“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
Frank Herbert

Thought we’d start the final blog with a minorly dramatic title — hopefully it is the end of the Annus horribilis that has been 2020. In any event, this is the final blog of the year from Team RIPA.

Our final sprint was fairly hectic. Amongst the many things we worked on, the RIPA and BoPs project leads met early in the sprint to review the risks document that we’ve set up.

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There are still items outstanding on the checklist, but many are dependent on areas of each partner council outside of the project team, so it’s a case of pushing and pestering to get each item ticked off. …

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The days may be getting colder and shorter but work on the RIPA project has done anything but slow down as we approach Christmas!

Our last sprint included getting the officer survey circulated amongst all the partner authorities. We’re now starting to collect data on officer experience and some of this was presented in our Show and Tell (for early findings check out the recording here)

Our latest partner workshop (number 13) kicked off with a discussion around the new prototype for Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) applications for proposed use. This had been presented in our 12th Show and Tell. The partners felt that the use of drawings was incredibly valuable when communicating with individuals who perhaps have less technical knowledge of the planning system.

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We recognized there was a need to bridge the gap in conversations; for example we use the term “data” a lot — but what does that actually mean? Using drawings is one way of bridging that gap in language and helping others to understand what we’re talking about. A user can more easily decide between two drawings when answering, for example, if their extension will be to the side or to the rear. Additionally, by allowing users to select different images which relate to their proposed development, we can also create a shortcut around users having to read lengthy policy documents to work out and understand what information is required for an LDC application — making our product more accessible. …

I think it’s never too late to start anything, except maybe being a ballerina.

Wendy Liebman

So we’re a little behind (well, a whole sprint behind) in posting our notes from the previous sprint and the outcomes from Workshop 12 held on 6th November — but we’re not trying to be ballerina’s, merely trying to bring the planning system into the 21st Century….

We had a busy time this sprint with sessions on Content Design (touched on in our Show and Tell No 11 that week). …

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things. — Phil Karlton

Truer words were never spoken — a fact which became clear following a question asked at our 10th Show and Tell. One member of the public enquired about the name of our ‘Find Out If You Need Planning Permission’ service, questioning whether it is obvious to users that this incorporates Listed Building Consent.

A key challenge we have faced throughout the RIPA project has come from a need to simplify the language used in planning to make the process for submitting applications more transparent and easier to navigate. …

Friday 25th September saw Lambeth host the 9th Workshop for the Reducing Invalid Planning Applications (RIPA) Project. This workshop was focused on further developing the Customer Survey, as well as developing the User Journey for Lawful Development Certificates — more on this later.

Customer Survey

For those of you who have been following our progress over the past few posts, you will know that we are currently creating a customer survey to capture feedback from users of their experience of submitting a planning application currently and then, once we have the beta tool in place, we wil run the survey again to get their feedback using the tool. …

To get a user-friendly tool

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Those following our project will know that we want to listen to and get feedback from our users and potential future users through user testing. This will ensure that the tool we’re developing provides a quality experience and comfortable journey for its users, . The hope is the tool we are developing will bring the planning application service into the 21st century digital era. Our aim is to help users navigate the process, so that they do not need to search multiple websites to find out what information they need to submit their application.

To achieve this we have built a clickable prototype on Figma. …

Accelerating our goals

After our last Show and Tell (No. 6) we held our 7th partner workshop of the Beta.

A recent development has been agreement to accelerate the project from an 18 month timeframe (December 2021) to a reduced 6-months timeframe with a March 2021 date set to achieve a private Beta.

Ahead of our seventh workshop, we finalized the screener which we will send out to potential volunteers. This will help us select a broad range of user. This was mailed out to all of the previous Lambeth past applicants, interested residents, businesses, agents and volunteers who were contacted in Alpha. We’re calling out generally on Twitter and Facebook as well but as yet have struggled to get past the Information Governance teams at the partner councils to gain agreement to access their applicant database details from their back office systems. This means, at present, most of our volunteers are Lambeth borough focused, but we’re hopeful we will find ways to reach out further using twitter, Facebook and encouraging partners to individually call out on their own personal social media accounts if necessary. …

Following our 4th Show & Tell — our workshop session for that week was with our User Researcher who has just started — and with the partners we looked at the application and policy from a headline angle.

We created a RIPA Facebook page to add to our twitter and blog sites a couple of weeks ago and we hope this will help us reach more users across the council.

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We touched on various issues that are common across councils. For instance, planning application descriptions. Get the description wrong, and it causes all sorts of problems that can cause repeat work and re-consultation. Sometimes descriptions are far too long. The question was posed — will the tool build out this issue? …

“The foremost cartographers of the land have prepared this for you; it’s a map of the area that you’ll be traversing.”

[Blackadder opens it up and sees it is blank]

“They’ll be very grateful if you could just fill it in as you go along.”

Blackadder II, Season 1, Episode 3 “Potato”

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Paradoxically perhaps, there is no clear direction for planning applicants when it comes to maps.

Take red lines — legislation says nothing against the applicant submitting multiple red lines but in practice many authorities prefer to have only one.

As the cost for some applications is determined by the area within the red line this can be an important point. If an applicant’s development covers a large area in plot terms, but what they want to physically ‘build’ is only dotted about within that area, drawing small red lines around just where the specific development would go rather than drawing one red line around the whole of the boundary to the road may be their preferred strategy to limit the cost of the application. …


Project Team RIPA

We’ve made it to Beta. An MHCLG funded project, led by Lambeth with five partners — Buckinghamshire, Camden, Lewisham, Northumberland and Southwark

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