Greater Cambridge Statement of Community Involvement Consultation Draft 2019

Representation ID: 32786

Received: 23/03/2019

Respondent: Mr Martin Lucas-Smith

Representation Summary:

Section 4.12 goes on about online access to planning applications. There are many flaws in the current system (from supplier IDOX), which we and others have raised many times before.

I have listed the bugs in more detail in the full submission.

There needs to be a clear commitment to getting the vendor to fix these. They make it far more difficult to scrutinise planning applications than it should be.

Full text:

Section 4.12 goes on about online access to planning applications. There are many flaws in the current system (from supplier IDOX), which we and others have raised many times before.

See below for a non-exhaustive list of problems, which make it
unnecessarily hard to scrutinise applications. There needs to be a clear commitment to getting the vendor to fix these.

Some of these are things that a competent web developer could fix in a few
days' work fairly easily. In general it feels like IDOX don't care about
their product, or they are massively understaffed.

1) The lack of persistent URLs, or more strictly, that you are required to
get the cookie from the opening page of the application first before a
document URL works. I bet this means that officers waste huge amounts of
disk space by re-downloading files, for instance.

2) Critically, the lack of a data feed. This should be an absolute
requirement for modern local government, and should be part of the
requirements that South Cambs have for a newly-commissioned system. It
shouldn't require a project like
to fill in the gaps by scraping pages to turn the data into an API that
projects like Cyclescape can then use.

3) In general, crappy, non-hierarchical, non-guessable URLs that tend to
get messed up in e-mails, which feel decidedly non-modern:
could be:

4) Its slowness. In general it feels like they need to have more servers
and index their database better.

5) The inability for ordinary members of the public to understand what is
presented. Most of the time, for instance, a "Design and Access Statement"
is what is most useful to read, but this is hidden amongst 100+ documents
sometimes. A good, accessible modern approach to displaying planning
applications would show make things easier to understand.

6) The search is completely useless if there are many results for a
street. Try typing in Mill Road here:
A result "Too many results found. Please enter some more parameters." is
not good enough - this should be a paginated result.

7) Search URLs aren't persistent. I searched for Mill Road and got this

8) The search should have search-as-you-type so that people can zoom in on
the correct address quickly. This would avoid the kind of problem where a
search for e.g. "102 Mill Road" comes back with results that include "102
Millington Lane" - autocomplete would get rid of this problem as the user
would see their intention in the drop-down list as they type.

9) In general, the place search isn't very intelligent. A search with an
explicit number like "1 York Street" shouldn't include "21 York Street"
"113 York Street" and many others in it.

10) The map view is just awful and extremely 2005 style. If PlanIt can
turn the data into a useable map on peanuts of money, IDOX certainly can.

11) Dates are totally unintelligible, even to people very familiar with
the planning system like me. Can you tell me which is the date I need to
respond to an application by? This one has three dates mentioning
consultation, and they are all different.

12) There is a still a terrible bug which is that if you do a search and
there is only one result, you are taken to that application but the URL
does not include the application keyVal in it. So sending that link to
someone then fails. However, if you do a search with multiple results in,
each link does give you the keyVal in it obviously. This is pretty basic
stuff. An example try the search term "50, 54, 56 And 58 Lensfield Road"
which will take you directly to
which doesn't have the key in. Whereas, "58 Lensfield Road" will give you
a list of results, each of which will then give a persistent link,
which is that "50, 54, 56 And 58 Lensfield Road" one.

13) Linkages between main application and its condition applications are
very poor. This makes it hard to chase up the progress of an application.

14) E-mails in the document list get saved as .eml which I think is an
Outlook-specific format. I can't read them on my system, except by finding
the text in a pile of binary characters surrounding it.

15) There is no linkage to the meeting where an application is being
considered. It surely cannot be difficult for a database structure to list
such an entry. Officer reports are added but not usually agendas/minutes
of meetings, so finding out what was actually debated on an application
generally requires some serious google-fu to link them up.

16) Similarly, I get the sense that S106 agreements are not routinely
added, at least in Cambridge. This may or may not be a function of poor
software, but the software ought to be designed strongly to encourage such

PS Future Cities Catapult have been funding some interesting work

It's a shame that Local Authorities are still forced to pay for poor
quality products like IDOX's current offering.

Bugs like the above have been known about for a very long time now - see
the comments at:

so it would be good to have a Council in a tech-aware area using some
leverage and taking a more activist approach on this to get these problems
addressed at long last.