Smart projects: Woking boosts building planning process with browser-based tool

Managed service lets public and staff access applications online

Woking Borough Council has begun publishing all of its building planning application documents online within two days of receiving them by using a managed service.

The council scans, indexes and publishes more than 300 planning documents every month. Its website now holds all the images needed by the council's planning department - more than 8,000 in total.

Every council in the UK is required to publish planning documents online as part of central government targets to put all local authority services on the web. Planning departments have to meet an additional set of targets - the 21 Pendleton criteria - to ensure councils meet common standards of good presentation and legibility.

Woking Borough Council chose document management company SpectrumITech to both supply the software and scan the documents as a managed service. The supplier receives copies of every planning document that the council receives. It scans and indexes the documents before uploading them onto its application.

Council officers and members of the public can view any document using SpectrumITech's View­portal document management system. Planning documents can be viewed without downloading additional software, and the application will run over a standard internet connection.

Whenever an application for planning permission is processed, a series of documents is generated electronically. These include decision notices, officer's reports and correspondence with the people making the application.

The council also needs to correspond with statutory bodies, such as the local water companies, or organisations that adjudicate on planning disputes, such as the Environment Council.

Woking has integrated Viewportal with its own planning application system, and council officers can access the document management system using the planning department's own core system.

The council said its main reason for implementing a document management system was the need to comply with the Whitehall target of e-enabling all local government services by the end of 2005.

After implementing the system in time to meet the 2005 deadline, the council has further developed the application to improve the quality of the planning service. It said it had already realised some cost savings from being able to access all of its planning documents electronically.

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