Since its launch in early June 2013 the planning search facility on Surrey Heath Borough Council’s website has been receiving a growing amount of traffic. In October 2013 the visits to the planning search landing page exceeded visits to the main website’s home page.
Planning Applications Search at Surrey Heath is powered by ‘Publisher’ a module of Astun’s iShare platform which provides simple access to the Council’s information focused on the user’s location.
The October stats are as follows:
- Planning Applications Search landing page - 15,034
- 20,400 page views
- 11,987 unique visitors
Whole Planning Applications Search site:
- 37,604 visits
- 68,253 page views
- 11,526 documents downloaded
Surrey Heath Borough Council uses the OnBase strategic document management solution. OnBase now holds all the documents associated with planning applications. These are scanned in by planning personnel on a daily basis. OnBase also holds data from the Accolaid planning case management system.
Twice a day Publisher pulls all the planning data out of Accolaid’s Oracle database and it also polls the OnBase database to pull out all the metadata for documents associated with each planning application.
The data available from Publisher includes:
- 30,000 planning case files
- 130,000 documents
- 46,223 Boundary extents
- 1996 - 2013 - comprehensive data
- 1980s - 1996 - part data
Publisher provides access to this data via the Planning Applications Search section on the Surrey Heath website. Here visitors can use the simple search box using either the application reference number, the address, or the Postcode. This facility uses the Apache Lucene open source indexing and searching engine which has been built into Publisher. The single search box also lets users search by case officer, applicant name or agent name.
Further advanced search options are available:
- By type - such as Listed Building Consent, Tree Preservation Order
- By ward
- By date - registration, decision, appeal received, appeal decided Alternatively a map can be used to search for current or determined applications by precise location. Type in an address or simply zoom in and turn on the required layer. The solid green dots on the maps indicate the current applications, the circles the historic applications. Clicking on any of these brings up a box with a hyperlinked planning application number - clicking on this takes the user to a new page with detailed information and tabs for: consultees, neighbours, specific documents relating to the application and any appeals.
Under the documents tab there are hyperlinks to actual documents, click on one of these and the document downloads to the user’s computer. The documents are organised under logical headings such as 'application submission details' and 'plans' etc.
Because all the data is held in iShare’s PostgreSQL database it is also available to other iShare and GIS capable applications. Anyone using their postcode to access iShare will see planning information within the My House and My Nearest tabs and can choose to view that information on a map. In My Maps the planning information is comprehensive and colour coded for easy identification. It consists of:
- Current applications
- Applications under appeal
- Those decided in the last three months
- Historic applications
Clicking on one of the coloured dots on the map brings up the information relating to that application. As with the map based search mentioned above clicking on the application number that appears in the pop up box takes the user to a new web page with all that application’s details and associated documents.
The power of this integration is reflected in the increased traffic to the site. Users are citizens, planning professionals and planners within the Council itself. Planning is a complicated process that affects most people at sometime in their lives. Providing easy access to information is helpful for citizens and indispensable for planning professionals and Council staff.
“Publisher has enabled us to build what has become the area of our website generating the most traffic. The integration with OnBase proves invaluable, it's usefulness demonstrated by 11,500 document downloads from Publisher in October. Publisher is driving the 'paperless agenda' at Surrey Heath and increasingly we are getting other departments such as planning enforcement and building control wanting similar on-line Publisher applications,” said James Rutter, GIS Manager at Surrey Heath Borough Council.
The Council has also produced its own infographic to promote the search facility further.