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How Southwark's online planning portal will 'rip up' the old rules

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In launching a new interactive planning portal for residents and developers, Southwark LBC appears to have taken the London Mayor’s orders to “rip up the old planning rules” quite literally.

The south London borough plans to launch a new interactive website in September that will help streamline the planning application process for residents.

Planning policy manager Juliet Seymour said the website will save the council and residents time and money by making planning applications easier and more transparent.

Ms Seymour said: “How many hours are spent by planning officers sorting out applicants’ confusions? It could be thousands.”

Southwark currently receives about 8,000 planning applications every year, of which 400 applications are returned due to a lack of information. Under the new interactive system, residents are given a pre-application online checklist to help bring about a better understanding of how to submit their application, Ms Seymour said.

The website is currently being designed by open-source design firm Wikihouse and when completed it will allow residents to query their applications before they are submitted. Future Cities Catapult, a London-based innovation consultancy, has helped fund the project through a £200,000 grant aimed at helping those to digitise planning systems.

Euan Mills, planning and urban design lead at Future Cities Catapult, said: “For years we’ve heard how the planning system is broken and how it hasn’t delivered the number of homes we need or the types of places we want to live in. Our Future of Planning programme focuses primarily on how we plan, rather than what we plan for, and creates critical space to experiment allowing those involved in the planning system to think how it could be done differently.”

Sadiq Khan wants to radically change the planning process

Sadiq Khan - use once

Sadiq Khan wants to radically change the planning process

Using the new website, applicants first identify their property using their postcode, helping isolate which local planning restrictions are in effect before submitting designs.

Southwark’s director of planning Simon Bevan said: “People can get instant guidance as to whether [their application] complies with our policies and guidance. That is normally hidden away in various documents that we keep online, so Wikihouse set about analysing that problem and preparing an interactive system.”

Mr Bevan said that applications are currently processed in a “very slow and clunky way” which was preventing housebuilding, and could be sped up in a number of “simple ways”.

The project appears to be in line with London mayor Sadiq Khan’s (Lab) vision on planning, after he announced plans in December to remove “ineffective constraints on homebuilders” in his new draft London Plan.

Of a similar nature to Southwark’s digital dreams is a similar interactive planning portal currently being designed by Hackney LBC. The details are yet to be announced, but LGC understands it is aimed at sorting planning data to make it more efficient.

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