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Local Authority Bulletin - May 2019

Published: Tuesday, 28th May 2019

Spotlight on… Planning Portal Service desk, Rosewell Review: Planning Inspectorate explain how they will implement the recommendations of the review and more stories...

This month we will be providing an insight into the work done by our valuable customer facing team and provide recommendations on how local authorities can help their users be directed to the correct contact for their planning-related query. 

The Planning Portal service desk is a dedicated and experienced first line support team. Their work is the foundation of the smooth running of our services and the first point of contact for our users.

The service desk is a technical website support team and available to answer questions about the Planning Portal website and its services and content, such as help with a change of email address or logging in issues, to navigating around the application service and completing an online application.

Unfortunately the service desk team cannot give planning or building advice, provide the status of a planning application that has been submitted to a local authority or advise what form should be used for an application. These are queries that local authorities can help with.

As a partner in the online application process, local authorities can help ensure customers get the best service possible by directing them correctly at points of contact such as customer service centres, using website sign posting and in literature. 

Our ‘local authority guide to linking to the Planning Portal’ contains suggested areas to link to, free content and images that your web team can use to sign post to us from your local authority website. Following these suggestions will help your customers find the information they need whilst steering more general permitted development-related questions away from your planning department. However, our service desk should not be recommended for planning advice or the progress of an application.

Here are a few stats from April 2019 that you may find surprising:

Number of times the service desk were contacted by phone 3,030
Number of times the service desk were contacted by email  1,316
Number of queries resolved within one working day  96%
The number of calls that were meant for a local authority were: 793

In recent months the service desk team have taken on supporting other services than just 1App, such as:

•    Building control application system
•    The RTPI Directory of Planning Consultants
•    Welsh Government’s Planning Applications Wales
•    ReQuestaPlan
•    Mears Group service support
•    TerraQuest service support
•    Planning Portal payment service (FTS). 

In order to help support our service desk team and our users, we have also written FAQs for most scenarios that arise within the application system.  Browse our online FAQs.

The Portal payment service (FTS) has brought about a great many changes in the way that planning applications are submitted since its introduction six months ago; increasing efficiency, reducing invalid applications and saving both time and money for agents and local planning authorities (LPAs) alike. 

Now all of the information that we have shared over the last six months has been collated into a report. The report details the success so far of the payment service, what local authorities and planning agents have to say about the change in how they work and what updates you can expect from the Planning Portal.

Prior to the implementation of the FTS, around 60 per cent of invalid applications were due to missing payments, which has now been eradicated by combining the application and payment process, creating a simple, cohesive procedure. Applications and their payments are now clearly linked which means that a huge deal of time, money and resources are saved by LPAs and agents as they no longer have to chase up payments or, in the case of LPAs, provide their own in-house payment alternatives.

Through the creation of a set of easy to use, standard payment options, the way in which planning applications are paid for has been revolutionised. There has been a significant reduction in the use of offline payments due to the implementation of the ‘nominate’ option and encouraging users to use methods other than cheques. The use of cheques has reduced drastically from 31 per cent to two per cent, freeing up resources and saving time for all concerned. 

The ‘nominate’ option has been hugely popular with planning agents and allows them to send a payment request directly to their clients rather than having to process it themselves, creating a more streamlined and beneficial payment course. Payments may also be forwarded within an organisation, reducing pressure on companies’ administrative and financial teams.

The FTS includes a round-the-clock support service, with all payment options being available for use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whilst our in-house customer service team are always available throughout the working day to deal with queries about using the service. This ensures that processing payments for applications is easier than ever, benefiting both agents and their clients.

If you’ve got any comments or suggestions for further improvement related to the FTS or the Portal in general, please leave us a comment or contact us via

The Rosewell Review is an independent review of planning appeal inquires, led by Bridget Rosewell CBE. Rosewell states the purpose of the review is that it presents recommendations on “how to improve in practical ways the operation of the appeal process for those planning appeals where an inquiry is required or relevant”.

The report was published earlier this year and on 23 May the Planning Inspectorate revealed its response in the Inquiries Review Action Plan. The plan details how the recommendations will be implemented.

The findings of the review have been welcomed by the Planning Inspectorate. Chief Executive Sarah Richards said that the inspectorate are “encouraged by the practical, common sense nature of the recommendations which promise to lead not only to much faster decisions but also to radically improve the experience of customers”. 

The most significant change brought about by the review’s recommendations is the intention to improve the Appeals Casework Portal which is projected to be available by the end of the year, as outlined in recommendation one of the Inquiries Review Action Plan.

The new digital portal promises to deliver a stable case system, make the process more user-friendly and reduce the time taken to validate an appeal inquiry. 

A total of 22 recommendations were made in the review, including that the process of confirming the procedure to be used should be streamlined and a start letter should be issued more quickly.

Read the review
Read the Inquires Review Action Plan

The extension of permitted development rights to convert offices into residential buildings has not been universally popular. When it comes to airspace developments, however, we should recognise the benefits, says Aaron Emmett.
Changes to permitted development rights (PDR) as a means of increasing housing output and addressing the crisis in housing supply, on face value make sense.

The need for more homes is acute and where an opportunity to increase the size, or change the purpose, of an existing building occurs, it would appear prudent to do so if it creates no adverse effect.

And that’s exactly where the problem has been. All too often, the boundaries of what is “permitted” are stretched to their limits; the use of a building is changed without due consideration to its local impact; or simply the assumed ease of extending or altering a building allows cowboys to operate.

So, when it was confirmed that the further widening of permitted development rights would allow for upward extensions to go ahead, it’s understandable why it was met with both celebration and concern.

This isn’t simply a case of Nimbyism. We’ve all heard about commercial units being converted to residential usage where design and build standards have left much to be desired; of the negative impact that introducing residential units to the heart of a commercial and retail area has had on businesses who’ve been required to curtail the way they operate; or simply of the blatant mismatch between need and delivery.

As permitted development rights have been eased, and the supposed safety net of the planning process has been reined in, all of the above have occurred, to a greater or lesser extent. This won’t, however, be the case with the further extension to include airspace development.

Airspace development is an area of construction requiring specialist skills, experience and in-depth understanding of the complexities that such development is laden with.  

Whilst utilising modern methods of off-site construction means that there is relatively little on-site disruption, the fact that the installation process requires significant planning from a logistics perspective means that this simply can’t be an area of development that will welcome all-comers. Special consideration relating to road closures, over-sailing during the crane lift, specialist structural surveys of the existing building and preparation of the roof, are all vital steps to ensuring that an airspace development is completed on time, safely and to a standard that is going to appeal to those who invest in the resultant properties.

It is also a means of construction firmly rooted in specialist design. An airspace project is heavily design-led from the outset and the manufacturing process only commences once we are sure that the homes have been designed so that people will be proud to live in them, we will be proud to have delivered them and, importantly, they’re complementary to the local area.

Let’s not forget, too, that the extension of PDR hasn’t erased the need for thorough and well thought through planning applications; that is all still part of the process, it is just that now there are new parameters within which those applications will be reviewed.  

The door simply hasn’t been left wide open for cowboys to enter – and companies that have learned to deliver good quality homes atop existing buildings while operating under the auspices of the planning process have a wealth of experience and won’t simply disappear just because PDR has been relaxed. Airspace development has a huge role to play in increased housing delivery and that is why the latest changes to PDR must be celebrated, not feared.

Aaron Emmett is managing director of Click Above
First published in The Planner