From October 2007, the National Standard Planning Application Form (1APP) will become the only official method of submitting planning applications for most types of consent to English local planning authorities (LPAs).
The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) describes 1APP as a key part of its 'commitment to make the planning system simpler, faster and easier to use'.
The standard form is also aimed at mandating electronic applications and the online version will be made available at the government's Planning Portal ( www. planningportal.
gov. uk). and (optionally) at LPA websites. Planning Portal will introduce the form to local planning agents and architects at workshops across the country.
The form will cover a range of applications, including householder, planning permission, listed-building consent, conservation-area consent, tree applications and advertisement consent.
Local planning authorities have been allowed to add non-standard requirements if they can be justified by local circumstances, so applicants will have to check for these before relying on the standard form.
A paper form will be available from LPAs, but the idea is that all applications will be lodged electronically, with the increasing proliferation of supporting documents being supplied as pdf files.
This is where the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has come a cropper. In spring, PINS switched to an all-digital regime that encouraged digital applications, and scanned all drawings and documents received by mail, apart from the largest public inquiry cases.
In practice, appellants tended to submit the electronic form, with both appellants and LPAs mailing the wodges of accompanying documents.
An appellant's decision to negotiate with the LPA or to appeal is often affected by the amount of time an appeal decision might take; before the switch, PINS was remarkably efficient at validating appeals and issuing their timetable letters - often by return of post.
But the adoption of scanning has led to an additional delay of five or more weeks in validating appeals.
Writing in the current issue of Planning in London, ( www.
planninginlondon. com), Andy Rogers points out that the further delays in validating appeals caused by 'e-planning' should be counted in decision periods and PINS' targets. If they were, he assesses that the PINS' poor (but improving) record for deciding 54 per cent of written appeals within its 16week target would be far worse; and that the figure for deciding hearings within the 30 weeks would be zero, rather than 16 per cent (see www. planninginspectorate. gov. uk/pins/ appeals/planning_appeals/ Planning_appeal_handling_ times. htm).
A few weeks ago PINS announced: 'Due to a sharp rise in the number of new appeals and associated submissions, we have reluctantly decided to suspend scanning of documents we receive from 18 September 2006. This in turn means we will not be publishing evidence on appeals from the same date - the summary case details, including progress information, will still be available, and we will continue to publish the decision when it is made.'
In fact PINS decided that it made no sense to go on doing everyone else's scanning for them.
Let's hope the e-planning ambitions for 1APP are more successful. Meanwhile, look out for some second-hand scanners on eBay.
Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership.
Visit www. bwcp. co. uk