Celebrating the path to Planning digitisation

Success stories from Salford City Council and Renfrewshire Council

“Within our trial period, we managed to eliminate our three-week application backlog.”

When Alex MacCalman, Building Standards Manager at Renfrewshire Council told me that their pilot use of Objective Trapeze had eradicated an ongoing excess workload, I knew we had to share their story. Our recent online showcase is one of many conversations where customers tell me about how technology really is here to help us.

After all, it’s no secret that planners and building professionals are under pressure to review plans and issue decisions quickly and accurately. But does speed threaten quality?

Renfrewshire Council and Salford City Council are using technology to bridge the gap.

No more ‘spot the difference’

I’ve heard many customers refer to comparing amendments as a game of ‘spot the difference’. In fact, we challenged hundreds of planning professionals to identify all differences between two plans with their own eyes and only 5% found half of the differences in the allocated timeframe. Think the machine can beat the human? Objective Trapeze found and highlighted all changes in seconds.

As Salford City Council recently told us, design teams usually flag any changes but they too can miss a few things." There was a list of 10 or 15 changes that they’d set out to us, but we spotted 40 or 50 by using the Trapeze comparison tools, and we managed to do that within half an hour or so, so that really allowed us to push back,” said Anthony Stephenson, Group Leader for Development Management.

“In the past, we ended up playing ‘spot the difference’ with plans. It is hard, especially on major schemes… very time-consuming, easy to miss small details and, quite often, small details when it comes to design is very important.”

“Within Trapeze, there’s a few different ways where you can compare plans. Those different tools have really helped our team spot differences, and that helps us secure the quality which is what we put a lot of focus on in Salford.”

High volume; low resource; maximum efficiency

Achieving efficiencies is a key driver for any Planning or Building Control/Standards Team looking to transform their working practices to realise savings.

Alex MacCalman, Assistant Building Standards Manager at Renfrewshire Council spoke about a programme of transformational change at the Council:

“At the heart was the need to upgrade software systems to allow us to work more smartly. Trapeze is one of the software solutions that we chose to allow us to obtain greater levels of efficiency. Essentially, what we were working to do was to gain greater levels of automation within our software packages, with the expectation that this would free up more officer time for the completion of more meaningful tasks.”

Anthony aligned this to Salford’s adoption of Trapeze for measuring plans:

“I always found it quite cumbersome with the previous software because it’s something we do so frequently. Where you’ve got very high-volume tasks, you need to have a tool that’s very intuitive and very quick to use. It took several clicks every time I wanted to measure a plan with the previous software. With Trapeze, it’s got a very simple interface. Everything is within a toolset on the right-hand side. Within a couple of clicks, you’ve got pre-setup scales. The ability to quickly switch saves a lot of time for us, so that’s one of the key things.”

Saving hours with smart stamping

One success story for Renfrewshire Council is the automation of plan stamping. As Alex explained to the audience of our showcase:

“We were previously carrying significant backlogs in relation to issuing building warrant approvals, and one of the primary reasons for this was the need to individually stamp all plans received in support of a building warrant application. This was time-consuming and it was laborious for our admin staff, particularly with larger applications which had upwards of over 100 plans.

“We found that the batch stamping facility significantly reduced the time required to stamp drawings. Larger applications which would previously have taken a half to a full day to be stamped, are now stamped within six minutes.

“In terms of overall time savings for larger applications, we typically receive 40 to 50 per annum, and we calculated that we were receiving between 25 and 30 days in office time.” Cheryl Tumath, Senior Clerical Officer for the Council added: “I know Alex said things would take half a day, but I was doing plans that were taking sometimes three days – three full days of just stamping and saving plans. I’ve done them in 6.5 minutes, so that’s freed up three days of my time to do other things.

“Also, there’s less mistakes getting made because you’re stamping all the stamps you carried over, and you’re saving them back to where they were. You don’t need to worry about missing a plan or stamping the wrong plan. You’re doing everything correctly.”

Confidence with quick and easy cubic volume calculations

Our recent development project with Stratford-on-Avon District Council, BCP Council, Ashford Borough Council, Falkirk Council and the Government of Gibraltar saw planners shape the solution for intuitive cubic volume calculations. The outcome is easy and accurate calculations, without having to jump through hoops or ask colleagues to check and re-check workings. Hip to gable conversion? No problem. The technology calculates the volume in minutes – it does the hard work for the planner.

“I can now quickly show agents or colleagues how I’ve calculated the volume, even with unusual roof types such as a catslide roof,” noted Issy Howell, Assistant Planner at Stratford-on-Avon District Council. “Having this evidence gives myself and the team a lot more confidence.”

Time to turn to tech?

Faced with more applications, less time and resource, or ongoing duplications of effort, technology can tame the backlog beast and provide the efficiencies required to lead planning and building teams to success.

Salford and Renfrewshire’s insights and experiences detail just some of the ways technology can transform processes and workloads. To listen to Anthony, Alex and Cheryl’s stories in full, take a look at the Customer Showcase.

What’s next for Objective Trapeze?

I’m delighted to be leading a panel discussion with Buckinghamshire Council, London Borough of Redbridge, Government of Gibraltar and BAME Planners Network at the Planning Portal Conference on Monday, 15 November at 14:00.

More details can be found on the Conference website. The event is free for public sector organisations.