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Architectural Bulletin - July 2019

Published: Tuesday, 30th July 2019

Improvements to the Nominate payment option, Updates to the Financial Transaction Service and 1App, Planning Portal Conference 2019 and more stories...

This weeks planning news in association with ThePlanner, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

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Since its implementation in September last year, the Financial Transaction Service (FTS) has changed the way payments are made for planning applications; streamlining the process for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), agents and applicants alike.

One of the biggest changes has been the Nominate payment option (previously known as Payment ReDirect), which accounts for over 42 per cent of payments received via our payment system.

What is Nominate?

Nominate gives the option for agents to nominate a third party, for example a client or applicant, to pay for an application. The system reduces the time taken contacting clients with payment requests, chasing payments, sending reminders and receiving receipts. The delays to the payment process result in the tying up of agent’s cash flow and an increase in accountancy and reconciliation work, these are issues which Nominate helps to eradicate. Currently it is possible to nominate your clients to pay online (by credit or debit card) up to a £1,000 limit.

Over the last ten months we’ve received a great deal of feedback about the Nominate service, both its benefits and its current limitations. After listening to this feedback and gaining insight into the processes of our users we are making some changes and improvements that will deliver even more efficiencies for our users of the service.

What are the improvements?

The nominee will be able to choose to pay by all payment methods; online, telephone, bank transfer (BACS, faster payment, CHAPS) and cheque. The expansion of payment options means that nominees will now be able to pay for application fees in the same ways as direct payers.

Nominees will also be able to change their selected payment method after choosing, if they wish.

This will greatly improve the user experience for both agents and applicants, as agents will no longer have to copy and paste payment details into an email to for the applicant to pay. This will all be managed and delivered within the new Nominate process.

Another improvement is that agents will be able to use the Nominate function to request payment internally within their organisation, meaning payment requests can be sent directly to finance departments to pay an application, great for larger companies with multiple offices. It could be as part of their weekly payment run or daily process and will give a clear audit trail and reconciliation of payments.

The feedback we received was not only about improving the options and function of the service but also the information on the payment screens, notification emails and improving the process.

Notification emails will now include details of who the Planning Portal are, ensuring a transparent explanation so all parties are completely aware of our involvement in the process, clearing up potential confusion between our role and that of the Local Authorities.

Nominee and nominator names will be clearly displayed and editable on the Nominate screen, along with the ability to add notes to an optional section, creating relevant context for the nominee about the application and the payment request. This increased clarity about the source of the request should help to simplify nominated payments, whilst also creating greater uses for the service.

Improved automated communication between nominators and nominees will be introduced, including a payment ‘Accepted’ option which will automatically send a notification to the nominator, as well as an alert when the payment has been completed.

In addition, increased rejection options for nominees will allow the nominator to better understand the reason behind why the nomination has been returned to them.

Finally, nominees will receive reminder notifications based on their preferred payment method, prompting them to accept the nomination and make a prompt payment.

When will these improvements be available? 

These improvements are scheduled to be implemented from 1 August, bringing about a far easier and more streamlined service which will benefit all parties involved. We thank everyone who has offered their feedback and please continue to do this as your contributions have helped us to improve our services as we strive to transform planning and building for all.

These new improvements have been delivered through the Planning Portal Financial Transaction Service charge as we continue investing to advance our services and resources for our applicants.

Since we launched the financial transaction service (FTS), it’s seen huge benefits for agents, applicants and local authorities. Our six-month report demonstrated savings in time and money for everyone concerned. We have also been able to deliver some service improvements already to the FTS and 1App itself and there are many more in the pipeline.

Since its launch, we’ve been open in asking for your feedback and we know that not everything is working well. The main area for concern from early on was that the service charge was disproportionate for the smaller fees, particularly non-material amendments and discharge of householder conditions where the planning fee is typically only £34. However, we of course incur the same costs for processing those applications as we do for larger ones, and the legislation is clear that you can’t charge a different amount for the same service. We’ve been trying to find a way through this conundrum, but I’m pleased to say that we have found a way forward and will be making a change to the service charge structure as a result of this and an ongoing review into the costs of delivering the service.

With effect from 1 August 2019, all free applications and all applications where the fee is less than £60 will not incur a service charge for submission through the Planning Portal.  This will include those non-material amendments and householder conditions and will also mean that a number of applications where discounts and exemptions apply – such as for disabilities or charities – will become exempt from the service charge.  In order to balance the cost of processing the transactions, without limiting our ability to deliver the improvements to 1App, the service charge on applications £60 and over will increase to £20.83+ VAT on the same date.

At the same time we will release an improvement to the popular ‘nominate’ payment option included in the FTS.  Until now, you could only nominate third parties to pay for applications online by card, but from 1 August 2019, this option will be available across all payment types.  Again this change has been much requested and will improve the efficiency greatly for agents and applicants.  More information on the Nominate change can be accessed here.

Additionally we have the following service improvements in the pipeline for this summer:

  • Improvements to data protection on the application forms which are published on local authority websites.  This change will redact more fields where third party information is collected to streamline publication on local authority planning registers, and to rename the form to ‘ApplicationformRedacted’ to set expectations in regard to its content. This gives increased peace of mind for applicants and agents in protecting this information, as well as great efficiencies for local authorities. Authorities will continue to receive a complete version of the form for their own processing;
  • Accessibility improvements in line with enhanced WCAG guidelines.

In the autumn, we will also be adding those prior notification forms currently only available as PDFs to the 1App suite, along with some improvements to forms including capturing the residential categories in larger schemes, as required by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).  These changes have also been much requested and we know the changes will add efficiencies for agents, applicants and local authorities.

In parallel we have also been working with the Greater London Authority on a set of data changes which will give them greater transparency of planning and development activity across London. They have been discussing this with authorities outside London and the updates we make will be available nationally.  Because of the nature of these changes it is a major project and we will need to change the structure of the data we pass to local authorities and therefore our data schema. Further technical guidance and a revised schema will shortly be released to local authorities and their IT suppliers and as always, more detail on the changes themselves we will be available nearer the time on our blog.

We thank you for your continued support and feedback as we continue to work to make planning and building easier for all.

Creating space for beauty’, an interim report published by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission on 9 July 2019, argues for the building of attractive, functional community spaces, which Interim Chairman of the Commission, Nicholas Boys Smith said “…[will] make our country more beautiful while fulfilling the needs of future generations who will need a roof over their head”. 

It urges that backing for building such developments should come from local governments, and that the communities themselves should be able to provide their opinions during the building procedure, reducing the need for community “planning by appeal” and instead boosting master-planning. 

This would allow the public to have their voices heard earlier and more clearly when it comes to building projects within their community. This upgraded public contribution to the decision making process will allow residents to put pressure on their local councils to ensure high quality designs are achieved by developers. The commission hopes this would help to produce more beautiful and functional developments, working towards ending identikit homes and ‘boxland’ developments.  

The report calls for abandoned retail parks and old supermarkets to be turned into “mixed use” communities, providing new homes, shops and businesses, serviced with strong public transport links. 

Boys Smith says these developments: “…would deliver something much more beautiful in the form of thriving new communities where people can raise a family, work or settle down.

“…Beauty should not be just a property of the old buildings or protected landscapes but something we expect from new buildings, places and settlements. We need to deliver beauty for everyone, not just the wealthy. This will require, ultimately, some fundamental changes. Hopefully our report will start part of that important debate with the public and the professions”.

The report calls for local authorities to use poor, rejected designs as an example and an incentive to “say no to ugliness”, leading to more applications being authorised for beautiful developments. This includes town high streets, which the interim report suggests should include a wide range of businesses, shops and homes, whilst being more “…beautiful, walkable and well-connected”. This would ensure town centres are better places for residents to both live and work. 

The interim asks for support from further bodies, including Homes England and local councils, requesting that financial support be used to ‘aim for beauty’, with work being undertaken to make it clear how to reach this goal. 

Additionally it suggests that multiple different areas of local government become involved in improving town planning, asking that they combine their efforts to build developments which reflect the “…local geography, culture and economic priorities”.   

The report uses previously built developments it considers beautiful as an example of what local councils and communities can accomplish, praising innovative design, for example the 76 home development The Malings in Newcastle. 

The report has received positive responses so far, with Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP claiming that whilst the government is determined to deliver their aim of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, this mustn’t be accomplished “…at any expense”. He claimed new developments “…must stand the test of time” and that “We owe it to the next generation to not just build more homes, but to build communities people can be proud of”.

Furthermore, Brokenshire said: 

“As a country, we should not shy away from talking about what building beautifully means – and this report is an important contribution to that discussion”.

Whilst the report is still in its interim stage, the commission calls for further feedback before taking it to government before the new year. 

An LGBT+ place-making toolkit has been published to support the protection and development of LGBT+ spaces and places. Yohanna Weber of Planning Out, the network behind the toolkit, explains why it matters:

"We were prompted to create the Toolkit by the findings of a study released by UCL Urban Laboratory in 2017(1) which found that in the previous ten years alone, 58% of LGBT+ clubs, bars and performance spaces in London had closed, dropping from 125 to 53.

We believe that LGBT+ venues and businesses provide a rich and diverse array of facilities and services, which don't just support the lives of the LGBT+ community, but enrich the overall fabric of our society. 

In London, the UCL findings have helped to inform the preparation of the Mayor's Cultural Infrastructure Plan. This provides valuable policy and decision-making support for the protection and promotion of creative and cultural areas, including for LGBT+ uses.  

There have also been a string of important planning decisions in recent years that have highlighted novel and innovative ways of achieving greater protection for LGBT+ places and spaces. We realised that there was a need to bring these various resources together into one central place of reference – and to make it useful for LGBT+ communities outside London as well".

Planning Out?

"Planning Out was established in London in July 2016.  It is a forum run by and for LGBT+ professionals in the town planning sector to develop networks across the industry.  We now have over 500 members from the public and private sectors, in planning and related professions such as surveyors and land professionals, architects, transport planners, urban designers, planning lawyers and public affairs consultants. 

We also aim to influence the planning system through policy-making and best practice to encourage greater acceptance and visibility of the needs of the LGBT+ community. 

This toolkit is intended to build on the findings of these documents and decisions, and to be a resource for members of the LGBT+ community to help them better navigate the planning system. It aims to provide guidance and improve understanding of the various types of regulation in order to protect an LGBT+ venue from acquisition or development, to hold an event or festival, to temporarily use a space for community purposes or even fly rainbow flags.

The toolkit aims to ensure that LGBT+ spaces and places continue to form an important part of the social framework of our communities, facilitated by a planning system that seeks to be fully representative of the diversity of the community it serves.

We are delighted to have had the full support of the Mayor of London and the Night Czar Amy Lame in this endeavour, as well as the RTPI, and will be launching the Toolkit at City Hall on 12 July 2019".

Yohanna Weber is a partner, planning and environment with Fieldfisher and a committee member of Planning Out. 

This article was originally published by The Planner.   

Bouygues Batiment International have celebrated the completion of the world's tallest modular buildings.

At 140 metres high, the recently completed Clement Canopy towers in Singapore have taken the record as the world’s tallest modular towers.

Designed by local architectural practice ADDP Architects, the residential towers have surpassed George Street, a 135-metre tower built in Croydon, England.

The towers consist of 1,899 prefabricated panels, which were approximately 85 percent completed off-site, before on-site assembly. Off-site work on the modules includes painting, window frames and glazing, doors, wardrobes, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, as well as water and sanitary pipes, electrical conduits and ducting.

The towers’ concrete cores were built simultaneously as the modules were installed, which enabled a central materials and logistics platform, significantly reducing the amount of water used on and offsite.

Key materials for the buildings’ exterior include rendered and painted concrete with aluminium window frames.

This article was originally published by CIAT