Elena White 22 October 2020

Taking planning and building control to the cloud

Having previously used a mixture of paper-based processes and inflexible legacy systems to manage planning and building control applications, our planning officers often faced a time-consuming process with a disjointed system. With the previous systems hosted on-premise, there would be periods of downtime when the network was impacted or upgrades were being carried out. We realised that our data needed to be centralised and made more accessible, not only to our council employees and planning officers but also residents.

Utilising the cloud for digital transformation

To help build and deliver a new planning and building control portal, we turned to Arcus Global and its planning, building control and public portal applications. The new cloud-based planning and building control applications have enabled our officers to record and process all applications, notifications and enquiries received by building control services. It also gives a single source of data which allows users to view the history of a site or a case, along with the relevant contact history.

Before going live with the public portal, we would consult on new planning applications by post. The software also gives us the functionality to process applications enquiries, appeals and enforcements quickly and easily. Accept payments, query spatial data and satisfy consultation requirements. Additionally, we’ve also rolled out a public portal to make it easy for members of the public to view and consult on planning applications – allowing residents to view key information when they need it.

Going digital

This all means the planning team are using much less paper than before, as all documents relating to planning and building applications are available through the planning applications and our existing document management system.

The feedback from our residents on the new public portal has been very positive. Our local members and consultees are happy to have a system in place which is very easy to use. Information is well presented and easy to follow for both our Welsh and English-speaking residents.

What’s more, by switching to a cloud-based application, we have seen the performance and availability of our building and planning systems increase. Upgrades now take minutes to complete instead of hours, and on top of that, we haven’t experienced any downtime since going live.

Working remotely and cohesively

With the planning and building control process all online and easily accessible, we’ve enabled our employees to work remotely, accessing the system from anywhere, at any time. Whether planning officers are working from home, in a remote office or on site they can navigate the system. Uploading documents and sending emails all within the same application, which ultimately allows them to be productive wherever they are, on any device.

This has also hugely benefited our joint planning policy unit, which handles all planning policy enquiries relating to the Isle of Anglesey or Gwynedd local planning authority. The switch to a cloud-based application has meant the planning team no longer have to sift through paper files to find the information they need. On top of that, it has become easier to drill down into the information and generate reports.

Often Anglesey Council has to carry out research for the unit, both on a regular and ad-hoc basis. With the new system in place, it’s become simpler to find and share information. The search functionality is very intuitive so it’s easy to locate specific documents relating to an application. For example, you can search to find any planning applications, building control enforcements or land searches associated with a particular email address. We’ve found this to be very beneficial and it has saved us days in terms of the time taken to generate reports, in some instances it just wasn’t possible to get the information we needed.

Adapting to the new normal

The restrictions to our daily work and travel have been a fantastic test for the system. The entire council has been working from home for the past 18 weeks and our planning, building and public platforms have been working perfectly – showing our employees they can carry on as normal without being in the office. It just goes to show what a difference being cloud-based makes.

Elena White is business systems manager at Isle of Anglesey County Council

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