Councils need to start doing a much better job when it comes to using digital channels to communicate with their residents about their Local Plans.
The warning comes from public sector IT leadership organisation Socitm, as part of its on-going ‘Better Connected‘ research into local authority web best practice, which says Town Halls are pretty good at talking to property, planning and development professionals – but not actual Council Tax payers.
The problem is that the government says Local Plans are at the heart of the planning system, so it is “essential that they are in place and kept up to date” as they are “a critical tool in guiding decisions about individual development proposals”, making it important for all areas “to put an up to date plan in place to positively guide development decisions”.
The group looked at the Local Plan work of 210 district councils in England and Northern Ireland to see what they could glean about any local plans that set out local planning policies and identifies how land is used, determining what will be built where.
The results: although nearly 40% of councils surveyed got sufficient marks to be designated ‘good’ and nearly 10% ‘very good’ for the task, reviewers’ comments suggest that councils need to do considerably more to communicate their Local Plans.
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And while some councils “started well” with a good introduction on their websites, too many immediatley revert to technical jargon and terms “that were not explained or sufficiently contextualised for the general public”.
Plus, insufficient high-level information was presented on web pages, leaving the impression that planning departments regard the communications task as done simply by uploading huge pdf documents or providing links to hard-to-use GIS maps designed for professional use, while only 36% were able to answer positively the question, Can I find an easy to use map showing locations of at least some key aspects the local plan of interest to residents eg housing allocations, industrial/economic development, flood and conservation areas?
Leaving all information in pdf documents, rather than picking out headline information for presentation on web pages was another key criticism. The survey report recommends provision of a high-level web page summary, a pdf summary of, say 12 pages as well as the full pdf plan, for instance.
The report finishes with some examples of better ways to crack the Local Plans problem.
Socitm describes itself as a society for IT practitioners in the public sector, acting to help them “network, provide consultancy, and produce research into how they can save money and innovate despite budget cuts and ultimately deliver effective digital technology and service”.