Digitalising the Planning Duty Service

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The Planning Telephone Duty Service previously operated on a weekly rota basis were each team member had to put everything aside to answer telephone queries from the public on specific days and times each week. These calls related to residents requesting advice on a range of things in line with Planning policies and guidelines, for example; planning permission for alterations and extensions on different building types, change of use for buildings or land etc. The number of calls received during this period was high and could sometimes be very lengthy! If a customer called any other time of the week no one was available to speak to them!

The introduction of an online enquiry form has turned this service on its head! The Planning Team are no longer required to deal with telephone call enquiries from the public and can easily process the enquiries digitally, as and when they come in.

Customers can complete the form on any day, at any time so there isn’t an influx of enquiries all at once and the customer experience is fully transformed!

All relevant information must be supplied on the online form preventing back and forth with customers which was previously a huge problem. Previously an email address was also provided for the public to send enquiries to, however this was difficult to manage as people wouldn’t provide key details needed to answer the enquiry resulting in email responses back and forth and delayed advice for the public.

Residents also now have the option to attach a photo of the property or area in question giving Planning Officers an accurate idea of the situation allowing them to provide bespoke advice.

All the information within the online form and any customised emails sent to the public from the BwD Digital Customer portal (DCP) is automatically linked to the individuals account making it extremely easy to locate in the future and helping to keep everything together in one place.

The portal allows the Planning team to track progress of the enquiries with the various statuses available which the customer can also view within their DCP account. Automated emails are triggered with the click of a button by selecting specific statuses which sends notification emails to the customer within seconds!

We worked collaboratively across Service Design and Planning to redesign the web pages as it was evident that residents were struggling to find what they needed on our website hence the hundreds of phone calls.

Here are some quotes from the team to express how the change has benefitted them:

The overall number of queries has reduced, which is great, and most enquiries are now genuine ones too, with a greater level of detail provided at the outset.”

There have been less phone calls and interruptions, which enables me to focus on my report writing and manage my time / workload better”

“A written trail of response is much more professional as well i.e. Email response to queries which are now tailored to apply for a pre-app”

“The online duty system has enabled the process to be better streamlined with non-planning related matters often screened out. The submission of supporting details such as site addresses, plans and photos is also useful as an understanding of the enquiry can be quickly ascertained from those without the rigmarole of searching the relevant data bases. It’s a thumbs up from me”.

‘The duty officer system has been extremely useful in providing a system to where we can direct people to input their planning enquiries. It generally reduces the time spent discussing non-planning matters. As responses can be attached it also allows us to keep an audit trial of the advice given. Overall, it is significantly better than the previous approaches in face-to-face interaction and informal phone-based calls’.

Outcome

This transformation has helped to significantly reduce the number of planning queries received as residents can now easily find the information they require on our website. The Planning team can now focus on higher priority work such as report writing, assessing planning applications and the general management of the application process. 

By Aamirah Patel on 13th Dec 2022
Aamirah is an assistant Service Designer at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.