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). Our first look at the content design for the LDC (Lawful Development Certificates) mockup saw us introduce a new member of the team, Kirsty from Lambeth, who had studiously undertaken a recent GDS online training session on this very subject.

Lots of really useful observations came out of this session that included:

The landing page’s use of repetitive terms — in particular ‘Before you start’ appearing twice — the second time almost directly below the first. The suggestion was to instead change this to “Use our Service”. Also, on the landing page the use of ‘obtain’ and ‘liable’ were not ideal and could be substituted with better options — such as ‘apply for’ and ‘responsible’.

One thing that arose from this early session was recognizing the need to avoid pushing our own personal preference bias on any content design suggestions.

For example, the word ‘correspondence’ was singled out and a discussion arose around whether this was potentially archaic and out of use, or instead a term that is frequently used to encapsulate all types of communications from email, writing through mail, podcast — and even with From Our Own Correspondent being a regular feature on BBC Radio 4. There was also a query around whether this term is familiar in the planning arena.

We agreed that using Hemingway app and the plain English campaign a-z guide would hopefully flag where content needed to be revised, whilst ensuring that we’re not bringing our own biases into our considerations on the content.

Another area that we discussed could be improved was in the listing ‘planning constraints’ that apply to user’s properties.

Our LDC service is designed to automatically tell users what constraints apply to their property so that they don’t have to find out this information for themselves. Although, how many people would know what an Article 4 was (unless they had a planning degree or had worked in a planning department)?

We agreed it would be useful for users to have a question mark option to click on or the boxes dropped down to provide a simple explanation for this type of wording.

“Two heads are better than one” — C.S. Lewis

In the spirit of true collaboration, Workshop 12 saw us bring together new minds from across the partner councils — including experts in Validation and Enforcement. The aim of this session was to build a comprehensive picture of the documents required to assess applications for Lawful Development Certificates (LDC). We then finished by taking a closer look at the content of our LDC prototype, working out how to ask information from applicants in a more accessible manner.

We initially used the Miro Board to gather information from across the partners — see below for discussion.

Brainstorming

We designed the Miro Board to gather information around the three main types of documentation required for LDC applications:

· Evidence

· Drawings

· Information

These categories were split between the different types of LDC application:

· Proposed (LDCP)

· Existing (LDCE)

· Existing (4/10+ Year immunity)

For this exercise, we planned to give partners 5 minutes to add sticky notes to the Board — we would then go through and discuss the notes, picking out any patterns. Below is a summary of the conversations held and their implications for the development of the RIPA project’s online tool.

Standard Applications & LDCs: What’s the Difference?

Our first discussion centred around LDC applications for proposed use. Looking at the Miro Board, one partner questioned whether there was a difference between the drawings required for standard planning applications and those for LDCs.

The Planning Enforcement Team leader from Buckinghamshire raised that location drawings are generally the same for standard planning applications as for LDCs. The greatest distinction in evidence comes when submitting LDCS for existing use, requiring greater attention in the workshop.

Categories of LDC Application

Lambeth’s Planning Enforcement Manager raised the question of whether LDC applications should be grouped differently — using specific types of LDCP and LDCE.

This was particularly important when considering the 4 and 10+ year immunity rule for LDC applications. The 4yr rule is generally used for operational development and applications concerning blocks of flats, requiring similar evidence and drawings to standard applications. However, the 10yr rule often leads to more complex applications, requiring greater detail from supporting documents.

To design the RIPA project’s online tool, it was suggested that a specific category was needed for LDC applications under the 10yr rule. One partner spoke from his experience in Validation, stating that whilst 90% of LDCEs will be relatively straightforward, the other 10% will be significantly more challenging to collect information on.

This conversation led the partners to do some digging into the most common types of LDC application received, so that we are aware of the most important elements to include in our online tool. 71 applications were received by Lambeth between 1st January 2020 and 30th October — with almost all LDCP applications being for house extensions (see below).

Handling Photographs

One question that the partners were keen to ask of validators in the room revolved around the use of photographs as evidence for LDC applications. We were keen to know if officers ever attempt to date photographs and how they are handled when assessing an application.

One of Lambeth’s Technical Support Officers confirmed that the validation process works from facts and that photographs are only accepted to support other forms of evidence. Given that applicants could edit the date on a photograph, this form of evidence can only be used to disprove a case.

Designing Our Service for Users

In designing our service, partners questioned whether it is best to ask applicants which forms of evidence they would like to upload, or instead to let users submit a generic bundle of documents. For the majority of cases, it was agreed that users should be encouraged to submit particular forms of evidence — hopefully reducing the number of poor-quality submissions.

Whilst this approach will suit LDC applications under the 4-year rule, a Buckinghamshire officer pointed out that evidence is far more varied for 10 year+ applications. Submissions here often include the use of ‘statutory declarations’ — a written testimony that is similar to a statement made under oath.

For more complex applications, it was agreed that our service should support applicants to submit whatever evidence they feel best makes their case.

Workshop 12 was valuable in allowing us to gain a greater insight into the validation and planning rules for LDC applications — this was helped by the variety of expert knowledge held across the partners.

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