpose.
Data is collected inconsistently across local authorities because the process is resource-intensive, and there can be up to 18 months delay before data appears in the LDD. Because of these delays and the limits to information collected, the LDD is currently an incomplete resource.
Discovery user research:
This is a joint bid with Plymouth City Council (supported by West Devon and South Hams). It is supported by Sheffield City Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).
This will help ensure that the solution could be rolled out nationally because:
- Plymouth, South Hams and West Devon are working to adopt a joint local plan and will investigate the application of this model to monitoring their emerging local plan collectively.
- Sheffield and GMCA will serve as critical friends, as they face different pressures to London.
We have engaged all 35 London LPAs to gain their support, and establish how data could be collected and used most effectively. We have convened as a group twice, and will continue to engage them in every step of the process.
We will involve Partners and Supporters in:
- Developing a GLA data standard, which can inform work nationally
- Developing technical specifications for the information hub
- Identifying indicators of commencements and completions
As part of a bigger project, the direct impacts to be achieved by April 2019 will be:
- An adopted GLA data standard – setting out additional information requirements for planning applications. This will have been:
- consulted on
- committed to by all back office system providers
- agreed by all affected LPAs
- Agreed Schemas for the transfer of information from the submission providers to back office systems, and then to the GLA database
- An ‘alpha’ database to receive the automated data
- A demonstration of the automatic data transfer
- A use case for applying this technology to other multi-authority development monitoring
We will further develop the following business case: research indicates that the cost to the tax payer of carrying out monitoring currently exceeds £750k per year in London alone (there is no available data nationally). We will also incorporate Government’s ambition to have more accessible development data.
We will produce a user research report building on the research we have already published. We recommend producing this report at the close of the full project (February 2020) so that it can incorporate user research to be conducted when designing the live data hub. We have engaged with in-house user research experts to begin planning.
The product we will deliver in April 2019 will be: a clear path for implementation of a live data monitoring system; all of the building blocks in place to amend the business process in LPAs; and an ‘alpha’ database to accept the automated data.
We will produce conclusions for April 2019 confirming the way forwards. We expect this project to lead to a beta that: implements the required business changes across all LPAs, transforms the ‘alpha’ database into a fully functional product, and develops the live hub to allow the public and other users to fully explore the live data stream.
Our project’s multiple components serve multiple users.
Automating the data submission process will serve LPA officers – including those involved in monitoring, development management, and planning policy.
We have convened a broad group of LPA officers and managers—with representatives from each LPA—to inform our work. We met in October to share our plans and hear their feedback. We will continue to engage relevant officers to ensure the automation process meets their needs and integrates with their existing IT systems.
The bulk of user research required related to the live hub for planning application data we plan to create in the beta stage, which will serve a broad range of users: Local Planning Authority planners; GLA officers; Government departments; SMEs; and the general public. We believe it is essential to begin this user research during the alpha project to ensure it is conducted thoroughly. These user research objectives include:
- Determining what Londoners want to know about proposed and consented development and the easiest ways for them to access information. (E.g.: would they like digital alerts when planning applications are submitted for sites near their homes?)
- Determining what data SMEs require on development and the best way to display it. (E.g. Is an API sufficient? Are other tools required?)
- Determining common queries from GLA or LPA Planners and building easy ways to conduct these (e.g. customizable maps or charts showing the number of tall buildings proposed in a town centre or the number of affordable units proposed in the borough).
We would appreciate support from Paul Downey’s team as we work toward a data standard to facilitate the automatic transfer of data that is central to this project. We have reviewed our work to-date with Paul and would like to continue to collaborate—ensuring that what we develop is in line with national standards.
We would also appreciate the support of MHCLG as we bring in additional interested parties from across the nation who may be interested in implementing systems in their areas based on our solution. We’ve heard from a number of authorities who showed tentative interest but want to understand how this fits into Government’s priorities around developing a national register for planning applications. We would appreciate MHCLG’s help convening these players.
This project has not previously been funded.
The GLA has committed to providing a small amount of initial funding for the project this year. However the additional funding would enable us to accelerate delivery of the ‘alpha’ database and to engage in more robust user research.
The GLA has not committed to funding the project beyond April and so it may halt unless external funding is identified this year or next.