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DM Software Pathfinder project outcomes

In November 2021, the Department for Levelling Up, and Housing Communities (DLUHC) launched an Expression of Interest (EOI) to find councils who want to improve their existing development management software, so that it supports the vision now the Levelling Up and Regeneration White Paper

Through the DM Software Pathfinder EOI, councils who wish to work with their current development management software provider could apply for up to £150,000 of funding each.

Since February, eight Development Management Pathfinder projects — each led by a different local planning authority (LPA) — have been exploring different opportunities within their development management services. In this blog post, we summarise the outcomes of each project, and give links to each Final Report. In the next few weeks we’ll publish the key learnings from DLUHC and partner councils.

To find out what the project teams set out to achieve and what they have worked on so far, read Project Update #1, Project Update #2 and Project Update #3 or watch the final Project Showcase Event on our YouTube channel.

Our Pathfinder Projects

Basingstoke and Deane: Using Power BI to improve planning performance management

Gregg Chapman, Assistant Planning Manager

Our project explored how we could connect to and display planning performance data using Microsoft Power BI, so that we could make better use of the skills and time of Planning Officers.

Once we established the relevant connections to prove the concept, we mapped out the technical requirements that other councils can follow (see Appendix 3 in our Final Report). This allowed us to build prototype performance management dashboards, and test how we can transform our performance management.

Colleagues across the organisation can now easily monitor overall performance internally and against national targets. We can see which applications are nearing deadlines to make sure case officers are ready to make recommendations or, where necessary, extend the time. This has already benefited our team management, by identifying peaks in workflow and weekly data-sharing with team managers.

We can also carry out root cause analysis and monitor deadlines and caseloads. This is as much about managing the work as it is the team, and allows us to be more dynamic in how we use our planners and technical support.

This success was made possible by drawing together a dynamic team to scope out the project, with internal experts from IT and the Corporate Programme Management Office as well as external parties, such as DLUHC and Buckinghamshire Council. This was overseen by our executive team with the council’s corporate project sponsor at its head.

Leading on this project has opened my mind to the wide range of possibilities available by using our data in new and innovative ways. Thanks to this project, we are now better equipped to develop dashboards for a variety of areas across the planning team, and I’m particularly interested in exploring dashboards for councillors for planning in their ward and parish areas. We now aim to include this in Councillor induction training.

Our experience as part of this project has been illuminating. It has helped us to find a better path towards using all of our data from across the organisation to create a more engaging and robust dialogue with our internal and external users and residents across the borough.

‘Days to target’ view of Basingstoke’s Power BI Dashboard.

Colchester Council: Using spatial data to aid public engagement

Simon Cairns, Development Manager

We wanted to take the first step towards revolutionising the way customers access planning services. Our vision is for GIS (Geographic Information System) data being used in real-time by customers when submitting, enquiring, or checking information.

We reviewed the planning application user journey, focussing on householders with limited knowledge of the planning process. We wanted to understand how geospatial data could enhance public engagement and understanding, whilst also creating efficiencies and reducing invalid applications.

We started with the Council website, offering the applicant advice about whether planning permission was needed at all, and what help options are available.

Colchester will implement NEC’s ASSURE Planning software later this year which will immediately enable us to achieve automation and gain efficiency savings by using GIS for spatial querying, neighbour consultation selection, the ability to visually analyse results and provide GIS-based alerts for members of the public. Planners will be able to see policies and constraints on the map. More details and screenshots are provided in our final slide pack. These features are available to 48 Planning Authorities that use NEC’s software.

Our supplier has agreed to deliver a further improvement for members of the public who use ASSURE to make an application online, enabling them to see policies and constraints on the map as they apply. The benefit of this will be to see what might affect the application — reducing invalid applications and paving the way for further automation. Our supplier has agreed to deliver this by the time we go live on their software.

This short video demonstrates what can be expected, and our vision remains a place where spatial data is alive and expanding in scope; delivering better experiences for our customers, increased accessibility to planning data, and the potential to drive further organisational efficiency. Further recommendations for discovery and alpha work plus some ideas about policy and engagement can be found in our Final Report.

This wireframe demonstrates how the household applicant can start their user journey from Colchester’s corporate map.

London Borough of Harrow: Improved Customer Consultee Process

Mark Lupo, Implementation Project Manager

Our Consultee Comment webforms relied on manual data entry into back-office systems, and created duplication of effort. This impacted turnaround times and led to customer complaints. Our customers were further frustrated with the poor acknowledgement of receipt, and not being able to comment appropriately on the form.

Our Pathfinder reviewed our internal and external processes and explored NEC’s Assure software to identify where we could make improvements.

To better understand the issues, we ran separate surveys for staff and customers. We then mapped this information against our ‘To Be’ processes, and workshopped 14 changes that NEC have begun to make, including:

  • Automated receipt notification to reduce multiple submissions
  • Better search functionality
  • Improvements to the address lookup

We’ll also make internal improvements, such as integrating better advice and hyperlinks into the webform. With this new process improved and promoted, we’ll receive less letters and emails, and the improved back-office integration will further reduce officer workload.

We estimate Council Staff will save an average of 30 minutes per Consultee Response which would have a significant impact on waiting times and backlogs. Applicants should half their application time, and you can find out more in our Final Report.

We learnt a lot from the project, including a number of scalable options that can be applied, not only as part of our own NEC Planning system but also to other system developments in other councils and businesses. As a result of this project, NEC will be applying changes to their core product that will benefit all Assure product users.

London Borough of Harrow’s area notification request.

London Borough of Havering — Pre-Applications Digitisation

Matt Riddell, Digital Business Analyst

We wanted to tackle the high numbers of invalid planning applications, and reduce complaints and administration work. We decided to test a new end-to-end, user-centred planning pre-application process, with improved planning data reporting.

Using GDS design standards, we redesigned the application process to integrate appointment bookings and rescheduling, file upload and online payments. We built this in MS Power Apps (D365) and integrated it with CivicaPay and MS Outlook. You can trial the eform here.

We’re currently working on the Gov.UK Notify integration for SMS appointment reminders, and Ocella is building the new workflow and integration with Civica360 (DMS) for the customer’s plans, drawings and images. We’ve built dashboard prototypes for Planning Applications, Outstanding Cases, Appeals, Local Land Charges (income and payment request), Building Control and Planning Enforcement.

We expect to go live in July (see our final report for more detail), meaning the Contact Centre will begin signposting the new service for callers. Finance will no longer need to query payments with business support, and Planning Officers will no longer need to rekey data between systems. We expect efficiencies of over 340 hours per year between the Contact Centre and Planning Service teams. At the end of Year 1, we expect the in-year conversion of Pre-Applications (x725 p/a) to formal applications via the Planning Portal to increase from 16% to 32%.

The main opportunity for Councils using Ocella and Dynamics 365, is the ability to scale these design patterns (Payment, Appointments & Reminders, Files) to other complex customer-facing services. This will improve the experience of all users, create efficiencies and generate additional revenue. We’re drafting a Toolkit to support other Councils in digitising their Pre-applications Advice Service, and connecting PowerBI to Ocella. This will be published to the new Knowledge Hub group.

London Borough of Havering’s planning pre-application advice form.

North Devon Council: Improved data collection and access for our Section 106 process

Jo Teasdale, Customer Feedback and Service Improvement Officer

We wanted to make our Section 106 process more efficient, and knew a key challenge would be around data. Our Planners, policy, enforcement, legal, finance, parks and housing teams had all been collating data and intelligence in separate databases, leading to a huge duplication of effort. When we need to provide data to others (for example housing statistics to central Government) our records don’t always match up.

We knew our development management system, DEF’s ‘MasterGov’, could hold all relevant information in one place — meaning we could guarantee accurate data on our S106 cases, housing statistics, internal audits and central Government’s Annual Infrastructure Funding Statement.

​​We met with every staff member involved in an S106 application and asked them about their ‘journey’ and improvement suggestions. We then discussed the viability of these with DEF, and provided a Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) specification for a new module. After workshopping this together, we agreed to amend their existing Policy Module, rather than create a new one.

We also explored additional functionality, like the ability to link plot details across modules, as well as an automated API link between MasterGov and our CRM system — see our Final Report to find out more.

From September, staff from seven teams will be working from one system, and will only collect the information we need. Staff will have a much better understanding of and access to the whole Section 106 process. Applicants, agents and developers will have real time information on where their application is. Decisions will be issued more quickly and communities will receive auditable funding in a timely way.

We will share details of all our improvements with our citizens, property developers and their agents, as well as our other stakeholders and partner agencies.

North Devon Council’s Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) graphic

Nottingham City Council — Improved publication of planning data

Mick Dunn, GIS Service Manager and Laura Pullen, GIS Business Development Manager

With a growing demand for planning information, our main objective was to open up the planning data locked inside our development management system. For planning managers and officers this would mean improved case management and operational performance, and make statutory reporting easier. Ward councillors and the public could use data visualisation tools to better understand their local area.

To make this possible, our project used the ‘IDOX Enterprise’ reporting module to create tasks and graphs that supported our workflows and improved data quality. Further enhancements to the Enterprise module were developed so we can extract data records in other formats, including to GeoJSON, allowing easier mapping of the data and use in other software. The Enterprise development work will likely be included in a future release, and benefit all Uniform customers. We will now look to implement the use of Enterprise reporting within our other planning functions which utilise the Uniform system, namely Building Control and Street Naming and Numbering.

The data integration platform ‘FME Server’ then allowed us to extract, manipulate and publish planning data routinely to create dashboards and self-serve online tools, so data could be shared with a wider audience. FME has allowed us to automate our statutory reporting, with a quarterly report on performance being emailed to our planning managers for approval prior to national submission. Further dashboards are in the process of being created to share our planning information with the public.

We have now transferred many of our corporate spatial data management processes to be managed by FME server, and have shared this work at the FME World Tour event, and produced a case study with 1Spatial to highlight the work to others. We will be extending our use of FME server to open up more of our planning data, and data in our other council systems. We have lots of customers across the council keen to exploit these tools and we already have our building control section asking us for similar support! For more information, see our final report.

The Nottingham City Council planning performance dashboard.

Sevenoaks DC: Improving our Tree Preservation Order (TPO) processes

Evelyn Gilder, Planning Improvement & Standards Manager

Our project sought to make it easier to apply to carry out works to protected trees, or trees in Conservation Areas. We wanted our customers to be able to access information and submit applications anytime, not just during office hours. We also wanted to reduce the amount of time officers spend providing this information.

IDOX carried out the consultancy work, enabling us to move TPO documents from their Document Management System to a web browser, which we then linked to our interactive map. Our in-house GIS team modified the interactive map so that Customers can

  • See if the trees are in a Conservation Area, and if permission is required.
  • View and download the TPO document.
  • If no data exists, the customer can use the mapping functionality to indicate the one or many trees they are proposing works to.

We also set up a text alert service so applicants can receive text updates on the progress of their application. Work is still ongoing to enable applicants to download into Uniform and IDOX overnight to reduce manual registration. For more information, see our Final Report.

We have successfully designed a ‘one stop shop’ for submitting applications, requiring minimal to no input from council officers. Customers can now view or download a TPO from our interactive map, follow a link to our newly created application form, and receive text updates once the application has been submitted.

We’ll seek feedback from Kent’s Tree Officer peer group and regular applicants such as Tree Surgeons. We hope these regular applicants will encourage other councils to consider similar improvements.

The Sevenoaks District Planning Map.

Tewkesbury Borough Council: Planning Application Tracker

Clare Evans, Corporate Services Manager and Amy Adams, Programme Officer

The majority of calls to our planning team are to request updates on applications, or for the planning process to be explained. Previous website improvements (including a householder planning guide, frequently asked questions and an overview of the planning process) had made only a small impact, and our ‘Public Access’ software (for the public to access documents and submit comments) doesn’t always give the relevant information.

Thankfully, our planning application tracker is taking fantastic shape. We’re building it on our digital platform, Liberty Create, so in the future it can be integrated with other online services such as our ‘My Tewkesbury’ residents portal and licensing applications.

Following identification of the data needed, and conversations with IDOX, we chose their planning connector to get this information out of the system. We worked with them to install this, allowing us real-time access to a planning application’s status, and the majority of the information we needed.

Our tracker will allow applicants, agents and interested parties to receive text or email alerts when their planning application moves to another stage. It will also give a customer-friendly view of the application, and additional information about each stage.

The search functionality is powered by IDOX Uniform, where all planning application data is stored. Summary data is pulled through daily, and information can be searched using the application reference, address, postcode or the proposal. When clicking in the search result, a live check against Uniform takes place, providing the most up-to-date status of that application. The data is cached for the rest of the day, avoiding unnecessary calls to Uniform. For more information, see our Final Report.

Once we have more feedback from users, we will look to make the data available via an open API. This will allow systems and application developers to integrate with our API and develop software to further extend the reach of the information, which could even include things like Alexa and mobile apps.

The Tewkesbury Borough Council planning application tracker.

What happens now?

In the next few weeks we’ll publish a lessons learned summary with key learning from us at DLUHC, and partner councils. In a few months, we’ll meet with partner councils to learn what the medium term impact of these changes has been.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow Local Digital on Medium or on Twitter for more updates from our #DigitalPlanning Pathfinder projects.

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