Planning application data has considerable scope to be matched with crowdsourced data indicating where local communities would like to see improvements.
Access to the planning system still broadly works on the ‘Alpha Centauri planning office’ model of public consultation. Citizens are expected to read jargon-dominated notices on lampposts, or take the effort proactively to trawl through old-fashioned council website listings that are stuck in the pre-mobile internet of 2004. “Alert me to planning proposals in my area” remains an almost unfulfillable use-case. We are going to help change this.
The complexity of the current situation is considerable. Each of some 432 planning authorities maintain their own database of planning applications. 457,400 applications were submitted in the last year. Given this scale, the ability for local citizens to engage effectively with applications near to them, or for communities of interest to deal with applications on an area-wide basis, is very limited.
Most applications have to be determined within 8 weeks. This tight timescale makes delays in awareness of an application very significant. Last-minute objections are hopeless in their ability to achieve useful changes of mutual benefit.
Local Authorities have a wide range of public access systems. The lead vendor, IDOX covers 60% of LAs, but there are 7 known variants. The next, Planning Explorer and Swift LG have 19 LAs each. Three other vendors have around 10 LAs each. After that, c. 100 authorities have distinct systems with their unique formats. 5 publish only PDFs. In total, 110 formats for presenting planning applications exist.
Remarkably, in the data-driven world of 2019, only 2 out of 432 Councils publish machine-readable (JSON) data.
Local Authority officers outside the planning department will often only have the same level of access as the public, making them often unaware of proposals.
This landscape of complexity means considerable barriers for any provider wanting to create innovative, nationally-scalable products that engage citizens and council employees in planning applications.