In his March 2014 Newsletter the Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain, announced changes to the Planning Statistics Data Collection Forms (PS1-2, CPS1-2). Slightly belatedly, I set out why it gives us a golden opportunity to re-think our approach to data management and create a sensible, consistent and useful approach.
What’s the change?
In a nutshell, councils no longer have to differentiate between large and small scale major development. Where councils previously used the labels Q1-Q6 for large-scale and Q7-Q12 for small-scale development categories, they now have to band the two together using just the labels Q1-Q6 (e.g. Q1 & Q7 now = Q1, and so on).
Why is this an opportunity?
This change is an opportunity to step back, re-think and improve things while we respond. Instead of ploughing on with small incremental changes (such as this latest one) and continuing to create thousands of different ways of describing the same thing in our back-office management systems, why don’t we start to change once and for all our entire approach to labelling and naming planning data?
Reasons to improve how we do things (1)
This latest change, on first viewing, makes sense. It reduces the reporting burden on councils and when all’s said and done, the ‘mechanics’ of processing an application for 150 or a 1,000 houses is fundamentally the same. But that is beside my particular point here. This is not about ‘Majors’.
Depending on how the change is interpreted, we may stop collecting data which we may need again in the future. Vast quantities of ‘good data’ will be lost in the rush to satisfy convenience and reduce red tape. What happens if in 5 years’ time someone decides to change the rules on how small and large scale major development is treated by the planning system, and all of a sudden we have no easy access to data with which to plan for the potential impact? For years we have not really paid much attention to ‘prior approvals’ and lumped them in together with everything else. Now we are falling over ourselves to separate them out and label them so that we can assess the impact of the ever-evolving changes to permitted development. Conditions will be next – mark my words!
Reasons to improve how we do things (2)
At the moment, no two planning authorities share a consistent approach to naming the same things in their management systems. Take planning application types; one council’s ‘NONMAT’ is another councils ‘NMA’ (that’s non material amendment to me and you). It is the same for an application’s ‘status’, the types of decision made and, when it comes to the decision ‘route’, our 20 pilot councils for the Planning Quality Framework boast 24 ways between them of saying ‘committee’.
It is confusing and without creating vast databases with mind-numbing logarithms, useful performance comparison is impossible between councils.
It’s not just me
There is also something in the wind when it comes to data and how councils are using it. The Hampshire Hub project suggests it won’t be long before the open data agenda begins to touch us all; forcing us at least to think about some of our approaches.
Don’t get me wrong you HAVE to have local labels and names because no two places are the same. But for the fundamental things that aren’t going to move around so much, can’t we all agree on a common language?
Get on the front foot with the Planning Quality Framework
During September and October, PAS is introducing the Planning Quality Framework (PQF). The Framework has a system of handling and using data that responds seamlessly to changing requirements, sensibly ‘archives’ the data we currently capture, and creates much more value in the longer term by introducing a system of ‘names for things’ that planning services can all agree on.
Click HERE to see the PQF standard labels to see how we propose to name things. The bonus is that it is sector-led and gets collective agreement from the sector on the best way of handling changes handed down from on high.
Find out more about this and the PQF
There is a short series of 3 blogs about the PQF – click here to view them. If you are interested in getting a little more detail about the changes to this C/PS1/2 reporting requirements I will be blogging again on this topic soon.