Our team has just wrapped up the eighth sprint of our Back-office Planning System (BoPS) beta phase with Southwark Council, MHCLG and partners.

Our aim is to create a user-centred back-office planning system that uses accurate, up-to-date records and data to increase efficiency across the planning application process and meet the needs of local authority planning teams.

Find out more about the project here: BoPS digital.

Progress across the last sprint

The theme for this sprint included looking at the sitemap functionality and also the validation process.

CFM funding update

The plans to align the phases of development with the RIPA (Reducing Invalid Planning Applications) project were put forward to MHCLG who are the funders of the project. This is due to the fact that at the moment sprints are happening at different times. . This discussion included looking to get interim funding to cover the end of our phase to the end of the RIPA phase.

New team member

Gemma Williams joined the BoPS team from Southwark Council to support communication and non-development aspects of the project.

Planning officer and manager interviews

Planning officers and managers have been interviewed across the partners to find out how they are using the LDC (Lawful Development Certificate) officer report templates, what they thought the benefits were, if there are any limitations and how they could support creating a more efficient, data rich way of evidencing the assessment. This will allow an officer to go through and check against policies to find out if some actions are permitted or not, they are able to record this in a way that could be made sense of. For example, rather than a bunch of text that does not have connection to data, now there is the ability to connect data to text and make planning smarter.

Some interview responses

User needs

There are quite a range of users who are some way connected to the process of evidencing an assessment and that currently is an officer report in some councils. This shows the officer, the manager, the applicant and other potential stakeholders including the neighbours and government who may have interest in the application what are the particular points of failure or what are the common reasons for refusal of an application. This is being informed by the interviews and the analysis of reports and will support some ongoing design work which will be shared in the next show and tell.

Highlight important RIPA questions

Last sprint we showed RIPA's opinion on what the result of an application should be, we have added a new section which highlights the questions that RIPA think are important. This allows the officer to not have to go through all the questions asked by RIPA and responded to by the applicant but to look at the important questions that resulted in the RIPA opinion.

Digital red line

An important decision was made to allow all applications in BoPs to have a digital red line meaning the polygon on a digital map rather than a PDF. This is so that we know where it is, we generate the area and all sorts of smart reading can be done with that information. We do however acknowledge that not all applicants will be providing digital red lines, this may be due to accessibility or legacy systems, so there is the availability for an officer to draw it for an applicant.

Red line example

Conversations have been had with RIPA about sharing a red line tool for maps, we have our own tool and [RIPA] have their own, this could create inconsistencies, which would reduce trust with the red lines. So a shared open source component is important, and talks of what the project requirements are have overlap and RIPA have started working on this already. This allows us in the next sprint to work on it, giving feedback and contributing to it with features that RIPA may use.

What’s next?

The theme for sprint 9 will be looking at drawing and displaying maps and also the validation process including notification to applicants. Work will be continued in regards to evidencing the planning officers assessment i.e the task they do to assess the application and how that feeds into BoPs and the functions that is needed to have. Then we will be finalising the continued funding model bid for the interim funding.

The BoPS team is keen to speak to more planning teams in other local authorities across the country to set up user testing sessions. If you’d be interested and can spare some time to help with the project, please get in touch via bops@southwark.gov.uk.

See the full recorded Show and Tell here:

Follow BoPS on Twitter for the latest updates: @BoPs_Digital.

Written by Fiacré Baidoo