Twitterplan & Planning Alerts

Friday, April 17, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Public Sector, Web, twitter

Twitter and Local Government. Does it actually serve any useful purpose for councils to actually be on twitter? Or is it just another one of these Web 2.0 things that a few tech-heads want to take part in but is of no real benefit to the community at large?

Well, if you know me, you’ll know how I’m likely to answer that question. It does serve a useful purpose. In fact, it can be used to serve several useful purposes.

Firstly, one of the things that it has been used for is emergency school closures. Yes, these will also be recorded on local radio. Yes, these may well appear on the council’s website. But the problem with these two things is that you have to be listening to that particular bulletin, or specifically visit that site. With twitter, as long as you have subscribed to your local council’s twitter feed, you will be told about it, assuming of course that they have such a feed and tweet this sort of thing.

NEWS: Tyneview Primary Closed On Tuesday March 17:


And then there are planning applications. Would you like to know about planning applications near your house? My guess is yes, in case they affect you. Are you willing to regularly visit your local council’s website and look through the planning applications, on the off chance that there is going to be one near your house? My guess is no. So you probably don’t get to find out about planning applications unless they are right next door…

Which is where twitterplan comes in. This is driven by the same data and API that powers the email based, but obviously is tweet-based rather than email based.

In either case the principle is the same. You sign up, give your details (either follow planbot or give them your twitter details to allow it to happen automatically / hand over your email address) and your postcode, and select the distance over which you wish to be informed of planning applications. You can choose from 200m, 800m or 2000m distance from that postcode ’spot’ point, depending on how many of the neighbours planning applications you want to see, and then you will be automatically informed by direct tweet, or email, of any planning applications which meet your criteria.

Basically, you get sent a link to the planning application as found on your council’s website.

People may argue that this brings up the question of privacy: I could, for example have provided a URL to a planning application relatively near me, and then you would be able to see the name, address, and all the associated planning documents of the gentleman who wants planning permission for…

Installation of two dormer windows and 1 rooflight in roofspace at front of dwellinghouse and 4 rooflights in roofspace at rear.

Gateshead planning application

Now I have chosen not to provide this information, not because I think it raises privacy concerns — by their very nature, planning applications have to be public — but simply because I think it’s a little unfair to single out one poor guy for people to peer at his planning application. I wouldn’t think it appropriate under the circumstances. (If he was seeking planning permission to build a meat rendering plant and combined nuclear waste reprocessing centre however, I might feel it was then appropriate to mention it!)

Not every authority is signed up to this (in other words, not every one has publicly searchable data via the planning alerts API) but most of them have, and the list of authorities can be found on the planning alerts site.

Kudos therefore needs to go to the guys and/or gals at planning alerts, for coming up with this API and the email alert stuff in the first place, and further kudos then needs to go to Pezholio (who talked about this on his blog) and Lichfield and Lincoln Councils for their work in developing it as a Twitter application.

You simply input your details and then forget about it. If a planning application appears in your council’s system that within your identified range, you’ll be told about it. This is precisely what councils should be doing. Don’t make your residents do the work — you do the work and just tell your residents those things they have been asked to be informed about.

And from the Local Authority’s point of view, this really is a no-brainer quick win. There’s nothing you have to do, other than tell Planning Alerts how to get your published data. And that’s it. Then your residents can enjoy the benefits, and you can get the credit.

@NewcastleCC Good to see the council making use of the new technologies. I won’t resent paying my council tax quite so much this year ; -)

Tweet to @NewcastleCC

…and, if you’re as honest as @NewcastleCC were, you can even admit it wasn’t you did all the hard work :-)

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2 Comments to Twitterplan & Planning Alerts

  1. Andy says:

    April 17th, 2009 at 9:44 am

    I really like it. I left South Norfolk Council’s web team in january, and in the seven years I was there the question ‘how can i find out about planning applications near me?’ was the one most often asked and the one we had the most trouble grappling with. This solution is neat, has no overhead for council staff, and makes use of a popular social network where more and more council customers are going.

    When people talk about whether local authorities should use Twitter (or other social apps), they tend to focus on how appropriate it is for councillors to tweet/bleat. This particular app demonstrates that councils can use Twitter and the like, and use it for something that’s actually really useful. And having just been through the bank Holiday weekend, sending out bin collection updates via Twitter might be worth thinking about too…

  2. James Coltham says:

    April 17th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    I just received my first lot of Direct Messages from Planbot. A wonderfully simple service which hints at huge wider potential, and another good reason why local gov should be embracing these technologies, rather than (as is sometimes the case) shying away from them.

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