Poor integration with third party systems mars experience of planning services online reports Better Connected
Planning to feature as one of four key online services in Better Connected Live 2016 (Birmingham, May 24/25) thanks to collaboration with the Planning Portal
Lack of integration with the third party systems council planning departments rely on to deliver their services online lie behind the disappointing results recorded in the latest Better Connected survey to be released from the Socitm programme.
‘Object to planning application’ is the most recent survey to be released by Better Connected, which assesses the performance of council websites through a series of surveys undertaken from the user perspective.
The planning survey, undertaken in January, covering all shire districts, English, Welsh and Scottish unitaries and Northern Ireland districts, found that 34% of councils tested achieved three or four stars, indicating a good or very good website.
Exactly the same survey was undertaken in 2013, when 33% of councils tested achieved an equivalent result, although the coverage then also included London boroughs and metropolitan districts, and did not include Northern Ireland.
On a number of survey questions, councils did worse in 2016 than in 2013. While some of this could be down to the different profile of councils tested, it is a disappointing result after three years, given rapid development in digital technologies, and the growing expectations of internet users.
On other important questions that scored very poorly in 2013, almost no improvement appears to have been made from a very low base of achievement. These include the question ‘Can I sign up to receive an e-mail alert when new applications are made in my area?’ which was answered yes by just 14% of councils in 2013 with no improvement by 2016. This is despite the fact that the facility is a standard feature of one of the systems most used by planning departments.
Also worrying is that for nearly 9% of councils tested, searching in Google did not find a meaningful result for the council name plus ‘object to planning application’.
Full details of the ‘all council’ scores on this and other individual questions are free to view on the Better Connected website at https://betterconnected.socitm.net/services/planning/object-to-a-planning-application/2015-2016.
The survey report suggests that few councils customise the implementation of their planning system, even in the simplest of ways, and this seriously affects the customer experience. Many were let down, for example, by the restrictions of the search function within the planning system.
Very rarely did a council offer a clear link to see 'all current applications'. Many sites assumed visitors would know or be interested only in a specific application reference number ward, or postcode.
Maps caused reviewers considerable problems, slowing systems down considerably and often turning out to be unusable. Reviewers commented: ‘My heart sank every time I encountered a map - so much quicker without them’ and ‘GIS / Ordnance Survey based maps are usually very clunky to use and often impenetrable.’
Councils recommended for their good practice in this task include: Eden District Council, the City of Edinburgh, Flintshire County Council, Preston City Council, Rushmoor Borough Council, Southampton City and West Berkshire Council.
Planning professionals interested in hearing more about the best practice identified and promoted by Better Connected should join the half day event on digital planning to be presented in partnership with the Planning Portal as part of Better Connected Live on 24/25 May in Birmingham.
Other service areas covered during the two day event include adult social care (in partnership with ADASS Informatics Network); waste management (in partnership with the Institution of Wastes Management); and libraries (in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians.
Following the planning report, Better connected will be publishing results of surveys on leisure (‘find out about keeping fit’); housing (‘find out how to apply for housing’), and business (‘register a food business’).
Surveys on usability, accessibility, and website performance when accessed from mobile devices, will come after this, and an overall ‘star ranking’ for each council website will follow by the end of April.
A series of Better connected awards will be presented at Better connected Live on 24 May. This major new event will place the Better connected research in the context digital councils, austerity and devolution.
Notes for editors
All councils can access headline results from Better connected surveys at https://betterconnected.socitm.net/, but details of individual council reviews are available to Socitm Insight subscribers only (around 75% of all councils).
Any employee of a Socitm Insight subscribing council can register for free with Socitm.net and then get access to the detailed results for their council.
Vicky Sargent, Better connected programme
Tel: 07726 601139