Wide disparity in planning information on web

Report shows many councils not providing enough information on-line

A report by independent planning consultants Peter Pendleton & Associates Ltd has shown a wide disparity in the the quality of information that Council's planning departments provide online.

The study look at 377 councils' planning web sites/pages against 21 criteria. Wandsworth Borough Council was top ranked in the country meeting 20 of the 21 criteria. At the other end of the scale Hounslow met only one leading to a national ranking of 364 out of 377.

A spokesperson for Hounslow Council said, "Hounslow is engaged in a long term redevelopment of its online service which has meant that we haven't added all of the 'quick fix' solutions that some other boroughs may have used. However we have always planned to use the web as a 24 hour accessible council 'service' and this will include planning in the future."

He added, "Hounslow is at the forefront of direct web communications with our residents, especially through vibrant, local web sites and we feel that much of our good communications practice could serve as an example to those councils which do publish lots of information but don't always interact in quite the same way we do."

The report did not take into account the way in which Hounslow Council officers do give advice on planning matters through the discussion forums on local web sites.

Ealing Council met 8 of the criteria and Hammersmith and Fulham ranked 305 meeting only three of the criteria.

Although sites like this one are often the location of detailed and lively discussion on planning matters many local councils argue that the law obliges them to publish planning notices in printed newspapers only. Some residents feel that obscure and little read publications are often chosen in order to avoid too many objections and increase the speed at which planning applications can be processed. For instance in Chiswick planning notices are published in the Hounslow Chronicle which is not even sold in most local newsagents.

Peter Pendleton, Executive Director of Peter Pendleton & Associates was broadly critical of the overall approach of Councils to planning notification on-line saying, " the public sector characterises the process of eGovernment, we think the user wants eService".

He urged local planning authorities to make greater use of providing online information to residents the user, and that the printing and handling costs of development plans and application forms could easily be reduced by making these documents available online.

December 3, 2003