A day in the life of: A Planning Department

 

how UK planning departments operate

Planning departments are continually changing. Different working methods are being adopted to manage the increased workload, and the pressure on planning teams is heavier than ever before. In the first of our new ‘Day in the Life’ series, we thought we would take a look at what a modern planning department looks like.

Traditionally, planning departments have loosely been made up of Planning Administrators, Officers, and Managers, usually in defined teams and with focused specialist areas. But as times have changed, the boundaries between roles and responsibilities are becoming increasingly blurred.

As is the case across the public sector, planning teams are finding themselves short-staffed and underfunded, while still having to meet the same deadlines, provide the same service to citizens, and meet the legislative demands from Central Government.

How is the planning process managed?

Planning applications typically enter the system through the post room early in the morning as well as via the Planning Portal at any time. It is at this point that the customer believes their application has been logged, so best practice dictates that this is the point at which the application should be logged into the planning software.

In my experience, not enough Councils are taking advantage of the ways in which our software can streamline their processes; for example, by ensuring there is an electronic record of the application from the moment it lands in the department. This front-loads application processing, relieving pressure on the decision-making process.

This is even more prudent at a time when teams are shrinking and tasks are being shared amongst different roles. For instance, I was recently speaking to a Planning Administrator who was essentially undertaking the validation process for all planning applications at their Council. In lieu of enough available Case Officers, the ways in which the Administrators are using their planning software seemed to be helping with the whole department’s workload.

working in a modern planning and building control department

Planning software can help ease workloads

The flexibility of our planning software means that planning teams could create a tab with custom fields and tick boxes to log the validity of each application. For instance, they have user-defined fields to confirm if the application included the Nationally Application Requirements, a site plan, block plan, scale drawings (at the correct scale), etc.

This versatility also allows the user to select appropriate Local Application Requirements from their own pre-defined list. This enables a swap of functions between the Administrator and the Case Officer that removes two file hand-offs and, in turn, two stall points in being able to start the consultation process.

Once technically validated, the application is then passed to a Case Officer, who will look at the site history to check any previous applications and their outcomes. Using the GIS function, the Case Officer can then start identifying the neighbours and add any additional consultees that have not been automatically selected.

Planning applications are being managed outside the software

Now, as you will know, there is more to a Planning Officer’s role than just desk work. There are the public-facing tasks to undertake too; calls and meetings, pre-applications and, soon to be, permissions in principle – these being just some of the other daily responsibilities. The Visits functionality in the software provides an easy way to endure all these negotiations can be held in a single central location.

what's life like for a planning officer

Vital to the success of an Officer’s job is the way in which they manage this busy and varied workload. And a vital element to this is giving due and timely consideration to the Officer Report. As such, based on feedback from APAS users, we are currently developing enhancements that will further streamline the reporting process.

Agile Planning makes managing planning applications even easier

In the newest version of Agile Planning there are improvements to the reporting function, whereby users are able to save and edit reports as they go along, rather than the bulk data input that currently occurs, or where reports are currently created outside the software. Users will be able to pull site history and other merge fields upon creation of the report, as well as merging maps and GIS data.

With some Planning Officers dealing with an average of 60 live applications at any one time, sometimes the daily workload can seem unmanageable. However, with more efficient usage of planning software, it can really help ease the pressures and streamline the way in which your planning department files and manages planning applications.

The versatility of the Agile Planning and Building Control solutions is what stands out whenever we show the product to potential customers. We truly believe that with the roadmap we have for our planning systems, we can fundamentally change the ways planning departments work in future.

Get in touch if you want to know more.

About the author

This blog was written by Sue Rice, a Business Consultant at Agile Applications, and Product Owner of the APAS planning software used widely in Councils across the country. Sue has plenty of experience of modern planning departments, being a planner herself for over 20 years, both in the public and private sectors. Now working on the other side of the planning software fence, Sue has daily contact with Planning Officers, Administrators and Building Control teams to understand the challenges they face.

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