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01/02/2014

Blog: What should we keep on planning files?

Words:

The Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order tells local planning authorities what must be available for inspection before and after a decision.

It also allows records to be kept electronically or photographically. 
 
The Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 requires authorities to keep background papers for six years. These could include a flood risk assessment, responses from consultees (external and internal), notes of meetings, correspondence from objectors and supporters, notes of inspections, meetings and phone calls, details of statutory and non-statutory publicity for applications, committee reports, minutes and photos.
 
Obstructing the inspection of a background paper is an offence. The 1985 Act introduced the terms “exempt information” and “protected informant” – someone who gives information on a potential criminal offence or potential breach of planning control. 
 
It is not necessary to disclose legal advice that would identify a protected informant. It should also be unnecessary to disclose information that puts a protected habitat or species at risk, e.g. from egg collectors or badger baiters. I’m not confident that I could find any statutory authority for this. We still use a second file with a different cover for exempt information. 
 
Local planning authorities are required to keep each Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation and every screening opinion. Applications, plans, reports and other documents or background papers may be received by email. Planning authorities now encourage people to view planning applications  on their websites rather than visit the office, so they do not need to be supervised. 
 

"An RTPI practice note on this topic would be very useful to practitioners"

 
These are significant advantages for authorities and citizens if all relevant information is on the website. A search on websites for my own authority and Cardiff failed to find copies of consultees' responses to applications. I tried to view application documents in another authority for a Planning Aid Wales case. I was timed out three times. 
 
Before email, the working file would contain all relevant documents in date order. We still need paper copies; many planners find paper much easier than computers for committee meetings and public inquiries. A Royal Town Planning Institute Practice Note on this topic, answering the following questions, would be very useful to practitioners.
 
Which electronic documents should we print? How can we ensure that all officers dealing with the application have access to relevant information sent by email to a colleague? Which electronic documents do we need to keep on publicly accessible files – electronic or paper?
 
John Bowers is planning policy officer at Snowdonia National Park Authority
 

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