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1APP improvements: what do they mean for applicants?

by on April 19, 2012

Last week I blogged about the benefits the 1APP improvements project will deliver to LPAs. This week, I’d like to address how the improvements will help applicants.

We’ve known for a long time that attaching the multiple documents required to support online planning applications on the Portal can be a time-consuming and repetitive process, particularly for larger or more complex submissions.

So shortly, rather than having to attach each drawing, location plan and other supporting documents individually and answering the same set of questions for every attachment, the process will soon be much more straightforward saving users considerable time and more than a little frustration.

Here’s a list of the improvements we’re making to the attachment process:

  • Two simplified screens – one for local level and optional documents and the other for mandatory documents
  • Upload multiple documents – The new system will let you attach up to 10 documents at a time, which can then all be uploaded with a single mouse-click. We had a lot of requests for this.
  • Reduced number of questions – the number of questions/tick box statements required have been reduced by half. The system will no longer ask for:
    • File type – this will be automatically detected by the system
    • Paper size
    • Confirmation that each attachment has been printed

We are adding a single set of terms and conditions for adding attachments to cut down on the number of boxes that need to be checked.

  • Merge documents – A new feature will be added which lets applicants combine mandatory documents in a single file.  For example you will be able to incorporate a design and access statement within another document and site and/or other plans within another file.

As well as improving the supporting documents functionality, we’re also going to be making some key improvements elsewhere in the service.

  • Highlighted questions – Mandatory questions are highlighted to avoid any ambiguity throughout the application process
  • Enhanced guidance – we’ve improved the presentation of the help text for each question to make it clearer and more useful to the applicant
  • Simplified pay and submit process – new users often get confused by the process for paying for and submitting an application. This has led to applications being paid for without being submitted. We’ve made some improvements to the pay and submit screens to make it clearer for new users.

As ever, there’s more we’d like to do to improve the service. I hope you’ll agree that this is a good start and I hope you can benefit from the changes we’re introducing. We’re aiming to have all the changes live in May. As soon as we have a firm date, I’ll let you know.

In case you missed it, we already made a few changes to the service on 10th April. The key improvement for applicants was the pre-population of certain form areas to save time spent re-keying data. Learn more in my earlier post.

As ever, you can share your thoughts by adding a comment below.

Update: Some fantastic feedback so far – thanks! Quite a few of you are raising the 5MB attachments limit in the comments. Please have a read of my earlier blog post on the very subject.

71 Comments
  1. Maggie Francis permalink

    As an agent I am please with these changes. A problem I have not been able to overcome is where LPAs claim they cannot open a plan or document. I’ve never got to the bottom of why they should have any trouble opening a .jpg or .pdf, which has been successfully uploaded to the portal. The LPA then ask for documents to be sent by post or direct email. I suspect that is to delay validation so they have more time to register the application. Will this new system prevent this from happening?

    • I agree… (quite simply). This happens to me all the time! Considering it takes the council 2-3 weeks to just tell you that they need the document that you know you have already sent in is incredibley frustrating! Such a waste of time. (Rant over)

  2. Trevor Denningon permalink

    Well done !
    THAT is what I call progress.

  3. Tim Ford permalink

    Excellent news on streamlining uploading of multiple documents – this is so tiresome at present! I’ve not come across the issue Maggie F refers to, although occasionally submitted documents apparently fail to get as far as my local LPA, which they invariably blame on the Portal. I’m not convinced …

  4. Jason Wilson permalink

    Is there any chance of splitting the ‘Full Application’ process into two ie.e Commercial and residential as this will save agents time when the majority of their work is residential applications.

  5. Karen Haffey permalink

    Generally with my submissions my documents are larger than 5 mb and I find I have to split reports into, sometimes, upto 5 parts. So an increase in size of documents downloaded would be extremely beneficial!!

  6. Jan Rchards - Mayflower Planning Services permalink

    It may sound simplistic, but it would help if 1APPS were alpha/numeric indexed – even validation clerks get frustrated explaining the right choice !

  7. Sounds like a good move forward – but let’s make sure the website isn’t too ‘busy’, this latest design is already pretty slow for us with less than perfect internet speeds!

    Uploading multiple docs is a good move.

    Only other comment would be to include for a simpler form for minor commercial extension etc. Filling in a whole Full Planning App for a small commercial extension is a ball-ache!

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hi Jon,

      Regarding your comment about the site being busy.

      Are you referring to the homepage load time?

      If you are you may not be aware that you can speed this up by becoming a registered user (it’s free) and then removing all the homepage portlets you don’t use. Once saved they profile will be stored and your log on will be speedier.

      You can also speed things up by installing the latest browser versions.

      All that said if the problem lies elsewhere please let us know.

  8. Must have larger file sizes. Welcome other proposals.

    • I agree. At times I’ve had to spend hours splitting up larger pdf files, e.g. design and access statements, into chunks of less than 5MB and uploading them all separately. I can’t think why you don’t allow files of over 5MB. Please increase this.

  9. Excellent news on merging as previously I have had to enter one drawing twice for the main content and the site location plan.

    I agree with Jason’s comments regarding splitting the Full Application form for Residential and Commercial.

    Keep up the good work!!

  10. to echo the points above, the maximum file size must be increased as 5 mb is inadequate to say the least and can be problematic when preparing image rich documentation . otherwise fantastic.

  11. J Stewart permalink

    Sounds good! – I also hope that the order in which the questions appear on screen will match the order of the questions on the printed form – this would save me from having to skip around from one page to another when I am completing an online form using a manually completed form as a base.

  12. I welcome the proposed changes to the document upload section of the site but wonder if improvements can also be made to the material selections area of the forms – currently one has to enter and reply to each of the questions individually whereas it should be possible to respond to the questions globally ie walls, roofs, landscape, lighting etc in one – both existing and proposed.

  13. Benita permalink

    Some very welcome improvements.

    I do echo previous comments with regard to the maximum file size, 5 mb is very unrealistic with the amount and content of reports now being requested.

  14. Simon Evans permalink

    These are all very welcome improvements. The single biggest problem for me has been file size. Merging files will save time but not much unless maximum file size is radically increased. I note there is no comment in the blog about whether this haas been improved.

    There should also be an early question that distinguishes residential applications from others and then omits all questions that are not relevant. Another big time saver.

    It would be helpful if another anomaly was corrected. The sequence of web pages is not repeated in the printed form which, for some obscure reason, prints out in a different order. This is a time waster when editing (eg if a re-application is made).

    Like others here, I have also had local authorities tell me that they have not received documents I have uploaded. Having made detailed enquiries the last time it happened, it turned out that the LA had failed to print out the “missing” document. I doubt this is deliberate (although applications do seem to take longer and longer to get registered so some game playing cannot be ruled out), more likely an oversight.

  15. Thats great news, and glad you have a programme for improving it. Maybe worth investigating being able to resubmit a withdrawn application online as most of the documents can well be identical

  16. Ellie Smith permalink

    This is great news for those of us used to submitting major applications with lots of supporting documentation – you normally have to set aside a day just to upload everything to the Portal!

    One thing that isn’t mentioned here which has been a known issue for sometime and has yet to be resolved, is the matter of being able to upload files larger than 5MB. Can you confirm whether the latest update will allow this to occur or if it will be coming anytime soon?

  17. David Lee permalink

    These are real improvements and a good start. I agree with separating residential and commercial, as we do not normally do residential.

  18. The current changes should save some time!!
    I’d welcome the option to change the type of planning application form required with an application previous to submission. On occasions we have needed to amend the type of forms submitted so all the data and documents has to be re-submitted.

  19. Overdue but thanks for this update.
    Other simple but timesaving features might be that our details as agent are don’t need to be entered each time and also suggest a tick box or something to copy the site address into the applicant details, info that you have when we register.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      The features you mention are included as long as you are a registered user who has completed the optional fields for address. This can be updated at any time by clicking on My Portal at the top of the home page and editing your details. You need to be logged in to do this.

      • Simon Evans permalink

        I have done this for some time but the system does not seem to be very good at allowing updates after initial registration. When I have tried changing contact details, it has always reverted to an older version, meaning that I have to alter it manually each time.

      • PortalDirector permalink

        I’m sorry about this, please give our support desk a call. They’ll be glad to help.

  20. Nick Ambrose permalink

    Hi Simon. I agree with your comments, especially the one about splitting the type of applications between residential and others. I too have had documents not received by Local Authorities (as it turned out they were sent) but I do send a document transmittal form along with applications so they have a list of all documentation that they should have. This along with the attachments summary should give them enough information to enquire after any missing documents.

  21. John Atkins permalink

    “So shortly, rather than having to attach ….”

    When is “shortly” ?

    • PortalDirector permalink

      John,
      many of the changes have already been implemented whilst the remainder will be dropped in over the next 2-3 weeks.

  22. Mike permalink

    The submission of multiple documents, the ability to submit combined documents, and the removal of repetitive questions is all fantastic news. I look forward to my next submission!

  23. Andrew Evans permalink

    This all sounds good! To further speed up the process can you pre-complete more fields – for instance on the Householder Application the Site address and Applicant address are often the same so if the site address is copied to the applicant then most cases that will be fine and if they are different changing the applicant is no different to entering fresh. Also once you have put you are the agent when we have the certificates to sign can’t it already fill in our details. Things like this make it quicker to use!

    • PortalDirector permalink

      These changes have already been implemented assuming you are registered as a Professional user.

      • Andrew Evans permalink

        They do not seem to work for me – I am down as professional user and it does not fill in the applicant address as site address or me as agent on the certificates??

      • PortalDirector permalink

        Andrew, sorry to hear that, could you please contact our support desk for assistance.
        By the way just checking that you answered the question “is the site address the same as the applicant address”

        your second point re certificates has not been scoped this time – we ran out of money!

  24. Good news indeed Mr Portal Director.

    Please now consider adding ‘Middlesex’ to the list of place names for those of us who do not have a London postal address.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Checking this issue now.

    • John Stevenson permalink

      Middlesex hasn’t existed in Royal Mail postal addresses for longer than I have been on this planet. There are no counties in postal addresses.

  25. Nick Ambrose permalink

    I just look forward to the day when Building Control start acepting online applications again. My Local Authority Building Control have stopped accepting them and will now only accept posted applications. A retrograde step indeed. Apparently brought about by the BC department not having an A3 printer or the budget to do printing :-(

  26. holly397 permalink

    I like the implemented changes and the proposed changes. My only coment is that it would be useful if the LA could see the reasons why you have said no fee is required (e.g PD exemptions or resubmissions) I seam to have alot of hassle and time wasted due to the LA not knowing why I havent sent a fee!!

  27. For many smaller applications I tend to put everything on an A1 sheet. It’s real pain then having to upload a note under the location section explaining what I’ve done. Do these changes mean I can now upload one file containing all mandatory drawings without having to attach an explanatory note? If so thank you.

    Also a separate residential and commercial full application form would be an immense improvement. I get so fed up trawling through pages of irrelevant questions.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Whilst it is possible to do as you say, not every LPA has easy access to an A1 printer.
      Providing drawings on A3 although more of a pain for you, means that it will be easier for the LPA to process and determine the application.
      A3 paper sizes can be printed using a desktop printer rather than by sending to a large scale printer/plotter that may be on a different floor or building.

  28. David Young permalink

    Wonderful to hear that the tortuous uploading of drawing and document files is to be streamlined. I have been a reluctant portal user because of this single factor, and made the point some time ago to our regional contact. One small point that have found irksome during the upload process is the question “Is this a map or a plan” with only one tick box alongside it. Questions of this sort need both yes” and “no” boxes.
    I would also endorse the request for simplification of entering the description of materials. This has always been frustrating as my drawing and documentation system includes precise details on both drawings and in a separate document. Residential properties can have a variety of materials on different elevations and the form is not a suitable place to provide a full description. I have routinely entered “see elevations” or similar and my LPA have been quite happy.

  29. Is there a problem on the 1APP form when sending in amended documents to LPA’s (or has anyone else been experiencing this problem)?

    I have at least 2 recent cases where the LPA’S state they have not received them, despite a receipted email from the Planning Portal confirming my submission? I always make sure when attaching the documents that I have attached the amended/additional documents as requested by them with a full description. They just apologise and say the application has not been registered (basically hard luck).

    This is very frustrating for us and the applicants. When I receive an acknowledgement from the Planning Portal, I assume that it will be acted upon by the LPA but for sending in additional or amended supporting documents, there seems to me to be a problem.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Susan,
      this is not the first time I’ve had this comment, however I can assure you that if you have received an email telling you that the LPA has received the docs then that is what’s happened.

      If you have this problem again please contact our help desk, because we can check to see exactly what has been sent and received.

  30. It would be a great improvement to be able to have the facility to use ‘&’ and other symbols – which donut left them out in the first place???

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Chris, I’m not aware of circumstances where the ampersand can’t be used, can you advise where you’re having the problem.
      It’s true that some characters are restricted so as not to interfere with the xml coding but I dont think “&” is one of them.

  31. David Lee permalink

    The ampersand cannot be used in the name of a file to be uploaded – nor can square brackets. When we export CAD drawings to PDF, our system automatically puts the filename in square brackets, which must then be manually removed.

  32. Overall some great improvements – thank you
    ‘&’ can’t be used in a title box as in – ‘Design & Access Statement’ – allowing would be useful.
    Also, can the ‘site address’ not be automatically carried over to the ‘applicants address’ with an option to override if required, as for the majority of residential applications these are the same.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hi, site address and applicant address can be auto-populated as long as you are registered as a professional user and answered the question asking whether you wish to repeat them.

  33. David Lee permalink

    In the 1APP table for non-residential floor space, column 4 asks for ‘Total gross new internal floorspace proposed’, column 5 for ‘Net additional gross internal floorspace’. Am I missing a subtle difference here, or should the ‘new’ be removed from column 4?
    And does ‘gross internal’ actually mean ‘gross external’? My LPA says it does.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      David,
      I’ll check and get back to you tomorrow.

  34. Having just recieved this e-mail about your blog and signed in I have read you proposals with interest. Having submitted 236 applications on line since late 2007 your time saving improvements will be very appreciated – as soon as you can please!!

  35. Whilst, like everybody else, I welcome these changes I still have one gripe and that’s to do with the position of the calendar when dating the certificates and application. There is acres of unused screen space to the right of the declaration box, but the calendar opens below the box and below the bottom of the screen meaning I have to scroll down just to click on the date.

  36. Gary Ward permalink

    I haven’t made an application for a few weeks so forgive me if this issue has been addressed – About a year ago I asked if there could be an improvement in the ‘find LPA’ section – it seems there is a default presumption that agents do not know the Authority they will be applying to. In 37 years of practice I have never not known the LPA I would be applying to, and cannot imagine a professional agent who would’nt. I work largely in the rural area and often on redundant farm buildings and the like and often there is no address or postcode available, and even when there may be, applicants who may have recently acquired a property don’t have that info either.

    On the ‘print application forms’ page there is a drop down list of LPA’s – please could we have this option on the application page as a default, and those who don’t know the LPA (a rarity I suggest) could proceed to searching.

    Re file 5MB limit – have several times had to ask consultants (Arborist, Contaminated land, etc) to resend me their reports in smaller multiple files as 1app would not accept and takes about 5 minutes to tell you.

    • Simon Evans permalink

      Gary, like you, mine is a rural practice. In fairness, I cannot claim like you always to know the LPA. Sometimes, the property is close to a county boundary and it can be difficult to tell. However, I would have to agree that the whole address bit of the form is pretty clunky. Quite often I put in a postcode and the system does not find the property. Trying to find it using the map locator is frankly hardly worth the bother. Definitely, improvements could be made here.

      Re the 5Mb limit, the link the Portal Director gives for an earlier post on this subject does not work for me so I am still in the dark as to whether it has been increased or not. I have already made the point that if it has not, the ability to combine files, whilst welcome, will be limited.

      • John Atkins permalink

        Agree with Simon, the Portal relies too heavily (totally?) on the Postcode database. The Portal has been unable to find an 1850s Baptist Church (still a church, but not on the post-code finder) and several houses that have changed name, been renumbered, or recently completed. There should be a simple over-ride allowing the user to enter an address the Portal doesn’t recognise. To reduce the risk of wrong addresses, this could flag up the fact that the address is unrecognised, and could even require the applicant/agent to confirm the address.

      • PortalDirector permalink

        Hi Simon, my apologies I’ve fixed the link now.

      • Simon Evans permalink

        The link does now work and shows that the 5Mb limit has not yet been raised. This is of huge concern. I have posted a more detailed comment on that thread.

  37. Max Flauto permalink

    Dear Portal Director,
    I do welcome the latest changes. Would it possible to have a section in the portal where we could discharge conditions on line?

    Thanks

  38. Gary Michael permalink

    Dear Portal Director, satisfying to hear that the down-loading of all drawing documents can be put into one file, woo-hoo. Can this be done in a zip-file?
    Can there be a simple box to provide our reference numbers etc, regarding exemption of fees for your payment records as these details are asked for by telephone/E-mail from your technichians and there is nowhere handy/suitable to show this on the forms?
    Keep up the good work.

  39. Joe permalink

    Very good news, many thanks for the improvements…Is there a way to by-pass the waste section when this doesn’t relate to the application? Because you still need to enter a response on every page whereby if you had a simple tick box to say whether this relates to the application or not would make the process a lot simpler again..

  40. As a regular user of the Planning Portal for submitting planning applications I have, for quite some time, been loading PDF drawings into a folder, with the benefit of Adobe Acrobat Professional, and uploading the complete folder, usually titled ‘complete set of planning drawings’ to the respective planning application thereby eliminating uploading drawings separately. However, AutoCAD users have the benefit of being able to ‘publish’ drawings whereby they are converted, very quickly, to AutoCAD’s own PDF format, DWF. This facility is very user friendly, the file sizes are about 10% of the equivalent PDF version, and recipients of DWF files can add notes, comments, lines etc., without having the facility to alter the drawings in any way, and drawings can be e-mail back to the sender or others. For non-AutoCAD users the ‘Design & Review’ software can be downloaded free of charge from AuoCAD’s own web site. When will the Planning Portal seriously consider allowing drawings in this format to be uploaded to palnning applications. I have made this request previously with no responses.

  41. All improvements are welcome. One area that I believe should be improved – I would like the option of leaving the individual person ie ‘first name’ & ‘surname’ boxes blank in the applicant and agent sections of the forms – at the moment they are mandatory along with the ‘company name’ boxes. Surely users should be given a choice to leave one or other blank? Unfortunately some LA planning deptartments when transferring info to their data base are using the individuals name ie ‘first name’ & ‘surname’ & completely ignoring the ‘company name’. I work for a company & the clients we have are large companies & we want to make sure that the applicant and the agents are the ‘company name’ and not the individuals. This may seem petty but if you are served with an enforcement notice further down the line and it is issued to the individual with no mention of the company it is not good! Thanks for help.

  42. Simon Evans permalink

    I would endorse the point made by Paul Williams. In my case, clients are often a couple and there is no provision for having two individuals (eg Mr and Mrs). Whilst this does not matter much to the LPA (since permissions run with the land), it can look rather paternalistic if you are applying on behalf of a couple and just being able to insert (say) the husband’s name.

    I would also like to make another completely different point relating to the time it takes for a page of the form to upload. Each section has a separate page and each takes several seconds to upload which makes completing a form more consuming than it need be (especially when some pages have to be gone through even when irrelevant). Speaking to a computer specialist recently, he said there was no reason why the next page of the form should not be loaded and completed whilst the previous one was being uploaded. He called it lazy programming. I am not expert enough myself to know if this is so, but it is certainly worth investigating.

    • Benita Roberts permalink

      In the drop down menu it has an option for Mr & Mrs.

      • John Atkins permalink

        But it doesn’t cope with lots of other scenarios:- Mr & Ms, Mr & Mr, Ms & Ms, Executors of the late XXX, Trustees of YYY etc. I’m not sure why we need a drop-down box at all, but, as I’ve asked before, if we must have one, can we please have a blank option that we can fill in.

      • PortalDirector permalink

        Hi,
        we’re aware of this issue and it’s on our list for the next round of enhancements.
        In the mean time don’t forget the name field is free text and could include the descriptors described above.

  43. Frances Hunt permalink

    Hi, The changes sound a great move forward, thanks!
    However..
    I’ve just come across something that I hope you’ll be able to address in this round too. I put in a tiny application before a holiday, believing the LA could not possibly find anything to hold it up. I went thro’ the PP choices of form type and selected ‘Householder App in a Conservation Area’ (or something like that). Unfortunately this apparently generated both the Householder App and a Conservation Area App. I did know the latter is actually for demolitions only (confusing in itself) but did not realise one of them would be sent to the LA. The LA (of course) sat on it all for two weeks as no demolition proposed. Perhaps the answer is to clarify as “Demolition – CA”?

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