How the planning department of a British county council found the right solution for distributing and tracking large planning applications

Derbyshire County Council is the upper-tier local authority for the county of Derbyshire, England. It has 64 county councillors, 8,000 employees working directly for the County Council and a 35,000 strong workforce spread across all council services.

As the County Planning Authority it is their responsibility to exercise statutory planning control for all mineral, waste and county council development and to ensure that all relevant parties are consulted on all planning applications and have access to all the application details. These applications are primarily for large and often complex projects like waste development including disposal, mineral extraction and processing sites, schools, roads or other new infrastructure.

The Situation

In a typical year Derbyshire County Planning Authority will process several hundred planning applications for development projects in their region. The smallest application may comprise just a few pages but most are for major or environmental impact assessment developments and some applications can be immense with so many pages that when stood in a pile they create a 1.5 m tower of paper. For each application there could be up to 35 consultees all needing copies of that information.

So when tasked with being more efficient and saving money the planning team quickly identified that significant savings could be found in the process of photocopying, printing off and sending paper copy applications to every one of those statutory and concessionary consultees.

The Challenge

The consultees involved in the application process include the district and the parish councils, environment agency, highway authority, wildlife trusts, statutory undertakers etc. The level of technology and IT expertise in each can vary greatly so any solution for large file transfer had to be easy to use and available to all recipients without the need for training and client software installation.

Furthermore, with different processing times for minor, major and EIA applications the team needed a simple way to record when applications were sent, who they were sent to and that the right person had received the information and when. In other words: a full transactional audit trail.

The Solution

A number of alternatives were considered including cloud services and zip files. Cryptshare proved to be the most viable solution, providing an affordable, easy to use interface that enabled the LPA team to package the entire application into one digital bundle and track and record the distribution of the file. 

Due to the varied IT skills of the recipients it was very important they could receive the applications without the need for installing software or having to remember user account details. The simple bi-directional, ad-hoc approach of Cryptshare perfectly matched the planning department’s requirements and the decision was made.

The Conclusion

The planning team chose to run Cryptshare as a hosted solution and use its web interface for both sending and receiving applications and associated secure emails. The web interface enables the sender to quickly create a message, attach files and send the notification message to one or more recipients. The recipient just has to follow a hyperlink to the Derbyshire County Council Cryptshare page, enter a password - if required - and download the files. This is achieved without the need for the recipient to download software or be pre-registered. Furthermore it works for every type and size of file attachment.

The Outcome

Derbyshire County Planning Authority had a clear objective: to be able to send large files securely and have a full audit trail. Cryptshare has completely transformed the process that used to take a long time and cost a lot of money.

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